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22 Dec 2023

Assis Carreiro MBE is an international cultural entrepreneur who works with individuals and organisations around the globe to nurture talent and innovate creative initiatives and partnerships. From 2000-2012, Assis was Artistic Director and CEO of DanceEast, steering the organisation through a period of reorganisation, expansion and transformation, and leading the multi-million-pound capital campaign to build the Jerwood DanceHouse. In 2014, Assis was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for her services to Dance.

Assis says, “I’m very proud to have been the Artistic Director and CEO and to have led the team and the vision that took what was Suffolk Dance in a small office at Northgate Arts Centre, when I arrived in 2000, to transforming it into what it is today, DanceEast at the Jerwood DanceHouse.”

When Assis started the job in 2000, she had a strong vision for what she wanted to achieve: “my dream was that you could get in a cab at the station and say, ‘take me to DanceEast’ and the driver wouldn’t even blink. They’d know where we were. Now they know where to take you! That dream has become a reality.” One of the key tasks set to Assis by the Board of Trustees, and key to delivering her vision, was to create a ‘home’ for DanceEast. While Assis oversaw the hugely successful capital campaign that enabled the creation of the Jerwood DanceHouse, she remained focused and driven throughout: “it was an absolute belief that we could deliver what the Board told me I needed to deliver, when I was interviewed for the job; deliver our own home. What a journey we went on!”

Assis led DanceEast through the detailed designing and building the Jerwood DanceHouse. When reflecting on the building, she says “one of the things I like is that there’s no Stage Door at DanceEast, and that was purposeful. Everyone walks in the front door, you could bump into all the great choreographers and artists, everyone mingles together. You feel comfortable and welcome. The first time you go into the café you may not even know it’s a dance house. That’s why I was adamant we needed a café that was public facing and a doorway into a new world for many to explore, or just have a cuppa.”

While the Jerwood DanceHouse is part of Assis’ enduring legacy, there is far more that she accomplished. Assis oversaw a rich and broad performance and participation programme, in Ipswich and beyond. She says: “we didn’t just build a DanceHouse but we also secured funding to run our own CAT – Centre for Advanced Training; set up Dance on Prescription with local GPs; created the now internationally respected Rural Retreats for artistic directors and future dance leaders; set up the National Centre for Choreography… We presented UK and International dance at Snape Maltings and other venues across the region and nationally, from Mark Morris Dance Group to Sylvie Guillem; Stephen Petronio; Australian Dance Theatre; Cuba’s Danca Contemporanea; The Royal Ballet and Wayne McGregor. They all came to Suffolk and built the strong and supportive audiences we have in Ipswich and Suffolk today.”

Assis’ route into dance started at the age of 12, when a neighbour was training in ballet at a professional school. “He knew everything there was to know, so I figured everyone needed this knowledge to be part of this world. He went on to have a great career as a dancer. I followed on, in a very difference dance path.”

However, Assis took a different route. She says that she instead “love[s] supporting dancers and choreographers and seeing their visions become a reality.” Assis is an avid watcher of dance performance: “I love the physicality of dance; to watch dance that moves me, makes me cry or makes me smile –  I love being in the audience but I definitely don’t want to do it! I do Pilates now, the dance training helps me to do the best I can in this amazing form of exercise.”

For Assis, dance is “about watching others, helping others, and supporting others to do it. For me personally, I love to watch both professional and community dance (particularly groups like DanceEast’s Spin-off). With the latter, it’s creating extraordinary moments and memories; it’s the highlight of their week, whether it’s people with Downs Syndrome or tiny tots or the over 70s, it’s vital to have that creative option. I worry that we are narrowing that down in our education system and we often forget that you have to be creative to do maths and science – it all connects. With professionals, it’s about dancers being creative and elite athletes. I love what they do, watching with wonder the creativity of their performances and a choreographers’ vision and imagination unravel in these ephemeral moments. That’s why I do what I do. Sometimes the two worlds join. But you don’t need to do it to enjoy being an audience member and enjoy the amazing artistry of the human body.”