Jamiel Devernay-Laurence has teamed up with Kennedy Junior Muntanga for his latest dance event
Tucked away behind glass and green steel just off Millharbour lies the Lanterns Studio Theatre.
The venue, which boasts a vast, 3,000sq ft plus, sprung dance floor, is generally used by major production companies as a rehearsal space – one of the few capacious enough to accommodate the really big shows.
These sessions are typically held behind closed doors away from the eyes of the public. Lanterns, however, is starting to open up to audiences, thanks to Jamiel Devernay-Laurence.
Jamiel essentially grew up at Lanterns – run by his mother Janet Viola – and following a dance career with Scottish Ballet, it’s where he’s decided to base his newly minted venture, Jamiel Laurence Creation.
“I’ve worked all over the UK,” he said. “I’ve lived in Glasgow, London and spent the past year working in Cardiff, bringing quality dance performances to that city.
“When that came to an end and I was thinking about what to do next, I decided to put on a new intensive programme at the Lanterns Studio Theatre – which is no stranger to new and exciting things, although often there isn’t a performance output.
“We rehearse, without doubt, every major production company in the UK and now some in Europe as well – we’ve just had Theatre Du Chatelet, who were preparing for their production of 42nd Street.
“After spending a decade learning how to put on those shows and seeing the companies in action, I decided it was my go.
“The first thing I did in January was to launch an intensive programme for professional dancers and the response to that was hugely overwhelming – there’s a real gap right now in contemporary dance for professional development.
“I hadn’t realised how big the need was – it was exactly the right time – and off the back of that I reconnected with Kennedy Junior Muntanga who performed at Lanterns as part of Ballet Nights.
“Chatting with him about his ambitions was a powerful moment because it made me aware young choreographers are really feeling the pinch.
“There are lots of cuts to the arts right now and that means there are fewer opportunities out there.
“I’m a doer, so I decided to launch Ignition in response – a platform to put work by young choreographers up on stage.
“The first level of that is what audiences will see on March 4. Our budget might be minimal, but what matters is that the dancing will be anything but.
“It’s about showcasing a really big voice in dance that needs to be heard on the Isle Of Dogs – not an area that’s traditionally known for these things.
“I’m very confident there will be an appetite for this locally so that’s stage one – the plan in future will be then to come back with a bigger production the next time.
“Hopefully the third time will be an all-singing, all-dancing, hologram-showing extravaganza.
“The idea is that Ignition will allow choreographers themselves to make a case for why their work should be on stage – then we make it happen for them.”
Tickets for the event on March 4 – The Ignition Platform: An Evening With Kennedy Muntanga – cost £20. The performance is set to start at 7pm.
“The performance itself will consist of a 30-minute trio from A Death Has Occurred, which is a piece that Kennedy has written, taking inspiration from his faith to explore themes of destiny, identity, spirituality and truth.
“It follows the story of Nebu, a young journalist obsessed with the idea of being his own helmsman, as he struggles to offer himself to God’s plan for his life.
“Reporting as a war correspondent, Nebu is given a vision that prophesies a city abandoned and left to crumble to the wrath of war.
“Nebu’s interpretation of the dream leads him to reject God in protest at what he sees. Kennedy uses fiction to bring to the forefront his learning and understanding of accepting a plan much greater than his own, even when suffering prevails.
“He plans one day to turn the piece into a full 90-minute show.
“After that, we’re going to have a solo dance by Kennedy himself, created exclusively for Ignition.
“There will also be a Q&A with the choreographer following the performances.
“It’s really exciting that I can take someone like him and give him a platform.
“His dancing is not any recognisable contemporary technique or format, his movement is really from a new place – it’s very contact-heavy.
“The word you see about him in every review is ‘visceral’, and that tells the tale – his work features very muscly, athletic men and women in contact with each other.
“He lives in Finsbury Park, but spends much of his time in Greenwich as the artistic director of Trinity Laban’s Youth Dance Company as well as Kennedy Muntanga Dance Theatre.
“What he does that’s really interesting is that he puts on classes for free every Tuesday night, and they are his practice in action – that’s how he’s refining his voice.”
Jamiel said the March 4 performance would also help to make the case for further events at Lanterns and beyond.
“The Ignition Platform is really about support and what I want to do is build an audience who feel like they’re the home crowd for dance,” he said.
“My philosophy is that I don’t think dance on stage is broken as a model – that’s not where the problem is. Instead, it’s the pastime of going to see dance.
“For example, people on dates might go to the cinema or a show and have a meal first – they’d know how to navigate that. But with dance theatre it’s different.
“Would it be a long show, a short show? Would there be time to eat? Is it expensive or affordable?
“I’d like to achieve for dance what stand-up has for comedy – to have artists practising their craft and audiences getting a raw, accessible version of the work.
“Right now there are too many dancers and not enough opportunity.
“Long term, the goal for Ignition would be to build our own touring circuit – we’d very much like events to be exportable.
“That might be to other venues in London, but we’d also like to connect with Scotland, Wales and other towns and cities in England as well.
“Further afield from this, I would love to have work that could tour internationally. That’s for the future.
“Right now I believe there’s a huge opportunity in Docklands – a place that’s become a growing residential community.
“Lanterns can provide something for people locally where they don’t have to travel to the West End to see high quality performances – it’s right here on their doorstep.”
- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via firstname.lastname@example.org