International Dance Festival Birmingham: Sideways Rain by Alias

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Created by acclaimed director and choreographer Guilherme Botelho and performed by his award-winning company Alias, Sideways Rain is an unbroken hour of mesmerising, cinematic sound and movement that sees sixteen dancers repeatedly cross the stage in countless different ways.

Skilful, powerful and athletic, the cast perform complex and impossible-seeming manoeuvres, crawling, sliding, somersaulting and tumbling their way round in endless circles. Though the stage is bare and the dancers are few in number, the show itself seems to span vast expanses of time and space, from the evolution of man to the hectic, relentless bustle of modern-day cities, all the while accompanied by a soundtrack which is by turns uplifting, nightmarish and hypnotic.

The dancers begin on all fours, scrabbling like insects or plodding and prowling slowly like large mammals. Gradually, they begin to rise and walk, and yet for most of the show, little changes: still they move aimlessly and repeatedly across the stage, always heading towards the inevitable as various “characters” appear and disappear, endlessly completing the little circuits of their lives.

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Days, weeks and even years seem to pass before anyone pauses to consider their condition, and this happens just twice in the whole show. First, a couple stop and stare at each other as crowds rush past them, their eyes wistful and confused as they seem to trawl each others’ depths for meaning. When one then drops to the floor and rolls away, the remaining dancer is left alone, wandering the stage and curiously observing those around her, before she, too is finally pulled back into the indiscriminate tide. The second time, another dancer stops suddenly, as if shocked or startled, and proceeds to try to wake those around him out of their collective trance. Naturally he fails: those around him appear to share a sort of hive consciousness, whereby if one moves to avoid him, everyone on stage makes the same movement. Eventually, a push from behind shunts him back into the crowd.

These short interludes make us feel as though there should be some sort of climax – as though the all the incessant, dizzying and almost involuntary movement must stop somewhere. But a satisfying resolution is something we are never granted. In the end, the dancers return, disrobed and laid bare, to their creeping and crawling prehistoric state, suggesting, perhaps, that we have never really moved on at all.

Is it an incitement to stop and think about the world around us, to consider our place within it and to find our own meanings; or is it simply an expression of an absence of meaning and the futility of humanity’s drive towards change and progression? Guilherme Botelho doesn’t give us any easy answers….

Images by Jean-Yves Genoud.

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International Dance Festival Birmingham – Get Ready for a Month of Dance Shows!

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From now until Sunday 25th May, a series of exciting dance events will be taking place in venues across the city as part of this year’s International Dance Festival Birmingham.

Jointly produced by the Birmingham Hippodrome and DanceXchange, the IDFB ranks among the world’s biggest dance festivals, and aims to showcase a diverse array of talent in styles and settings ranging from ballet to urban fusion, traditional Maori to circus skills, pop-up street performances to seated theatre shows. Whether you’re a die-hard dance fan or simply interested in finding out more, you’re almost guaranteed to find something to catch your interest on this year’s jam-packed schedule!

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Having already kicked off with a collection of short works by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Crescent Theatre, the programme of events continues this evening with the Midlands Youth Dance Festival, organised by Dance4 in collaboration with DanceXchange.

On Tuesday, I’ll be attending Sideways Rain, a contemporary dance performance by Genevan company Alias and the first of several shows taking place at the Hippodrome over the next few weeks (watch this space for my review). Other shows coming up at the Hippodrome include Kidd Pivot’s Tempest Replica, Sylvie Guillem’s 6000 Miles Away, New Adventures’ The Lord of the Flies, Sadler’s Wells’s Breakin’ Convention and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s M¡longa. The theatre’s Patrick Centre will also be taken over at different points during the festival by Murmur & Inked, a double bill from the highly sought-after Aakash Odedra Company; the world premiere of Company Decalage’s Match & Halfway to the Other Side; Aerites’s witty, hip-hop fusion piece Planites; and Protein’s Border Tales, a satirical blend of dance, dialogue and live music.

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Elsewhere, Symphony Hall will play host to the world premiere of Concert Dansé, a unique collaboration between Birmingham’s Ex Cathedra choir and Québécois dance troupe Cas Public, while at the Birmingham REP, you’ll be able to catch some spectacular circus skills in Séquence 8 from Les 7 Doits De La Main. The IDFB will even be extending its reach beyond Birmingham’s borders to Coventry’s Warwick Arts Centre with Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre‘s sharply contrasting Petrushka and The Rite of Spring shows.

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If you don’t have much cash to splash this month, though, you needn’t miss out on the festivities: there will also be plenty of free outdoor shows taking place at Village Green, Cannon Hill Park and throughout the city centre. These include Corey Baker Dance‘s mobile, audience-led Headphones (follow @IDFB #headphones on Twitter to find out the exact locations on the day, and send in your dance styles and music genres choices); traditional Maori Haka demonstrations; Denada Dance Theatre’s “duel of seduction”, Young Man!; Candoco Dance Company’s Tennesee Williams-inspired duet, Studies For C; and various freestyle and urban shows from professional and community groups. Work by students from Birmingham City University’s School of Architecture will also be displayed in an exhibition at Millennium Point titled “All of Birmingham is a Stage” .

