Freed Dance Academy boss vows to reopen Plymouth venue
THE OWNER of the Dance Academy recently released from jail says he wants to bring the club back to life.
Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh was freed after serving nearly half of a nine year sentence for allowing his Union Street nightclub to be used to sell Ecstasy.
Given bail earlier this month, the former club boss was ordered to live in Brighton as he awaits an appeal hearing against his original conviction in July 2008.
Speaking exclusively to The Herald, Mr Bahmanzadeh said he intended to come to Plymouth soon and take his first look at the Victorian theatre since he was jailed.
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He said: “All options are open – I want to see it come alive again”.
The large Grade II* listed building has been closed since police raided it in May 2006.
In that time various groups, including English Heritage, the Theatres Trust and the Victorian Society, have all raised their concerns for its worsening state.
The grand theatre – which in its heyday played host to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy – is now a crumbling shell.
However, Mr Bahmanzadeh felt the deterioration was “cosmetic” and the building had faced worse times before.
He said: “When I bought the place in 1996 it was ten times worse than it is now because there was no roof on it. You had pigeons flying in and out.
“But I fixed it then and I’m sure it will be easier to bring it back to its glory .
“It is really a piece of Victorian art and skill, a solid building.
“The damage is cosmetic and I can deal with that.
“There are so many dedicated people who love the Academy who will want to come and help.”
He emphasised that the building still had “potential” – and assured those concerned that “nothing [bad] is happening to that building.”
He said his concerns are to serve the community, although he was unable to elaborate on his plans for the Dance Academy, saying much would depend on the outcome of his appeal hearing.
His conviction came into question after the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referred it back to the Court of Appeal as a potential miscarriage of justice.
An appeal hearing was expected to take place this month, but was put back until the end of the year due to problems with paperwork.
Speaking of his time behind bars, Mr Bahmanzadeh said he had tried to find a positive side during his four years imprisonment.
He said that for him, prison had been both a harsh and destructive experience, but he had tried to use his time to study and to identify the good in other prisoners.
He said: “It was like being reborn in life. When you go to prison you start learning about all the good friends and bad friends, who is really trusting you genuinely and who has been waiting for your downfall.
“I saw people who were chameleons – they would change colour depending on how much you were worth to them.”
He has much to say about his appeal case, but legal restrictions currently bar The Herald from publishing his claims.
However, Mr Bahmanzadeh said his fight for justice was not purely about being cleared of knowingly allowing drugs to be sold in the venue. For him, the main aim was to uncover what he claims was a conspiracy against him by major drug dealers.
“I still can’t say for sure if I am going to win my case. I’ve learned that from my time in prison. You learn not to be too confident.
“But if I am successful [in overturning the conviction] then justice has been done.
“My legal team, Hickman and Rose, have uncovered a great deal of important information about this case over the past few years and I feel there are more people out there who know the truth.”
“I would be very grateful if they could contact my legal team on 0207 7025331 or email them on firstname.lastname@example.org.”
HISTORY OF THE DANCE ACADEMY
AT the end of a popular Union Street strip of bustling bars and crowded clubs sits an overgrown, run-down and crumbling shell that once hosted top-class acts and boasted sell-out audiences.
A shadow of its former self, it is hard to believe that the Dance Academy, or Palace Theatre, was once one of the city’s top attractions, drawing in visitors from across the region.
Originally built for the Livermore Brothers, the Palace Theatre opened in 1898 as a music hall, forming part of a development which included the adjoining Grand Western Hotel.
The Grade II listed building, which pulled in huge audiences in its heyday, and played host to entertainment greats such as Gracie Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and Frankie Howerd, now lies derelict.
Just three months after opening, the theatre, which could seat around 1,600 people, went up in flames and was left partially destroyed.
It reopened in the summer of 1899 and brought continuous joy to the city until its closure in 1983.
The building, which is on the ‘at risk’ lists of English Heritage, the Theatres Trust, and the Victorian Society, is described as being in elaborate Flemish Renaissance style, blending Art Nouveau with military motifs and scenes of the Spanish Armada.
The Theatres Trust once said it was “fantastic and opulent” and “one of Plymouth’s best surviving Victorian buildings.”
The theatre was used for many things upon its closure, from a bingo hall to a wrestling club, but is most notorious for being the Dance Academy – a nightclub shrouded in controversy.
Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh bought the theatre in 1996 and turned it into the popular nightspot boasting room for 1,300 clubbers, seven bars, two rooms, three balconies and attracting superstar trance and hard house DJ’s like Judge Jules, Lisa Lashes and Sasha. For 10 years the club grew in popularity, even becoming a ‘must-see’ music venue, and pioneered all-night opening in the city at a time before licensing laws changed.
The Dance Academy was also given the title of Club of the Year, for the West region, by dance music bible Mixmag in 2004.
But in May 2006 things changed dramatically when the club was raided by police following a six-month undercover operation against drug-dealing and it was closed.
Owner Mr Bahmanzadeh was later jailed for nine years for allowing the supply of drugs. For the past six years the spectacular Gothic Revival building – with red-tiled facade and orange brick – has remained lifeless.
But with news that Mr Bahmanzadeh has been granted bail, after serving nearly half of his sentence, perhaps there is hope that one of the city’s most historic buildings could be brought
IT IS an iconic symbol of Plymouth’s cultural history, a much-loved building which means so much to different generations.
As the Palace Theatre, it was beloved by older people who flocked to see some of the biggest stars on their day tread its boards. It opened in 1898 as a music hall, and played host to giants of stage, screen and radio including Gracie Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Frankie Howerd.
For decades, it was at the centre of the city’s entertainment world, standing proudly on Union Street, one of the few Victorian buildings to survive the devastating blitz of World War Two. But times, and tastes, changed and in 1983 the curtain finally came down on the theatre for the last time. That was not the end for this legendary building, and it lived on becoming a wrestling club and bingo hall before being reborn in 1996 as the Dance Academy nightclub, under the ownership of entrepreneur Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh.
Many younger Plymothians look back on it fondly as a legendary venue, which attracted clubbers and DJs from around the country. But in 2006, the music stopped – perhaps forever – when it was raided by police, closed, and Mr Bahmanzadeh jailed. Now he has been released, and expressed his hope that it can be brought back to life. He told us: “All options are open – I want to see it come alive again.” Many people across our city, whatever their age, would agree. This wonderful building is currently an eyesore; a sad, neglected shell of a mausoleum in urgent need of repair. It is a tragedy that something that was so vibrant and important to Plymouth is now derelict and overgrown.
Its neglected state does not present our city in a good light, and there is a huge groundswell of feeling that it must be brought back to life – whatever it ultimately becomes. It is a landmark with amazing history, and maybe its rebirth could help lead a revival of Union Street and bring fresh enjoyment to new generations. Whatever its past, we believe it still has a vital role to play in Plymouth’s future.