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Ipswich arts company, Gecko, lands BBC feature film

PUBLISHED: 14:54 09 July 2020 | UPDATED: 15:58 09 July 2020

Gecko director and performer Amit Lahav  in a scene from Institute, Gecko's film for BBC 4, being broadcast in July 2020. Photo: John Ferguson

Gecko director and performer Amit Lahav in a scene from Institute, Gecko's film for BBC 4, being broadcast in July 2020. Photo: John Ferguson

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Suffolk-based physical theatre company Gecko have just completed a new feature film for the BBC exploring our need to care for everyone as society becomes more complex

François Testory in a scene from Institute, Gecko's film for BBC 4, being broadcast in July 2020. Photo: John FergusonFrançois Testory in a scene from Institute, Gecko's film for BBC 4, being broadcast in July 2020. Photo: John Ferguson

Ipswich-based, physical theatre company Gecko, has landed a prestigious commission with the BBC due to be broadcast later this month.

The commission is to bring their critically acclaimed stage show Institute to the small screen. It will be reimagined and presented as a feature film as part of the BBC’s Arts Culture in Quarantine strand.

Gecko’s founder and artistic director Amit Lahav describes Institute as an intimate, funny and moving exploration of what it means to care.

Institute first saw the light of day in 2013 as part of the The Pulse Festival at the New Wolsey Theatre before embarking on an extensive UK tour in 2014-15, taking in such prestigious venues as the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House, the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Bristol Old Vic, Liverpool Playhouse and The Place in London.

In 2016-19, the show embarked on an international tour taking in Romania, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Australia, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hong Kong and Poland as well as UK cities including Southampton, Nottingham and Manchester.

Gecko’s shows are a blend of dance, theatre and performance set against abstract landscapes drawn both from the real world and our imaginations. Amit believes that Institute, although created seven years ago, still has many resonances for the world in 2020.

Set in a shadowy institution where residents attempt to create order from internal emotional chaos, Institute is a visually captivating and poetic dissection of the way we nurture and care for ourselves and each other.

“Institute asks how do we care more for each other in the target-driven machinery of modern life? Who will be there to catch us if we fall?”

Amit Lahav, performer and artistic director with Ipswich-based physical theatre company Gecko, pictured performing Time of Your Life in a live show from BBC TV Centre  Photo: GeckoRichard HaughtonAmit Lahav, performer and artistic director with Ipswich-based physical theatre company Gecko, pictured performing Time of Your Life in a live show from BBC TV Centre Photo: GeckoRichard Haughton

He added that its adaptation for the screen comes during a time when we all need to feel more connected than ever before.

Institute is Amit Lahav’s second work for screen after Gecko’s live TV performance of Time of Your Life, a performance piece which opened the BBC’s Live from Television Centre evening in 2015. Since this screen debut, Amit continued to explore work in film through collaborations with directors Teresa Griffiths on Egon Schiele: Dangerous Desires (BBC2, 2018) and Adam Smith/Marcus Lyall on visuals for the Chemical Brothers’ live shows.

From a performer who was resolutely anchored in performance on stage, Amit admits that working in film has opened his eyes to a variety of new creative possibilities which he will undoubtedly explore in the coming years.

This new film was largely shot at Bentwaters outside Woodbridge in November last year, with a couple of locations being utilised in Ipswich.

Amit Lahav of Gecko rehearsing at DanceEast Photo: Lucy TaylorAmit Lahav of Gecko rehearsing at DanceEast Photo: Lucy Taylor

“This was an exhilarating experience from start to finish. There were many elements of the process relating to visual and aural storytelling which felt natural and instinctive to me, like the blocking and choreography of scenes for the camera and the screen play narrative, which required a different approach and different storytelling techniques to the stage production.

“Some theatrical sequences, which felt essential for the stage required an altogether different visual language; the scale and necessity of explosive physicality on stage could be found through a more internal, emotional expressiveness using close-up shots, reimagined choreography specific for screen and some clever editing.

“The camera movement and direction required a period of learning which I’ve been enveloped in over the last five years through various film projects and mentors. Understanding the emotionality of camera angles and movement and the camera’s expressive power has taken time to begin to understand. That said it has provided me with some thrilling added storytelling dynamism.”

He said that the cast was recruited from the stage show, so they could bring their ‘muscle memory’ to the production, allowing the ambitious 90 minute movie to be shot in a fraction of the time it usually takes to complete a feature film.

Amit Lahav, performer and artistic director with Ipswich-based physical theatre company Gecko, pictured performing in the stage version of Institute.Amit Lahav, performer and artistic director with Ipswich-based physical theatre company Gecko, pictured performing in the stage version of Institute.

Although, it features the same cast and much of the same choreography, Amit says that he was determined not to make a dance film, but instead create a dramatic work which people could engage with and something that would stretch him as a film-maker. “This is not a recording of a stage show. It has been completely restructured as a work for the screen.”

For Amit, the secret of Institute’s success is teamwork. “This is my first feature film and it was an invaluable experience to work with such a gifted team. I have learnt so much from Emma Dalesman who was the director of photography and Todd MacDonald who was the editor - both of whom were sensitive, intelligent and extremely generous and respectful of my need to grow throughout the process.

“Film opens up new avenues in my life and in my heart that I don’t think can ever be closed again.”

Amit founded Gecko in 2001 but moved the company to Suffolk from Bristol in 2008 because of the county’s buoyant cultural landscape. On arrival Gecko became an associate company of the New Wolsey Theatre and forged close links with DanceEast and was swiftly adopted by the Arts Council as one of eight National Portfolio Organisations in Suffolk – arts companies, based outside London, creating work of national or international importance.

Gecko is currently working with the Arts Council and with Ipswich Borough Council to redevelop a derelict warehouse on Ipswich’s Waterfront into the Gecko Creation Space, an industry significant devising and rehearsal studio, and Gecko’s new HQ.

The common theme which runs through all of Gecko’s work is that everything is born out of a deep interest in human beings and their need to express feelings and emotions in society. Amit seeks out tales where people embark on extraordinary, challenging journeys in order to express themselves and make their voices heard.

The company often combines multiple spoken languages with movement and emotion, sound, lighting and design, to tell universal stories – allowing people from all backgrounds and nationalities to access their work. Amit says that he likes to hit upon subjects which are both topical and timeless which allows him and the performers to explore and reflect on issues relevant to a modern diverse society.

Choreographer and Gecko Patron Arlene Phillips CBE has had a sneak preview of the film and is dazzled by its contemporary feel.

“I first saw Gecko’s theatre production of Institute a number of years ago and yet you would think this film was specifically made as a comment on the disturbing times we have all been living through recently. Who is telling the truth and what is the truth? In this extraordinary film, a cross between a dream and a nightmare, movement has a liquid beauty even when sharp and aggressive, and I found myself crying at the simple moments of hope we observe through the characters, wishing their troubles would all go away and that their lives would return to normality. It is a must-see film created by Amit’s strange but telling vision of the world around us.”

Jonty Claypole, Director of BBC Arts said: “Institute, from the brilliant team at Gecko, has been adapted for the screen while maintaining the theatrical nature of the piece. This unique film shows the creative vision of our theatre community to tell their stories in a captivating new way.”

Institute will be broadcast on BBC Four on Sunday July 19 at 11.10pm and will be available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days afterwards.


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