For more information on times and locations, and to book tickets for indoor shows, visit the IDFB website.

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Catching up with the Happy Days Cast at Ed’s Diner

Earlier this afternoon, cast members from the new Happy Days musical assembled at Ed’s Diner, an, American-style, 1950s retro diner located in the Birmingham Bullring’s iconic Selfridges building. Dressed up in baseball jackets and ready for burgers and shakes were the Sugababes’ Heidi Range, Bucks Fizz star Cheryl Baker and Emmerdale’s Ben Freeman, who play Pinky Tuscadero, Mrs Cunningham and The Fonz, respectively.

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ImageHappy Days is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Tuesday 22nd to Saturday 26th April. For more information, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Oh What a Circus! Oh What a Show! – Evita at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Evita UK Tour - Madalena Alberto as Eva - credit Keith Pattison

Of all the shows I’ve seen over my year with the Birmingham Hippodrome, Evita is probably the one that has surprised me most of all. From what I’d heard and what I thought I knew about it, I really didn’t expect to enjoy it very much, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’d seen a little of the film before, but quite a long time ago, and only really enough to get a sense of there being a lot of Madonna in it. It didn’t really interest me much. What I discovered at the Hippodrome on Wednesday night, however, is that Evita is a fascinating and deeply political story, presented in a very interesting way. Rather than this being – as I had suspected – a show that idolises and idealises its title character, it is a thoughtful and often critical look at that very culture of celebrity idolisation.

Evita UK Tour - Mark Heenehan as Peron and Madalena Alberto as Eva - credit Keith PattisonThe fact that Eva is an actress by trade, and someone who has more than once “re-created” herself, casts into doubt the authenticity of her adopted role as Argentina’s saviour, as does much of her behaviour  – her taste for expensive clothes, for example, or her “welfare by lottery” reforms. Eva Péron “performs” Evita, in much the same way as Madalena Alberto performs Eva, and it’s this that makes her such a brilliant subject for an elaborate stage show. There’s a constant tension in both the story and the design between reality and fantasy, surface and depth, as well as a sense that every successful political campaign is a kind of show, not dissimilar to the one we’re watching. This results in some very “meta” moments, most notably when Eva sings the iconic “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, just after Péron’s election victory. When she emerges onstage above us, breathtaking in a gorgeous, glittering ballgown that seems to light up the entire room, it’s next to impossible not to be swept up in the magic and glamour of the moment. As she looks down at the audience from her balcony, we become the adoring Argentinian masses: yet, just before we’re able to get too lost in the spectacle, the revolutionary Ché appears as the voice of reason, pulling us back down to reality.

Ché’s oddly chirpy-sounding numbers unfortunately don’t have quite the same power as the soaring songs in the rest of the show, but he’s an interesting character nonetheless. You’re never quite sure who he is or where you stand with him. Is he Ché Guevara, somehow projected back from the future? Is he there to represent the Argentinian masses, or the audience? Is he Eva’s conscience or just a hallucination? Is he simply a narrator, all of those things, or something else entirely? It’s possible that all this ambiguity is partly a result of this particular production being quite a short, cut-down version of the original play, but either way, we don’t necessarily need to have definite answers for it to work.

Evita UK Tour - Marti Pellow as Che 2 - credit Keith PattisonMadalena Alberto is magnificent as Eva, capturing the character’s youth and vulnerability as well as her power and intelligence. Thanks to Matthew Wright’s amazing costume work, her sparkling white dress is just one of many beautiful outfits that she and the other women appear in. There are also some excellent performances from Nic Gibney as Magaldi and (sadly rather briefly) from Sarah McNicholas as Péron’s mistress. The ensemble cast are great all round, including the child actors, one of whom delivered an incredibly assured and professional solo. One small criticism I had was an apparent clash in singing styles: some cast members have a much more pronounced vibrato than others. While there’s not necessarily a problem with either style, it would have been better to have kept things consistent throughout.

As we’ve come to expect at the Hippodrome, too, the choreography is absolutely spot on. There are some wonderful set pieces, particularly “Péron’s Latest Flame” (which closed the first half), where upper class ladies and high-ranking soldiers frown on Péron’s and Eva’s budding relationship.

With its self-awareness, complex politics and clever characterisation, Evita is much more layered than your average West End musical, without sacrificing any of the more straightforward entertainment that other popular stage shows can offer. This production is well designed and perfectly paced, and is one I’d definitely recommend!

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Photographs by Keith Pattison.

