IDFB 2014: The Lord of the Flies by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures

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Upon first learning that Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies was coming to the Birmingham Hippodrome as part of the International Dance Festival 2014, it was almost impossible to imagine what a ballet interpretation of William Golding’s iconic, dystopian novel might look like. In theory, the two seem rather an odd combination, yet in practice, together they work amazingly well.

Less a traditional ballet than a kind of silent play with dancing, this New Adventures’ adaptation manages to get right to the heart of Golding’s story. At times, the dancers are menacing, unleashing the darkness of human nature in cleverly choreographed fights, hunts and tribal rituals. On the other hand, the more playful movements and sequences serve as a continual reminder of the innocence and vulnerability of the characters: as terribly as they behave, the show refuses to let us forget that its subjects are ultimately only children, left to fend for themselves with no adult support or guidance. As Golding’s daughter, Judy writes in the programme,

“children are entitled to the protection of adults – protection not only from a hostile world, but also from their own natures. It isn’t fair that Ralph and Jack and Piggy and Simon have to do without adults.”

Lord of the Flies

Perhaps the production’s most disturbing aspect is its strong militaristic undercurrent, present right from the very beginning with a long, disciplined march that takes place before the boys become stranded. This theme emerges again in the form of the khaki-clad ghost seen by Simon, and at the end of the show, when the children are finally rescued: looking like a modern British soldier, their disturbed saviour could easily have walked right out of a conflict in the Middle East. This reflects ideas explored in the original novel, which set during a wartime evacuation, and was partly inspired by Golding’s own first-hand experience of brutality in war.

Danny Reubens is fantastically sinister as Jack, managing to induce fear, yet also to arouse pity, in viewers: he is instinctively aggressive, but also immature and desperate for the admiration of the other boys. Jack and his thuggish friend Roger (Dan Wright)  are brilliantly off-set by Dominic North as the good-natured Ralph, along with his hapless friends Piggy and Simon, played by Sam Plant and Layton Williams. But it wasn’t just the New Adventures dancers who were impressive: the young, local cast were amazing, quickly proving themselves more than capable of keeping up with the professionals.

Lord of the Flies

Throughout the show, the performers managed to strike a great balance between complex dancing and physical storytelling, portraying the characters and their journey with perfect clarity. As someone who has never read the original novel, I had no trouble understanding the plot. This is, perhaps, dance at its most accessible, for both audiences and performers alike.

Click here for more information about the International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014, which continues until the end of next week.

Coming Up at the International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014

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With the International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014 now over a week underway, there are still plenty more exciting shows to look forward to before the month is through.

After their eagerly anticipated openings last night, both Sylvie Guillem’s 6000 Miles Away and the Aakash Odedra Company’s double bill Murmur & Inked will be returning this evening to the Birmingham Hippodrome, on the main stage and in the Patrick Centre, respectively. Widely hailed as one of the world’s greatest dancers, in 6000 Miles Away, Sylvie Guillem performs William Forsythe’s Rearray and Mats Ek’s Bye, set to Beethoven’s last sonata. Meanwhile, in Murmur and Inked, Aakash Odedra collaborates with choreographer Lewis Major, the Ars Electronica Futurelab and Oliver Award-winner Damien Jalet, to explore themes of dyslexia and the transformation of the body through scarring and tattoos.

Bye, solo choreographed by Mats Ek for Sylvie Guillem 2010

From Thursday through to the weekend, you’ll be able to catch some awe-inspiring acrobatics from groundbreaking Montreal circus company Les 7 Doigts de la Main in Séquence 8 at the Birmingham REP, as well as some impressive work from Birmingham City University’s School of Architecture, which will be displayed in a Millennium Point open exhibition titled All of Birmingham is a Stage.

OOn Friday and Saturday, Company Decalage will present a world premiere double bill of Match & Half Way to the Other Side in the Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre, while outside, Corey Baker Dance will be giving passers-by the chance to experience some traditional Maori Haka dancing in Centenary Square.

Lord of the Flies

Next week’s festivities will kick off on Tuesday with Border Tales from Luca Silvestrini’s Protein, a witty, satirical show blending dance, dialogue and live music, and taking place in the Patrick Centre. From Wednesday, the Hippodrome’s main stage will be taken over by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures for a chilling yet beautiful dance adaptation of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. Finally on Saturday, those a little more strapped for cash can enjoy an array of free, outdoor dance performances at Put Your Foot Down in Spiceall Street, near the Bullring.

There’ll also be lots to see and do during the last week of the festival (more on this soon), including DJs, dancers, workshops and demonstrations and Sadler’s Wells’s Breakin’ Convention, and an exploration of Argentinian tango in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s M¡longa, both in the Hippodrome theatre.

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For more information on all upcoming shows and to book tickets, visit the IDFB website.

