4 Squares Weekender – Free Theatre to Launch the New Library of Birmingham

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If you’ve been following the news this week, you may well have spotted that the new Library of Birmingham was opened on Tuesday by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who survived being shot by the Taliban for championing girls’ rights to education.

Speaking on the day, Malala described books as weapons for beating terrorism, claiming that “the only way to global peace is reading, knowledge and education”. With characteristic eloquence, she went on to explain that,

“Books are precious. Some books travel with you back centuries, others take you into the future. Some take you to the core of your heart and others take you into the universe. […] It is written that a room without books is like a body without a soul. A city without a library is like a graveyard.”

Malala also spoke about the importance of Birmingham as a city, describing it as “the beating heart of England“.

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Following on from this official launch, a weekend of free live performance across Birmingham City Centre will celebrate the library’s opening, beginning at 9.30pm tomorrow with As the World Tipped, a spectacular, aerial outdoor show by Wired Aerial Theatre, set on a huge 12 metre screen against the night sky. Watch this space for updates: I’ll be attending and reporting back on both the show and the media launch beforehand. If you can’t make it tomorrow, the performance will be repeated at 9pm on Saturday.

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Across Saturday and Sunday, you’ll be able to see a diverse range of shows taking place across Birmingham’s Oozells, Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria Squares, with something for all ages to enjoy. In the words of Peter Knott, Regional Director of Arts Council England, 4 Squares Weekender is, “a spectacular weekend to celebrate arts and culture”, offering “something to suit all tastes”.

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In Oozells Square and Brindleyplace, there’ll be a series of performances and activities organised by mac Birmingham. Inside Ikon’s galleries, there will be music by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, as well as dance from Sampad and contemporary circus by Pif-Paf. Outside, you can take part in family-friendly activities, helping to build a giant city out of clay.

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A musical picnic will take place in Centenary Square, courtesy of Town Hall Symphony Hall, and featuring performances from Birmingham-based saxophonist Soweto Kinch. Meanwhile, inside four converted caravans, the Birmingham REP will be providing impromptu acting and storytelling, and inside the new library itself, there’ll be music from Ex Cathedra and the Birmingham Opera Company.

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TippaIrie2013In Victoria Square, NoFit State Circus will be providing performance and circus skills taster workshops. If you missed them at Summer in Southside, this is a great chance to catch up with their incredible acrobatics, as well as to take part and learn some skills yourself!

Finally, in Chamberlain Square, The Drum’s Simmer Down stage will be hosting a range of reggae, ska, bhangra, sufi and hip-hop music, including performances from Tippa Irie and Musical Youth. Inside the Town Hall, you’ll be able to see dance performances from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and DanceXchange, including opportunities to take part, while the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery will be presenting a full day of film courtesy of Flatpack Festival.

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Said Stuart Griffiths, Chief Executive of the Birmingham Hippodrome, “”Birmingham’s arts organisations offer some of the most vibrant and exciting programmes in the country. We are delighted to come together to welcome the new Library of Birmingham at this incredibly exciting time for our city.”

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If you’re attending, don’t forget to tell us about your experiences on Twitter, using the hashtag #bham4sq. As with the Summer in Southside festival, I’ll be hanging around over both days, so check back here if you’re curious about anything you don’t manage to attend.

Hope to see you there!

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Summer in Southside – 24-25 August

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14Almost as soon as I headed out of New Street station towards the Hippodrome and the Southside area, I could feel rhythm pulsing through the streets. As I approached, music filled the air, laden with enough sunshine of its own to chase away the faintly autumnal chills that crept into this Saturday.

This was the second part of Summer in Southside, a double weekend of free live performance around the Birmingham Hippodrome, and the source of the sound was the African music accompanying the acrobatic displays of the Black Eagles dance group.

Immediately afterwards, the crowd shuffled into Inge Street, where a fairytale forest of leaves, poles and cling film was waiting to provide the backdrop for The Red Shoes, a magical fairy-tale performance by Upswing . Beautiful, atmospheric and thoroughly entertaining, this show perfectly captured the spirit of traditional tale-telling, carefully blending humour with the threat of hidden dangers. I’ve never enjoyed a dance performance so much: I loved that the movement and skill were clearly used to serve the story and setting, rather than the other way around.

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Next up were some spectacular circus skills by NoFit State Circus, including trampolining, dancing on roller skates and a record attempt at the largest number of people hula hooping on the streets of Birmingham. The display culminated in spectacular, rope-based acrobatics from a performer who seemed almost to swim through the air as if it were water, and was accompanied throughout by a brilliant live band who promised to make a song out of whatever their audience requested.

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A sign spinning showcase followed featuring Hollywood-based performers Max Durovic and Justin Brown, star of the Daft Signz video (below). Sign spinning is a strange mix of advertising and dance, with large signs incorporated into urban dance moves. Like the NoFit State’s Open House, this performance was particularly good at involving its audience, with the performers encouraging enthusiastic children to get involved.

A little tired and thirsty by this point, I headed for the sweet shop on the corner to grab myself a drink, but before I could reach the counter, a street band dressed in Sergeant Pepper-style outfits appeared outside the door. As they struck up the opening notes of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, and began to make their way down Hurst Street, I realised I’d have to put down the Dandelion & Burdock and come back for it later. The band was Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, a New Orleans-style six-piece playing 90s pop classics. Walking with the band, a group of people travelled towards Arcadian, serenaded with a bizarre version of Black Box’s “Ride on Time”. After this, we were treated to unique renditions of songs by Orbital, Happy Mondays, Michael Jackson and Daft Punk, with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as the finale. Without a doubt, listening to them was my favourite part of the weekend. Click here to hear some of their music on Soundcloud.

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Just a couple of shows were left to see: Graeae Theatre’s Iron Man and Captive by Motionhouse. The former was a fun, family friendly show that saw Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant brought to life to fight against the terrible Space Bat. The puppetry was incredible, and the show also taught its audience some sign language, offering positive representation through performers with a range of disabilities.

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The final show was an acrobatic dance piece in which four characters become trapped together in a cage. It explored the relationships between its characters and how these were affected by being forced together in a confined space, finally ending with the possibility of escape and freedom.

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Summer in Southside was a fantastic opportunity to experience a range of different kinds of performance. It was great to see so many people not only watching but interacting with shows, especially children and families.

If you missed Summer in Southside, or if you were there and enjoyed the weekend, you can catch more free outdoor theatre in a couple of weeks’ time at Birmingham’s Four Squares Weekender event. The Four Squares Weekender will take place across a range of Birmingham venues from Friday 6th to  Sunday 8th September to celebrate the opening of the Library of Birmingham. It will feature performances by the CBSO, NoFit State Circus and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, along with a range of street theatre, dance, live music, exhibitions and plenty of opportunities to get involved. Click here for more information.

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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