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.

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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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