Requiem: Ex Cathedra and Cas Public in Concert Dansé

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It may well be my Catholic upbringing, but to me, fast-paced, energetic and often noisy dancing doesn’t quite seem a natural fit for a solemn religious requiem. While watching Concert Dansé at Symphony Hall last night, I can’t deny that there was a part of me that felt like the show itself answered choreographer and DanceXchange director David Massingham’s question (discussed in the programme) as to why there haven’t been more dance productions set to organ music.

Criticisms aside, however, Concert Dansé was nothing short of spectacular. Though I’m still not convinced they weren’t mismatched, the show combined what were by far the most incredible dancing and some of the most beautiful singing that I have ever had the privilege of experiencing.

After organist Alexander Mason and cellist Andrew Skidmore opened the production with a gentle, instrumental prayer by Camille Saint-Saëns, mezzo soprano Martha McLorinan led the singing with a breathtaking solo rendition of Jules Massenet’s Pie Jesu. The full Ex Cathedra choir then took to the stage for an uplifting performance of Aaron Copland’s In The Beginning. Described by conductor and Ex Cathedra founder Jeffrey Skidmore as “one of the great choral works of the 20th century”, In the Beginning was delivered with perfect clarity, while sparse yet powerful lighting evoked the initial darkness and creation of light detailed in the lyrics.

It was not until after the interval that Cas Public emerged onto the dramatically lit stage, to dance alongside Duruflés Requiem, magnificently sung by Ex Cathedra and accompanied by organ and cello. From the outset, the dancers’ outfits seemed strangely out of place in the context of a Mass of remembrance for the dead, and once the movement began, the strangeness of the combination was only confirmed. Though the performers’ skill was quite astounding, blending the skill and discipline of traditional ballet with the speed and energy of more contemporary styles, it largely failed to match the gravity and emotional resonance of the sung Requiem.

The highlights of the performance were guest appearances from ballet dancers Karla Doorbar and Max Maslen, as well as acclaimed Kathak and Bharatnatyam dancer Aakash Odedra, all of whose movements were much quieter and more restrained than Cas Public’s. Odedra’s fluid, graceful motion in particular seemed to respond directly to the music, reflecting its tone and momentousness rather than simply following its rhythms. Sadly though, his turn onstage was but brief.

Despite my reservations, this was a fascinating show, and one I felt was pitched well for the International Dance Festival: although dance is generally a little out of my comfort zone as far as art forms go, I was truly blown away by some of the performers in this production, which were definitely enough to persuade me to see more.

Works In Progress – Pilot Sites Showcases New Talent

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As part of a bid to promote and develop new work by emerging performance artists, on Thursday night, the Birmingham Hippodrome played host to Pilot Sites, a series of works in progress showcased in collaboration with Pilot Nights.

Founded in 2003, Pilot Nights provides a platform for performers to test new ideas in front of audiences at special events held in venues across the West Midlands. Making its debut this year, Pilot Sites featured previews of a range of indoor, outdoor and one-on-one projects performed in and around the Hippodrome theatre. After watching the shows, audiences were then invited to offer their feedback to the performers at a “Talkaoke” round table discussion.

Over the course of the evening, I saw four shows, the first of which – The Tea Project – was a relaxed, intimate performance blending scripted action with audience participation and talking with tea drinking to create a truly organic, viewer-led experience. Though it took a little time for the participants to warm to the set-up, by the end of it, everyone was talking freely and interacting naturally. I really liked the concept behind this show, and am interested to see what it develops into. Its creators, Tara Buckley and Lyndsay Price, will be performing a full length version at the mac Birmingham on Tuesday 3rd June.

Next up were Artizani and Avanti, who presented viewers with a series of strange scenarios and encouraged them to indulge in a little silliness. This was a really funny and entertaining show that exercised all its participants’ senses: as well as watching and listening, we were given honey to taste and surprised with a jet of water. Sadly, because of the size of the audience, not everyone was able to experience every part of it. For the first half, some of the participants were passive spectators, while the other half followed instructions given to them in an audio recording through headphones. After this, the first group were showed round other things until the second group had finished with the headphones, at which point we left. Nevertheless I’m sure that this is something that would be resolved by regulating audience numbers in a full-length show.

Talking Birds next gave a comic performance in front of the Hippodrome, acting the parts of two hapless, would-be cricketers whose ill-fated attempts to begin a game outside the theatre lead to some trouble with a security guard. Audience members were involved as a wicket-keeper, fielders and an umpire. This brilliant little piece was the most well-developed show of the evening, and it was hard to believe this was still a work in progress: I could easily see it appearing as a piece of pop-up street theatre in its current form.

Finally, we were taken to Arcadian Square for an interesting, improvised piece called Osmosis. Created by Freedom Studios, Osmosis explored sound and movement in a simplified, engaging way. Colourfully clothed actors sang, made silly noises and danced around with actions partly inspired by the audience. Though the group of adult participants were initially a little too self-conscious to fully immerse themselves in the show, I could imagine something like this working well as a daytime performance for families: young children in particular would probably be quicker to respond.

Overall, Pilot Sites was a really interesting experience, and an event I hope will be the first of many!