dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Strictly Dancers Launch Lichfield Festival
World Championship dancers and Strictly Come Dancing duo Neil and Katya Jones are to launch this year's Lichfield Festival with a dazzling new show created especially for the city's cathedral. Somnium - A Dancer's Dream tells the story of the couple's hopes of reaching the very top of their profession and will feature exciting choreography, newly commissioned music and a host of nationally and internationally renowned dancers.
It centres on the life and love story between Neil and Katya, who became dance partners in 2008 and went on to represent England on the international arena becoming British, European and World Latin American Champions. The couple also fell in love and married in 2013.
Neil, who choreographs and dances on Strictly, explains how Somnium, which comes to Lichfield Cathedral on July 5, came about. "We were approached by Lichfield Festival who asked if we'd like to put on a show," says Neil. "I came to see the cathedral and the moment I walked into the cathedral I thought 'this is such an amazing space I love it'. We have our own studio in a converted church, although this is obviously much larger, so it's the perfect setting for our first show."
And he adds: "It's a different kind of space for a dance show so it does give us some challenges but I'm up for the challenge and it will make Somnium really interesting. We're still playing around with ideas but we're looking at moving the staging so we have the audience on three sides with us in the middle and much closer to people than if we staged it at the end."
Neil, who has also presented the Strictly spin-off show It Takes Two, is hoping the audience will enjoy the performances but also share the experience of the dancer's journey. "I've got a strong picture in my mind of the show we want to create and now I'm looking forward to sharing it with an audience," he says. "We're showing Katya's and my story through dance but I want people to leave feeling that they've also experienced those emotions that we have. It may not be dance-related for them but they've still been in that situation and that they come away from the show feeling really positive and that they can do everything with their life."
He says: "The show also really showcases Latin and ballroom dancing. People know Latin and ballroom from Strictly but there's a lot more to it than I think some people realise I want people to see what it can be. We've got some great British dancers who are taking part and helping us showcase what Latin and ballroom is really all about."
And Neil certainly knows what Latin and ballroom is all about as he began practising when he was just three years old. "My dad was in the army and I was born in Germany and we moved back to the UK and my sister started dancing and I got a bit jealous and wanted to do it as well because she was always coming home with trophies! So that was how I started wanting to win. I was about three when I started and when I got to about 12 I entered a nationwide competition and I was second and from that point I was just into dancing full on."
Neil and Katya were already experienced dancers when they met in the UK. Katya explains: "I lived in a small village in Russia but my mum took me to the city to dance and I just never wanted to stop dancing. When I was a teenager I came to England and that was a really big step but my parents were supportive of it. And then I met Neil."
She recalls: "My coach introduced me to him saying 'you two are going to be crazy together and people are either going to love you or hate you!' But he saw the potential in that dance partnership he could see there was something there. At that point, Neil was a much higher level dancer than me because I was this girl who had come from Russia and although I had the talent I hadn't won the competitions but we connected straight away."
Neil picks up the tale: "At that point there were a lot of guys dancing who were looking for partners and they were all saying they wanted someone who had already had results but I was different because I didn't care about my new partner's results, I wanted to find someone I could connect to and dance well with. Katya was my kind of dancer and we had the same mind-set. Our focus was on our dance and on creating some beautiful dancing and then all of a sudden the results came. It was quite quick for us and for three years running we didn't lose a single competition so the pressure became really high."
The couple were soon international dance champions - and were then invited to join the hit television show Strictly Come Dancing. While Neil has yet to have a regular partner on the show, Katya danced with politician Ed Balls in 2016 and last year partnered Holby City actor Joe McFadden with whom she went on to win first place and lift the glitter ball trophy.
And their own celebrity status as a result of appearing in Strictly has meant that Neil and Katya are now ready to create their own full-length production. "We'd achieved so much, everything we wanted, in the dance world but you're famous in a very tiny circle," says Katya. "With Neil's dream of having his own show, Strictly has been an amazing stepping stone and a platform for us and we are very grateful for that."
After Somnium launches in Lichfield, Neil and Katya will look to take it nationwide. "We would like to see if we can tour Somnium after Lichfield, possibly in 2019," says Neil. "If it is successful and the cathedral feels like the best venue then we might want to use more cathedrals for that tour. It's great to be bringing dance to a different kind of venue. We want to get more people into dance and we hope that being in venues like Lichfield Cathedral will bring new audiences to dance. We hope we'll inspire them to have a joy for what we do."
Somnium plays Lichfield Cathedral on Thursday July 5 at 7.30pm. For ticket information contact the box office on 01543 412121 and for more information on the festival see www.lichfieldfestival.org