 

The Birmingham Hippodrome Celebrates a Record Year

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With over 625,000 tickets sold, the Birmingham Hippodrome has now announced 2013-14 as a record-breaking financial year. The theatre has for been recognised for some time as the country’s most popular single auditorium, averaging around 500,000 visits per year. Representing about 85% of capacity, this year’s increase is thanks in part to a slew of major shows like The Lion King, War Horse and Phantom of the Opera.

The news follows many other important steps forward for the theatre over the last few months, including its successful energy use reductions, its nomination as one of the Sunday Times’s “Top 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For”, and its certification in OHSAS 18001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management), with the Hippodrome believed to be the first UK theatre to achieve the last of these.

stuart-griffithsSaid the Hippodrome’s Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths:

“It’s not very often that these programming moments come together so perfectly, but with more than a little help from our producer partners Cameron Mackintosh, Disney, the National Theatre and Pantomime producers Qdos, alongside others, it looks like we’ve shattered all previous known records.  It’s gratifying too that we’ve seen such a huge rise in first-time bookers with over 48% new to the Hippodrome in the last 12 months.

“Dance received a boost with our resident partners Birmingham Royal Ballet presenting its most successful Nutcracker  at Christmas; and Mathew Bourne’s sell out Swan Lake.   We ended the financial year this spring with two other huge successes, the classics Fiddler on the Roof and Singin’ in the Rain.”

In addition to a surge in ticket sales, the theatre’s Hippodrome Plus outreach scheme has been attracting a lot of attention, with the number of people involved in its creative learning projects having doubled to over 16,000. Big outdoor events like Summer in Southside, Illuminate and the Four Squares Weekender have been key to this growth. Elsewhere, fundraising has also increased dramatically, with generous donations from members of the public, as well as an expansion of the patron scheme and a rise in corporate membership of over 30%.

Neil Pugh - Building FrontEncouraged by this success, the Hippodrome team are now investing in lots of exciting new projects for the upcoming year. Said John Crabtree, Chair of the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust,

“In keeping with the successful formula created in recent years, the success of the last financial year is already being used to invest in the programme and towards further developing a diverse audience.  The month-long International Dance Festival Birmingham, co-produced with DanceXchange, starts at the end of April, South Africa’s Cape Town Opera return in July with their production of Show Boat whilst St. Petersburg’s acclaimed Mariinsky Opera bring Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Birmingham in November.”

Theatre exterior photo by Neil Pugh.

International Dance Festival Birmingham: Breakin’ Convention & £10 Dance Shows

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With a diverse array of contemporary dance productions – some costing as little as a tenner to attend – the International Dance Festival Birmingham will return to the Hippodrome this Spring. Featuring a range of home-grown performers as well as international stars, there’s plenty to look forward to for dance fans and interested newcomers alike.

First, on Tuesday 29th and Wednesday 30th April, you’ll be able to see Alias‘s acclaimed Sideways Rain for just £10. Described as a “powerfully visual examination of human nature,” the show features 14 dancers crossing the stage with “hypnotic”, “mesmerising” movements. Next, on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd May, Kidd Pivot will present Tempest Replica, an innovative retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, mixing dance, original music, text and special effects, with tickets again available for only £10. Performance work assembled by Sadlers Wells associate artist Crystal Pite is combined with a “rich visual design”, including masks, projection and imaginative costumes. Families are warned that the shows may contain nudity or adult themes, and as such, are not recommended for children under 12.

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Following this, on Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st May, the Hippodrome will welcome back Breakin’ Convention, which will bring together emerging local talent with acclaimed hip-hop stars for a series of “jaw-dropping” shows. Hosted by Hip-Hop Guru and Sadlers Wells Associate Artist Jonzi D, the two-day festival will include performances by all-male company Antics, young Staffordshire dance group Company Elite, Birmingham duo Marius and Andrei, Nottingham’s NuProjeks and Wolverhampton’s 6-year-old YouTube sensation B-Girl Terra, along with her sister Eddie and their b-boy crew, Soul Mavericks. Many of these performers have already achieved huge success on stage and screen elsewhere, with Antics having made it to the finals of Sky’s Got to Dance contest, while B-Girl Terra’s amazing performance at the Pro Chelles competition in Paris gained her six million YouTube followers, as well as appearances on popular TV programmes such as the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

ILL-Abilities_BC12_Credit Belinda LawleySharing the stage with these Midlands-based artists will be RADA-trained hip-hop storyteller Ukweli Roach, the multi-award-winning French hip-hop group Wanted Posse and the internationally acclaimed ILL-Abilities, a dance troupe who aim to smash stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding disability, testing their own limits as well as challenging their audiences’ views.

The jam-packed festival, co-produced by DanceXchange, will spill out across the theatre foyer and and into public spaces beyond with various pre-show events, freestyle sessions, live DJ demos, workshops and a hip-hop marketplace. A full schedule is set to follow soon.

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Click here for more information about the International Dance Festival Birmingham, or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website to book tickets.

Top photo by Paul Hampart Soumian. All other photographs by Belinda Lawley.