Time of Your Life – Dirty Dancing Workshop

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Following numerous sell-out runs in Britain and beyond, smash-hit musical Dirty Dancing will return to the Birmingham Hippodrome this year as part of its 2015 UK tour. Based on the film by Eleanor Bergstein, the stage adaptation has already broken numerous records, becoming the fastest selling show in West End history when it opened in 2006, and going on to take an unprecedented £42,000,000 from its first tour of the country in 2011.

Ramping up the already palpable buzz for its hotly anticipated spring visit to Birmingham, a special Dirty Dancing workshop took place at the theatre on Thursday, with fans invited to relive the show’s powerful energy through lesson’s with choreographer Glenn Wilkinson and dancers Lisa Welham and Albey Brookes.

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A brief introduction from producer Karl Sydow kicked off the afternoon, explaining how the stage show had come to be and emphasising the huge popularity of both the musical and its movie counterpart. A video clip showed thrilled theatre-goers, including members of the public and celebrity fans, gushing about their experiences, and their excitement was mirrored in the enthusiasm with which attendees took to the dance floor as we were led into the next room.

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I’m definitely no dancer – three moves was about as much as I could manage – but it was still fun watching from the sidelines, especially since my fellow First Night Blogger, Becky, made a much better job of it than I did!

The three dancers led the workshop with participants split into two groups, and one lucky lady even had the chance to dance with one of the professionals. Her partner, Albey Brookes, will join the Dirty Dancing ensemble cast when the show arrives in Birmingham in April.

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Afterwards, we had chance to talk with choreographer about how he ended up working on the show. While his own background is in contemporary dance, his introduction to the world of musicals came through his wife, who also works in the business. With several years experience of working on Dirty Dancing and other shows now behind him, however, he’s had plenty of time to get used to creating big, showstopping numbers. His contemporary training has even come in handy for Dirty Dancing, allowing him to add his own twists and flourishes to its rock-and-roll style, resulting in a truly unique production.

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Dirty Dancing opens at the Birmingham Hippodrome on Thursday 30th April and runs until Saturday 23rd May. To book tickets, call 0844 338 5000 or visit the theatre’s website. Full UK tour dates can be viewed on the Dirty Dancing UK Tour site. If you plan on going along, don’t forget to share your experience via Twitter using the hashtags #DDTour2015 and #BHdirtydancing.

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DanceXchange – Arthur Pita’s The Little Match Girl at the Birmingham Hippodrome

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The season of festive shows is now well and truly upon us, with Arthur Pita’s The Little Match Girl following hot (or should that be cold?) on the heels of the recent run of Slava’s Snowshow at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Presented by DanceXchange, Pita’s production is a beautiful, enchanting and surprisingly funny adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen story that sees the little match girl (here named Fiammetta) transported to an unnamed Italian town where Christmas festivities are well underway.

The show is in large part an exploration of the meaning of Christmas, bringing together an eclectic mishmash of traditions with the kind of sombre, poignant reflections that tend to creep up on us on long winter nights towards the end of the year. Fiammetta’s own joy and wonder at the the beauty of her surroundings reminds us of the happiness of any young child anticipating presents and games on Christmas Eve. Then there’s the mouth-watering, Neapolitan-style Christmas food list rattled off by the wealthy and gluttonous Donnarumma family. The flamboyance and grotesqueness of that little trio, complete with its own ridiculous dame of a mother, is obviously inspired by a long history of British pantomime. Nevertheless, as self-absorbed as they are, the Donnarummas also on some level communicate the idea of Christmas as a time for family, a theme more sensitively dealt with in Fiammetta’s visit to her grandmother’s grave, where she, like many others at this time of year, spares some time to think of absent loved ones (that “auld acquaintance” that we so often toast on New Year’s Eve).

The_Little_Match_Girl_-_Bayes_1889Sensitively, Pita opens up both the meaningful and the shallow sides of Christmas, like two sides of Fiammetta’s single shiny penny, highlighting the hypocrisy of much of what goes on. While the Donnarumma family and others like them give gifts and eat together, the notion of Christmas as a time for sharing does not extend as far as poor Fiammetta, left barefoot and empty-handed in the cold. Rather than simply allowing her to drift by, ghostlike and unnoticed, however, Pita brings her into direct conflict with a jealous pair of rival match-sellers, as well as with the obnoxious Donnarummas.

