By Alix Norman
Flagstaff House is beautiful. Home to the family of the Commander of the British Forces in Cyprus, it’s reminiscent of a modern Manderley – the site is truly a ‘jewel in the hollow of the hand’. From the terrace, one can make out a maze of white-gravelled paths snaking through shelving lawns, disappearing among a profusion of bougainvillaea to re-emerge on the horizon. Birdsong echoes over the low stone walls, olive trees rustle in the breeze. There’s a sense of timelessness, a constancy that suggests that the house itself is the central character in this tale; its quiet generations of residents merely transient keepers of something vast and precious.
It’s easy to imagine the events it has hosted over the years: endless cups of tea consumed in the airy, high ceilinged rooms; colourful cocktail parties spilling out through the large windows into the grounds; lemonade sipped quietly on the terrace. Set high above Happy Valley, Flagstaff House is a place with a past. And, thanks to the Commander’s wife, Louise Cripwell, it will be the setting for an event that will support the Cypriot ballet company Dancecyprus. Together with Dancecyprus, Louise is working to create an ambitious charitable event: an evening of fine food and wonderful entertainment set in the gardens of her home, all in aid of raising funds for Dancecyprus’ autumn production.
“The aim of Dancecyprus is to set up a permanent national ballet company, a company which would embrace professional dancers and choreographers of Cyprus so they are able to follow their career in their own country on a long term basis since, at the present moment, DanceCyprus can only afford to employ dancers on a project basis,” says Antigoni Chari, Board Member of DanceCyprus. In 2013, the company collaborated with the Cyprus Youth Symphony Orchestra in a neoclassical production entitled ‘Dancing with the Orchestra’; this year, the company are planning a performance of a full length ballet in a neoclassical and contemporary choreography by Margarita Makridou, in collaboration with the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra with maestro Alkis Baltas. Inspired by the paintings of renowned Cypriot artist Adamantios Diamantis, the performance will be called ‘Cosmos’ and, if previous productions are anything to go by, it’s sure to be a huge success. But, unfortunately, with the current financial situation on the island, there’s little money available.
“We’re a non-profit company and registered charity,” says DanceCyprus, “all the Board Members’ efforts are purely because we love the art of dance.” And this is a sentiment shared by Louise, who is clearly as passionate about the arts as she is about the island and its people, and it’s this common desire that has brought the two together. “When DanceCyprus approached me, I immediately thought of using Flagstaff House as the backdrop for a charitable dinner,” she says, explaining the origins of this worthy project. “I think people would really like to come here,” she continues, gesturing to the expanse of beauty that surrounds us. “And it’s wonderful to be involved with people who are so passionate about something. I was very struck by the standard of dance and dancers on the island,” she says, referencing her 10-year-old daughter, who attends a local ballet school and has been able to continue her ballet lessons in Cyprus “a lot faster and better than in the UK”.
“What’s happening here at the moment is that there are all these wonderful dancers who get to a certain stage and then, due to the lack of permanent jobs, have to leave the country,” says DanceCyprus. So, with Flagstaff House as the venue, the two have put together a major event to help remedy this state of affairs. Taking place on May 10, the charitable dinner promises guests the chance to see the residence in all its glory while enjoying an evening of superb entertainment: “Some of Dancecyprus’ professional dancers and the Dancecyprus Junior Company will be performing a piece especially choreographed by Catherine Dawson – Board member of DanceCyprus – and the guests will be able to stand all around the stage and watch.”
With the music for the dancing provided by the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (“They’re soldiers first and foremost, but also a company of wonderful drummers and flautists; we think it may be a world first for a ballet to be choreographed for a military band!” says Louise) it’s clearly going to be a lively and picturesque start to a fundraiser which will also include a number of exciting raffle prizes. But the entertainment doesn’t stop there; Louise and Dancecyprus have planned an extremely exciting programme…
Tables will be set out under the trees, and guests will enjoy an alfresco dinner to the strains of music from members of the Cyprus Youth Orchestra. And then, because dance is what the event is really all about, there will also be a short choreography with young ballet students of a local dance school. With sponsorship from Andy’s Motors ensuring that every penny from the evening will go towards the funding of Dancecyprus’ autumn production, it looks like the creation of a permanent national ballet company is well on its way. And while the two protagonists agree that it’s a very long-term aim, there’s little doubt it’s an objective that – with events such as this providing support and backing – is most certainly achievable.
“We weren’t sure whether it would work at first,” muses Louise, “but perhaps what we hadn’t anticipated is that people really want to come here, see what the house is like. Everyone understands it’s for a good cause, and the enthusiasm has been overwhelming.” And when one thinks of the beauteous settings for dance events all around the world, Flagstaff House must be right up there at the top of the list.
For more information visit www.dancecyprus.org or the DanceCyprus Facebook page