Explosive: Dance Consortium Presents Grupo Corpo at the Birmingham Hippodrome

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A truly explosive feast of a show, last night’s Grupo Corpo transported the vibrancy and liveliness of the Brazilian carnival to the darkness of an autumn evening in Birmingham.

Combining fluid, fast-paced dancing with a rich musical tapestry woven from diverse instrumental strands, Part 1 begins slowly before bursting into a series of breathtakingly dynamic set pieces. The South American dance troupe leap across the stage, each dressed in intricately decorated, individually-made suits designed to give the impression of full-body tattoos. All classically trained, their work is a unique, innovative fusion of traditional ballet and the movements of everyday life in Brazil’s urban centres. On Tuesday night, the pounding rhythms of the music soon proved irresistible even to viewers, who struggled to sit still in their seats.

PARABELO3520MIt isn’t all relentless energy, however: the buzz occasionally subsides to make room for more intimate, gentle duets. As the group explained in a post-show Q & A, parts of the performance draw on centuries-old stories of women who lost their men to the sea. The sadness and longing of the stories lend these quieter moments an immediacy and emotional resonance that makes them deeply moving even without the background information. The historical inspiration is also carried through elsewhere, surfacing in the swaying, tidal movements that flow throughout Act I.

In Act II, the brilliant, summery colours give way to a darker, more sombre vibe. Dressed in autumnal greens and browns, the dancers move more thoughtfully and purposefully against an eerie backdrop of expressionless heads. Towards the end, this backdrop is transformed into a collage of faded photographs, evoking all the joy and sadness of a nostalgic look through an old family album. This serves as a background for dance sequences with more modern inspirations, that mark a return to the fast-paced energy and bright colours of Act I.

SEMMIM3054MIn addition to showcasing some fantastic dance and music, the evening also served as a trial for a new project the Hippodrome is embarking upon, with members of the press invited to participate in “Tweet Seating”. Light-shading boxes were distributed, and those taking part were seated in a side section in order to minimise disruption to surrounding audience members. It was really fascinating to read the thoughts and observations of fellow audience members during the show, and you can now read a Storify selection of what people had to say about it. However, it did prove tricky to concentrate on more than one thing at once, and this is probably something that would only work for particular kinds of shows. In a more narrative, dramatic performance, it would be easy to lose the thread of a story by attempting to tweet about it live. Still, it was a fun experiment, and it will definitely be interesting to see where the theatre takes it next!

Find out more about Grupo Corpo and watch the trailer by visiting the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or read about Tweet Seating on the Birmingham Hippodrome blog.

Children of the Night: Dracula by DanceXchange and the Mark Bruce Company

draculaAs we near the end of October, the time for spooks and ghouls draws ever closer, and what better way to get ready for Halloween than with the Mark Bruce Company’s award-winning production of Dracula?

Formed in 1991 by internationally acclaimed director, dancer and choreographer Mark Bruce, the Mark Bruce Company quickly made its name on innovation in performance, subverting expectations by breaking conventions of style and genre. Having won the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Dance in January, Dracula is no exception.

Packed full of tricks and treats galore, this Dracula is a gloriously chaotic fusion of dance, music and theatrical styles, as eclectic as the many adaptations of Bram Stoker’s story have been over the years. And it draws on all of them, from the original text, through Hammer Horror, right up to more recent, self-sufficient reimaginings of Mina Harker in comics and on TV, with many scenes that could just as easily have been taken from a silent movie as from a live dance production.

The show opens with a menacing, otherworldly incarnation of its title character, running through eerie moonlight with seemingly superhuman speed. At this point he disturbs us – he is a being more monster than man, more muscular than feeling. Later, however, the strange, slippery Count (played with a breathtaking energy and mind-boggling adaptability by Jonathan Goddard) becomes comical, breaking into a hilarious tap-dancing routine that seems to come out of nowhere, before showing a moment of fragility when attacked by Jonathan Harker (Wayne Parsons), simultaneously acknowledging the often ridiculous nature of melodramatic gothic horror, as well nodding to the more sympathetic vampires to which we’ve recently become accustomed in teen fiction and angsty television shows. Like Gary Oldman’s 1992 Dracula, he’s also romantic, sometimes seeming to feel a genuine connection to Mina, portrayed by Eleanor Duval with an irresistible earnestness. But even in these quieter, more sentimental moments, we’re ever aware of his awesome power and the danger of giving in to his charm: his vampire brides, here a kind of tortured chorus leading us through the story, serve as a potent reminder of the consequences of trusting him too far. Nevertheless, its easy to forgive his victims their weaknesses. As ever, Dracula is disturbingly alluring, an intensely sexual nightmare creature born of painfully repressed desire. While Lucy Westenra (Kristin McGuire) may wear her lust on her sleeve, it is Mina who responds more passionately to the vampire’s advances, her loneliness and isolation strengthening her yearning for his attention.