The design of the show is utterly gorgeous, from the giant full moon hanging low in the inky sky to the rows of little houses that disappear and reappear onstage. The lighting is also beautifully atmospheric, with pools of streetlamp glow highlighting little patches of falling snow. Even more crucial to maintaining the mood is Frank Moon’s fantastic music. Performing onstage, Moon is drawn in to the world of the show, sometimes as a kind of incidental street musician, other times as a more direct part of the story, in a role he aptly described in the post-show discussion as something akin to that of a narrator. Interestingly, his music evolved symbiotically with with the movement, rather than being set to the dancing or the action being choreographed to a ready-made score, a process which has worked fantastically well. Moon attended creative sessions with the cast and director throughout the development of the production, and the result is a wonderful meeting of violins and theremins, haunting, Danny Elfman-esque sounds and jolly Christmas tunes.

The little cast of four is utterly brilliant all round, with Corey Annand convincingly innocent and vulnerable as Fiammetta (though with a surprising strength and determination when necessary), and Angelo Smimmo, Karl Fagerlund Brekke and Valentina Golfieri hilarious in show’s various other roles. The one thing that let the show down, however, was an apparent reluctance to allow the darkness in the story room to breathe and to sink in with its audience. It’s understandable that for a festive family show, something a little more light-hearted was called for than Andersen’s almost unbearably bleak tale, which is enough to reduce grown-ups, let alone children, to blubbering wrecks. Nevertheless, the fact of the match girl’s death was so lightly skimmed over that at least one of my fellow audience members was left confused and unaware of what had actually happened. Shifting a single scene to a point a little later in the show would probably have been enough to resolve this lack of clarity. Another, related issue was Smimmo’s semi-comedic take on Fiammetta’s grandmother who, like Clementina De Magistis Donarumma, is played by a male cast member in drag. For me, her heightened singing and pantomime dame qualities took away too much from the emotional resonance of her reunion with the little girl, a touching moment in the story that should have been more joyous, as well as more sad.

That said, the show gets an excellent and powerful ending when we are transported to a more contemporary town where, over a century later, another young girl attempts to sell cigarette lighters on the streets, which left me feeling as though there should have been some kind of charity collection on the way out.

Overall, what this production loses in Andersen’s devastating emotional blows, it makes up for in irresistible charm and a sense of genuine magic. Guaranteed to warm your heart like a handful of matches in a snowstorm, it’s a perfect Christmas treat for kids and adults of all ages.

Hippodrome Volunteering Opportunities – Minimum Monument & Summer in Southside

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As part of its education and outreach programme, Hippodrome Plus, the Birmingham Hippodrome is offering two exciting volunteering opportunities over the summer, perfect for those with a passion for the creative arts or looking to add to their CV.

First off, from Thursday 17th July until Friday 2nd August, award-winning Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo will be working on a new public art project, Minimum Monument, in Birmingham’s city centre. Designed to commemorate the First World War 100 years on from the event, Minimum Monument will be a striking display of 5000 figures sculpted from ice, celebrating the common man and the bravery of ordinary people – not only soldiers, but also their families and all those who suffered and made sacrifices during the war.

Minimum Monument 2The finished piece will be presented to viewers in Centenary Square on 2nd August, but in order to turn the idea into a reality, Azevedo requires a dedicated team of 20 volunteers to help create the sculptures and to work alongside the exhibition production team. Volunteers will not be required to work every day, but will need to be able to commit to a minimum of 5 shifts between 17th July and the exhibition opening, and must be aged 18 or over. Those interested should fill out the online application form, or contact zaraharris@birminghamhippodrome.com for more information.

Summer in Southside

Following the exhibition, the theatre’s annual outdoor performance festival, Summer in Southside, will be making a return in three weekends packed full of short plays, dance, circus skills, live music and more. Thanks to the success of last year’s event, Summer in Southside has this year expanded from covering just two weekends, and as such, the theatre will need all hands on deck to ensure everything runs smoothly.

There are a range of roles available for enthusiastic volunteers to try out, including event promotion, stewarding and assisting artists and performers directly. In addition, all volunteers will also receive World Class Service training in Outdoor Arts and a certification of their volunteering hours. Those interested should fill out the online  application form or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website for more information. All volunteers must be aged 18 or over.

