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We’re going to shock you now. We don’t actually know a great deal about ballet. We also don’t know a great deal about London City Island. Well, we’ve travelled to the latter to discover more about the former – and, without giving too much away, there’s far more to both than we realised.
English National Ballet
Glenn Howells Architects
BW: Workplace Experts
Audience Systems Ltd
Unusual Rigging, AECOM
So when BW: Workplace Experts told us that they had recently completed their first leisure and arts project, with the management of the fit-out of the new home for the prestigious English National Ballet (ENB) and English National Ballet School, we thought it was about time we fed our cultural souls.
The 93,000 sq ft development is located on London City Island, which is the iconic new Ecoworld Ballymore riverside neighbourhood in east London.
The brand new building now accommodates a greatly enhanced offering for the ENB, its 74 dancers and supporting cast.
Designed by Glenn Howells Architects, ENB’s new home combines state-of-the-art training, teaching, rehabilitation facilities, alongside stage-sized rehearsal studios, meeting rooms and a unique production space unrivalled in the capital.
The new location, which has stunning views of Canary Wharf, is one of the best-connected sites in London, with City Airport, the London Underground, DLR and bus facilities all in close proximity. English National Ballet sits in the centre of City Island, next to the currently serene Trinity Square. Not that we can see that serenity lasting, as the Island continues to grow and, with it, a real vibrancy, as other creative and arts-led organisations move in, alongside restaurants, bars and cafés.
We make our way into the impressive, open entrance to the English National Ballet’s new home, where we meet with BW MD Peter Nagle. ‘The transformation here is pretty astounding,’ Peter tells us as we take in our surroundings. ‘We originally tendered competitively for the project and there was a delay with the base build, but we are delighted with how the space has been transformed. The shell and core of the building was donated to ENB by EcoWorld Ballymore. My favourite part of the entire space has to be the staircase – which is absolutely stunning.’
It really is. The incredible cantilevered staircase, in timber and black, dramatically stretches through the entirety of the building, offering fantastic, open event spaces at each floor, with super-sized ballet photography hung adjacently.
‘We were previously in Kensington, just next to the Royal Albert Hall. We had two decent sized studios and a small kitchen space – so the difference in facilities to this is really night and day,’ an ENB spokesperson notes.
‘This foyer is a public space. People can come in and make use of the space, especially, the café, while we also have our new Production Studio on the ground floor. This means that we can rehearse productions as if we were rehearsing them on a stage. It is a huge facility and we can bring backdrops and the wings into place, while our tech teams can rehearse all of their lighting and sound. It is a really unique space – and, as a touring company, we can usually only get into a theatre the day before a performance, so this is a real game-changer for us.’
‘We worked with a company called Unusual Rigging,’ Peter tells us. ‘They do some amazing work in theatres all around London. They were recommended to us by ENB – and they were absolutely fantastic.’
‘It’s quite rugged and ‘undressed’ but that’s because this is a rehearsal space and will be dressed by the production people here accordingly,’ Peter adds.
We head up the aforementioned staircase to the first floor, where we’re shown the costume department. Supported by CHANEL, the costume department is another key addition for the Company. We watch the dedicated costumiers working on Christmas costumes for Nutcracker – and we’re told that these facilities are an incredible upgrade.
This new facility means that there has clearly been as much of a cultural shift for the Company as there has a geographical one.
It is a really unique space – and, as a touring company, we can usually only get into a theatre the day before a performance, so this is a real game-changer for us.
This new space boasts seven large studios for rehearsals and teaching, a health suite (including a gym, pilates studio, hydrotherapy pool and rehabilitation facilities), dedicated engagement spaces to further English National Ballet’s work with the local community and wellbeing programme, including its flagship Dance for Parkinson’s programme and a dedicated music room, and space for the English National Ballet Philharmonic to rehearse on site.
This new facility means that there has clearly been as much of a cultural shift for the Company as there has a geographical one. We now have open plan offices, which is very different for our admin staff.
The office space is bright and open, featuring smart workplace solutions juxtaposed with the raw materials of the base build. ‘Again, it’s been such a positive change for the staff here,’ we’re told. ‘Whereas people used to email each other, they can now simply call or walk across to them. It’s made a huge difference to have everybody in the one, open space.’
‘We’re really proud to have been involved with the fit-out of ENB’s new state-of-the-art home,’ Peter tells us. ‘This brings an exciting journey to a conclusion and we are delighted with the end product – seeing ENB using and performing in the space has been truly inspiring.’
We feel pretty inspired ourselves. We never doubted the amazing skill, dedication and physicality that went into a leading ballet performance. What we hadn’t considered were all the incredible people and facilities it takes to make those performances shine, from fitness suites that would look at home in a Premier League football club, through to brilliantly creative costume makers.
We certainly know more now than when we arrived on London City Island. Encore.
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