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For all that, to infer from this that Mark Bruce’s Dracula is purely derivative would be grossly unfair: though it may well suck up essential elements from other, pre-existing Draculas, much like the woman who ultimately emerges as its unlikely heroine, it comes away from these other, undying versions as its own beast entirely.

This is the real triumph of the show: unlike almost any other interpretation of the story, it hints at some hope of escape for Mina Harker, leaving her in a refreshingly ambiguous position when the lights go down. Almost literally torn apart by the whore, wife and virgin archetypes that are forced upon her, this is a Mina that somehow manages to defy them all, and to do so on her own terms. As the show ends with her leaning over the dying vampire, surrounded by men eager to destroy the threat he represents, we can’t quite be sure what her final decision will be, or, indeed, whether it will involve any of the men who wait for it. What we can surmise, however, is that Mina Harker’s future is very much in her own hands.

Dracula will be showing again in Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre at 8pm tonight. For more information and to book, visit the DanceXchange website, or check out the Mark Bruce Company‘s site for full tour dates.

 

Ringside – Special Events Inspired by Wagner’s Ring Cycle

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To coincide with its full run of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in November, the Birmingham Hippodrome is presenting a series of special, themed events from 25th October until 8th November. Called Ringside, the diverse programme encompasses everything from film to cabaret, concerts to family friendly adventure games.

Kicking things off in The Patrick Centre on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th October, Reel Access will be screening a film titled Twilightofthefreakinggods, adapted from a play by Stan’s Café, which is in turn based on Wagnerian opera. All in black and white, this striking, wordless movie features a stunning original soundtrack. Twilightofthefreakinggods begins at  6.30pm on the Saturday and 2.30pm on the Sunday, with tickets priced at £6. Check out the Stan’s Cafe website for more information and clips, or click here to book.

Then, on Saturday 1st November, a packed schedule starts at 11am with One Of Our Singers Is Missing, a real-life, interactive game open to all. Participants will be sent to search for a missing opera singer, following clues to save the star and bring them safely back to the Hippodrome. This free adventure will be taking place every 15 minutes until 4pm. To join in, you’ll need to book a place via the Birmingham Hippodrome Website.

At 4pm, Neil Brand, presenter of BBC4’s acclaimed Sound of Cinema – The Music that Made the Movies series, will be discussing modern film scores and searching for elements of Wagner within them. Film Music and the Ghost of Wagner will be taking place in the Patrick Centre with tickets priced at £10. Click here to book.

Then from 5.30pm, students from the Birmingham Conservatoire will be taking over the Hippodrome foyer to play Wagner’s much-loved Siegfried Idyll, conducted by David Purser. Based on one of Brunnhilde’s melodies from The Ring Cycle, the song was written by the composer as a birthday present to his wife. This event will be open to all with no advance booking required.

This beautiful free concert will be followed by an evening of cabaret with West End stars Kit and McConnell, who will be offering their own irreverent take on the opera repertoire in The Fat Lady Sings. A veteran of Radio 4’s Just A Minute, Kit Hesketh Harvey is also well known for his work as one half of comedy duo, Kit and the Widow. The Fat Lady Sings will take place in the Patrick Centre from 7.30pm. Tickets cost £18 and can be booked online here.

On Sunday 2nd November, Birmingham’s Electric Cinema will be running a special screening of Fritz Lang’s Siegfried at 11.30am. One of the classics of early cinema, this 1924 film will be accompanied by an authentic live piano score played by Neil Brand. Tickets cost £10-16.50 and can be booked via The Electric’s website.

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Finally, on Saturday 8th November, leading soprano singers Susan Bullock and Catherine Foster will discuss the challenges of performing in a five-hour-long opera in Brunch with the Brunnhildes at 11.30am in the Patrick Centre. Hosted by Spectator journalist and presenter of Radio 4’s Front Row, Matthew D’Ancona, the event will cost £25 to attend with brunch included in the ticket price. Menu and booking details can be found on the Hippodrome website.

The Ring Cycle will run at the Birmingham Hippodrome in four parts, presented on Wednesday 5th, Thursday 6th, Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th November. Each show will be conducted by Valery Gergiev and performed by the Mariinsky Opera. More information is available here.