Summer in Southside: Free Outdoor Performances This August

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Following its successful Six Summer Saturdays outdoor event programme, the Birmingham Hippodrome will this year be presenting Summer in Southside, two weekends of outdoor performance and entertainment in Birmingham’s Southside area.

Amongst a range of other things, the programme will include dance, physical theatre, puppetry, storytelling and circus acts, all taking place on Saturday 3rd August and Saturday 24th-Sunday 25th August – and all entirely free!

Said Paul Kaynes, Director of Creative Programmes at Birmingham Hippodrome,

“For the last three summers we have brought unusual outdoor performances across the city enjoyed by thousands of people. This year we are delighted to be producing two big weekends of free performances especially for visitors to Southside. Whether shopping, eating or theatre going people will not be able to miss some of the best outdoor theatre in the country.”

The artists taking over the city’s Hippodrome Square, Arcadian, Inge Street and Hurst Street will range from the local to the international, with performers from Warwickshire and across the UK, and further afield from Trinidad, Switzerland and Tanzania.

Full listings are shown below.

Saturday 3 Aug 12 noon – 7pm

NOCTURNE – Marc Brew Company

An intimate bedtime story about restless nights, draws viewers into the home lives of four exquisite dancers as they share their hidden dreams.

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FALLING UP – Mimbre

Bodies fly, fall, stack up and carry each other in this spectacular physical show featuring four strong women who refuse to conform to stereotypes.

CON TATTO – Da Motus

Follow eight Swiss dancers through the streets of Southside as they create dynamic shapes and interact with the architecture, weaving together elements of their surroundings to create an extraordinary display.

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DON’T DRINK AND DANCE – Joli Vyann

Girl meets boy. A playful, witty cocktail of dance and energetic acrobatics set in a bar.

CHUTNEY – Kuljit Bhamra

Get in the carnival spirit with this strolling street band from Trinidad’s Indian community. A spicy mix of guitars, horns and percussion, their music brings together influences from Asia and the Caribbean.

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TROLLEYS – C-12 Dance Theatre

Part street dance, part ballet, part supermarket sweep, this is a high-energy, acrobatic performance on wheels.

H2H – Joli Vyann

A dance performance about how we express ourselves and what our hands say about us. Hands hold on and keep us from falling. But what happens when we let go?

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Saturday 24 – Sunday 25 August 12 noon – 7pm – August Bank Holiday

Two days of outstanding live events in areas surrounding the Hippodrome, including astonishing stunts, dance, aerial performers, acrobatics and much more. Plus, participatory workshops for all the family to enjoy.

OPEN HOUSE – Nofit State Circus

Back by popular demand, Nofit State Circus explode from their caravans for a series of circus taster workshops, impromptu stunts and professional circus performances. All ages are invited to run away with the circus for a few hours and train alongside Nofit State’s professional performers or simply sit back and watch as the spectacle unfolds.

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THE IRON MAN – Graeae

A captivating show that kids and adults adore with puppetry, signing, storytelling and live music based on Ted Hughes’ lovely book. A fully animated 20 ft iron giant tells a compelling story against the backdrop of Southside’s urban skyline. It will be interesting to see if and how this performance will interact with Anthony Gormley’s Iron: Man.

1920’S MAGIC SHANGHAI TEA HOUSE – Rosa Parkin and the Chinese Jitterbug girls

Mixing ancient Chinese magic, the Charleston and a cup of tea, this is a pit stop to remember! 

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AMAZING ACROBATICS – The Black Eagles

Originally from Tanzania, East Africa, this dynamic acrobatic trio learnt their skills on the streets of Dar-es-Salaam.

RED SHOES – Upswing

Inspired by grim and glorious fairytales, using dance, Chinese pole and other circus techniques, dancers journey through a forest where strange people live and strange things happen!

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CAPTIVE – Motionhouse

Emotional and highly-physical dance and aerial work, inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, The Panther. Four dancers are confined within a steel cage, their world is turned upside down as they fight for survival.

THE LION KING ARTS AND CRAFTS WORKSHOPS

A range of family-friendly arts and crafts activities will take place over the weekend, inspired by The Lion King Musical, now showing at Birmingham Hippodrome all summer.

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