Massive community dance project explores life in The Village at DanceEast, Ipswich

DanceEast Associate Artists and founders of performance company Unit, Kate Flurrie and Tom Hobden

DanceEast Associate Artists and founders of performance company Unit, Kate Flurrie and Tom Hobden - Credit: Archant

Welcome to The Village, where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. Entertainment writer Wayne Savage talks to choreographer Tom Hobden about the show and new inter-generational performance company Unit.

Previous show Finding Home. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Previous show Finding Home. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

Hobden and Flurrie’s new company Unit can be summed up in one word. Family. Drawing together all ages, all classes, all abilities, it’s about bringing people together - knowing together they can achieve the extraordinary.

“I enjoy working with professionals, but not half as much as I enjoy working with an every day person,” says the former, who trained to be an actor before focusing on choreography.

“For me it’s been about making what might seem quite ordinary really extraordinary. It’s a challenge, they have baggage... People say ‘I can’t because my knees hurt’ or ‘I can’t because I’m worried about it’. I love seeing where that goes and it really shapes the work.

“I’ve had people say ‘I had no idea this would do this to my life’ particularly the older ones. They say ‘I’ve found an entirely new person in myself, entirely new skills’.”

Hobden has worked for and alongside DanceEast, Dance United, Royal Ballet School, Re:bourne, Darren Ellis Dance, Tom Dale Dance, Matthias Sperling and New Art Club. It was his work with Boys in Babergh, which saw him galvanise hundreds of boys to explore dance, that got him thinking who’s next.

Shows like 2013’s Your Father’s Son and last year’s Finding Home sowed the seeds for his and fellow associate DanceEast associate artist Flurrie’s pioneering inter-generational performance company Unit.

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“It’s been a bit of a testing bed... It’s a brand new idea. We’re both local and want the company to be resident at DanceEast, I’m hoping that’s one of our biggest draws.

It’s made up of all ages and Kate and I are not very specific about members being necessarily professional.

“We really want to make sure a mixture of people can be involved which embodies everything done here at DanceEast.”

Unit’s The Village is inspired by the hundreds of little villages around England. The audience will zoom in and out of characters’ lives to reveal a web of community spirit.

“I wanted to look at not just one family but an entire road or entire village. I really wanted to draw out houses of people - elderly ladies or gentlemen who live on their own or have carers; single parent families, the whole range...

“I look at it as like cottages and we zoom in on each cottage but also look at the unity of the whole village, when everybody comes together and how they look after each other; how sometimes how they can also be a bit steely. Village fetes, the competition, the impact on (close knit) villages if somebody new comes, if somebody dies... How something changes and how it affects everybody.”

The 225-strong cast includes members of schools across the Babergh, Mid Suffolk and Forest Heath districts; DanceEast Performance Groups, Suffolk Junior Dance Company and Spin Off as well as community participants who have never danced before alongside aspiring new talents.

As well as continuing to work on large scale community performance projects, Hobden and Flurrie - a film-maker who has produced promotional videos for the likes of Police sunglasses, Gordon’s Gin, Williams F1 and Royal Bank of Scotland - hope to develop a smaller company which can tour.

“I absolutely love bigger portraits but to take 200 people on the road is almost impossible so we (want to) we want to travel around with the work we’re doing which we feel is pioneering. We’re going to do it through a smaller company which I’m hoping will grow and change.

“We’re looking for different types of families, the 2.4 kind, teenage groups, people who might work in an office, people who’ve never done anything like this before... I think the company, at its heart, will be one big family. I know people are going to move in and out, but that’s what happens to families.

Brendan Keaney, artistic director and chief executive of DanceEast is thrilled with the cohort of artists chosen to become its new associates, all of which are producing work of an exceptionally high quality he’s confident will contribute to and complement DanceEast’s artistic and creative programmes.

“I’am really looking forward to working with them individually and collectively. Despite the fact they are all following very different lines of artistic enquiry they are inspired not just by the amazing facilities we have at the Jerwood Dancehouse but also by the opportunity to develop the cultural offer of Ipswich and the region. We are in for exciting times.”

Other associate artists announced included James Cousins, Rosemary Lee, Alexander Whitley and Anna Williams.

The scheme will be individually tailored to the needs of each artist and may include a bursary, studio space, use of and opportunities to present work in DanceEast’s studio theatre, opportunities to share research and receive feedback, an international residency, advice and guidance from the DanceEast team.

Artists will have a significant artistic presence at the Jerwood DanceHouse, engaging with all departments including the creative programme to collaborate, devise and test ideas.

See The Village at Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich, 4pm and 7pm today and The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, at 7pm on March 25.