Having rehearsed in a potato packing shed and performed their premiere at an equestrian centre, Ballet d'Jèrri is now setting the 'barre' high in their hunt for a permanent home.
But adequate premises for their rehearsals and performances are hard to find.
The company currently rehearses at Fort Regent, having moved there from Albert Bartlett’s premises in Trinity.
Ballet d’Jèrri, Jersey's first professional dance company, started performances this year – with dancers moving to the island in January, and performing their premiere performance in April.
A potato packing shed may be an unusual premise for a ballet company, but Ballet d'Jèrri’s Artistic Director Carolyn Rose Ramsay praised her temporary hosts – even if all of the company’s early photos “are very much characterised by the steel potato machines and the red light” from space heaters.
“We started out at the Albert Bartlett potato packing shed in Trinity, who were the most amazing hosts,” she said.
“There's such a fantastic team, they were so welcoming, so on-board to just completely turn their factory into a ballet studio!"
Pictured: The dancers struggled with the cold whilst rehearsing in the potato packing shed. (Itzik Galili)
Though she said it was a great space – particularly because of its size – Carolyn said that the cold was their biggest problem.
“For athletes, that's a massive problem," she explained. "If you work in a cold space for a couple of days, it's already challenging to work there day after day and have that cumulative stress on your body and your muscles.
“It's really difficult – and we were there for two and a half months in the winter.”
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Kamal Singh, one of the company’s dancers, added: “It was hard. It wasn’t a proper ballet studio, it was temporary.”
Kamal said he struggled with the cold in the potato packing shed, keeping his layers on as long as possible, and seeing dancers worry about injuries.
He described testing different facilities – Silhouette's performance studios and the Jersey Amateur Dramatic Club’s facilities – before arriving at the Fort.
“We’re still looking for a place where we can say this is our home," explained Kamal. “We feel like we don’t know when we’ll have to move from here.”
Fort Regent's dance studio serves as a temporary home, but the company expects they will have to leave eventually.
"Of course, the situation with the Fort is also quite unstable," Carolyn said. "We completely understand that.
"We've accepted as a condition of us working here that when it is time to go, we'll go and we'll find somewhere else."
The Fort Regent studio's floor space is also only about half the size of the Albert Bartlett facility.
When the local ballet company was first envisioned, the Opera House was a realistic option for the company to use – both for rehearsal and performance spaces.
“When we first started to conceptualise the company, the Opera House was still open,” Carolyn explained.
“So it was a little bit of a blow to know that it wouldn't be open for our performances, at least not at first.
Pictured: The proposed new façade for the Jersey Opera House.
“We also had been thinking that we would use the studio space in there. And that has always been part of our conversations with Government and of course, with the Opera House themselves.
“So it was a little bit of an adjustment to make in our planning.”
The Opera House is expected to be operational by 2025, its new interim director Andy Eagle has said.
There are options for performance spaces “if you plan ahead,” according to Carolyn, though she explained that Ballet d'Jèrri’s first steps were “quite tentative”.
However, the company now has a slot in the Arts Centre’s programme in the future but this was difficult to come by.
Carolyn explained: "The Arts Centre was doing a fantastic job carrying on amidst covid with most other things on the island being closed.
“But the result of that is that their programming is done about two years in advance, so getting into the programme is quite difficult – as it should be.
"That is actually how it should be done, and we're lucky to have them doing what they do.”
Pictured: The company’s early photos “are very much characterised by the steel potato machines and the red light” from space heaters. (Dasa Wharton)
Carolyn also said that she was keen to use experimental spaces – with a barn fitting that bill – but only occasionally, as she explained it is too labour-intensive and expensive to do on a permanent basis.
The company is also planning a weekend of programming for 'Ballet in the Park' at Howard Davis Park on 24-25 June, following the lead of ballet companies around the world and bringing ballet to an audience that wouldn’t normally buy theatre tickets.
There are hopes that this will help make the company “almost like a sports team” for islanders to feel proud of.
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"In the long term, the ideal solution would be for the company to have its own space,” Carolyn said.
“We need to prove ourselves as a company before we can expect that.
"I think it’s normal to say a startup doesn’t need that kind of investment, but eventually I think we’ll get there.”
The dancers also showed their optimism after the company’s premiere in April – Kamal said he felt more confident ever since, and that he was"very happy to be working under Carolyn’s leadership”.
Pictured top: Ballet d’Jèrri's premiere took place at the showground at Home Farm Equestrian Club. (Rebecca Le Brun)
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