International ballet star goes back to his roots as a Co-op Junior

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Royal Ballet Principal Dancer and Ballet Master Gary Avis relived his days as a Co-op Junior during his visit to the cast’s final rehearsals for the hit musical Starlight Express.

Gary, whose international career has seen him at the pinnacle of the world ballet for almost three decades, travelled to Ipswich to meet the 30 strong Co-op Juniors cast as they sang, danced and skated their way through rehearsals for their upcoming production, Starlight Express.

A trip down memory lane with the Co-op Juniors is a precursor to Gary’s big return to the County this September, when he will be fulfilling a life-long ambition by bringing the truly spectacular Royal Ballet Gala, ‘Dance for Suffolk’, to the Ipswich Regent.

The show, which has been curated and designed by Gary himself, will be raising funds for the Suffolk Community Foundation’s Arts and Culture Fund. Money from the fund will be used to help community arts projects across the county.
Gary grew up in Ipswich and reflects on being a quiet, withdrawn child during his school years. He attributes much of his confidence and success to his early experiences on stage, and in particular with the Co-op Juniors.

Gary said; “It was a very difficult time in my life, but my confidence grew so much stronger as soon as I started to perform and especially dance. I found new groups of friends and I found a place where I could fit in. I also unlocked a passion and discovered a talent that I would never have discovered if I hadn’t had access to those volunteer run community arts groups.

“I’m back in Suffolk doing my gala and with the Co-op Juniors today, because I want to make sure that many more people, including all these really talented youngsters, have the opportunity to discover their talents and use them to overcome any challenges they may face in life. I hope several of them will enjoy the kind of career that I am so fortunate to have. I can already see that the cast is brimming with talent, so you never know!’’

The group, which we have been supporting for over 70 years, is turning the Hush House at Bentwaters Parks into a 380-seat theatre for their most ambitious show yet, with the first show on Wednesday 15 June.

Karl Lankester, Co-op Junior and ‘Greaseball’ in the Starlight Express production, has ambitions to have a career in dance. He said; “My years with the Co-op Juniors and in particular playing the title role in Billy Elliot the Musical, gave me a taste of how demanding dancing is. I’m about to go to Evolution in Colchester to train and my ambition is to perform professionally. Gary has always been an inspiration for all our cast, and it was a real thrill to meet him in person.”

Minnie Moll, Joint Chief Executive for the East of England Co-op commented; “We're thrilled to have been supporting the Co-op Juniors since the group was first founded during the Second World War. To welcome Gary back to his home town with his experience and an incredible international career is very exciting for us and we are enormously proud to think it all started during his days as a Co-op Junior himself.’’

“The unique opportunity to see Gary perform in a Royal Ballet production in Ipswich is something we feel passionately about supporting. I hope Gary’s visit to the Co-op Juniors encourages them to dream big, follow in his footsteps and go on to achieve wonderful things.”

Gary continued; “I am massively grateful to them for what they gave me and I still use some of what they taught me in my performance today. I think everyone should have the opportunity to discover their talents and feel the healing power of the arts. ”

Tickets for the Royal Ballet on September 10th and 11th are available to buy through the Ipswich Regent box office on 01473 433100. Tickets are also available for the Co-op Junior’s Starlight Express production, which starts on 15th June, and can be purchased through the New Wolsey Theatre box office on 01473 295900.