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International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012
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Author:  David [ Tue May 01, 2012 10:15 am ]
Post subject:  International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

IDFB Kicks Off!

Can it really be two years since the last IDFB? Well, yes it can. And on April 25th this year's festival kicked off with The Royal Ballet of Flanders dancing William Forsythe's "Artifact" at the Hippodrome.

Birmingham audiences like their ballet - but they do like their Birmingham Royal Ballet. They can be a little reluctant to support other companies when they come visiting. Even the Mariinsky struggled to even half-fill the theatre a couple of years ago. So it was great to see a near-full house for what was an amazing evening.

You can read all about it here (including reviews from the company's London performances) in the Ballet in Europe forum.

As I write this, one thing is the same as a couple of years ago: the weather. It's cold, rainy and windy. In 2010 some of the outdoor productions, including the Victoria Square spectacular, found themselves being cancelled. I know we need to rain, but for a couple of weeks please can we have a little sunshine.

The full IDFB schedule and news is at

Author:  David [ Tue May 01, 2012 10:16 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

'Children', 'A Few Minutes of Lock'
Louise Lecavalier
Patrick Centre, Birmingham; April 27, 2012

David Mead
Keir Knight and Louise Lecavalier in A Few Minutes of Lock. Photo Massimo Chiarradia.jpg
Keir Knight and Louise Lecavalier in A Few Minutes of Lock. Photo Massimo Chiarradia.jpg [ 24.54 KiB | Viewed 10439 times ]

After The Royal Ballet of Flanders earlier in the week, the first performance at the more intimate Patrick Centre saw a double header by Montreal-based dancer-choreographer, and former muse of Édouard Lock, Louise Lecavalier.

When Lecavalier appears on all fours at the beginning of Nigel Charnock’s “Children”, you think that is exactly what it’s going to be about. But instead it opens out into a bittersweet look at the emotions and traumas a couple go through as they try to get along and stay together for themselves and their offspring.

The opening section is less than inspired. There’s lots of unnecessary strobe lighting, ear-splitting sound, and Lecavalier thrashing around with a long silver metal rod. An outpouring of anger that the arrival of children has disrupted her life, perhaps? I’m not sure, and it’s unclear.

Things soon pick up, though, especially when Leonard Cohen’s classic song “Dance Me to the End of Love” starts. Lecavalier seems pulled back and forth across the stage by some unseen force. The arrival of Patrick Lamothe signals the beginning of a wonderful athletic duet interspersed with caring moments. A battle of wills starts. When he tries to be tender, stroking her face, she pulls away.

The songs and musical selections then come thick and fast, ranging from Miles Davies and Billie Holiday, through Janis Joplin to Michael Nyman and Puccini. Between the selections we occasionally hear children’s cries. Are they the glue that holds the various parts of the couple’s existence together or, as the opening suggests, an interruption to life?

The dance is always engaging. One of the best sections features a playful duet to Holiday singing Edgar Leslie and Joe Burke’s jazzy “Getting Some Fun Out of Life”, that featured some of the very fast spins and accented movement Lecavalier got so familiar with in her 18 years with Lock’s La La La Human Steps. Later, tempers fray as Lamothe carefully places water bottles on the stage, only for her to quite deliberately demolish them. What’s the point, he seems to ask as he eventually gives up.

Throughout it all, Lecavalier in particular has a powerful presence. She gives herself up to the dance and the emotions therein, always reaching out to us in the audience.

“A Few Moments of Lock” is a 13-minute look back featuring two short excerpts from “Salt” and one from “2”. If Lecavalier was good before, here she was breathtaking, reeling off explosive leaps and lightning-fast turns one after another. Can she really be 53? She was superbly partnered by Keir Knight, another La La La alumnus. The timing was split second accurate; and it needed to be.

Author:  David [ Fri May 04, 2012 3:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

‘The Impending Storm’
David Toole, Lucy Hind & Remix Dance Company
Patrick Centre, Birmingham; May 2, 2012

David Mead

Mark Storor’s “The Impending Storm” brings together David Toole, Lucy Hind and Remix Dance Company from South Africa, the latter a dance initiative that brings together performers with and without physical disabilities.

The opening scene is truly arresting. On a bed sits David Toole, wide-eyed, tossing and turning, his arms reaching out to something we cannot see. Other performers are spread around the edges of the stage, lifeless. The mood is slightly oppressive. Soon, Mpotseng Shuping begins a slow journey across the stage, using other dancers’ hands as sort of stepping stones. There’s a sense of memories here too as she leaves them spread behind in her wake.

The problems start when the work starts to bring together and interweave other dancers’ stories. There are some memorable images, but it all rather loses focus. There are some tender duets. The best involves Shuping, Toole and a long scarf, although some of the others look a little forced or manufactured. Then, out of the blue, it all turns violent, although quite why is hard to fathom. By now, there is so much going on, that you don’t know where to look. You find yourself watching lots, but seeing little and understanding even less.

That’s a shame, because the dancers are clearly very talented. Toole, best known for his role in DV8’s “The Cost of Living”, is one of those performers blessed with that special ‘something’ that always draws the eye. He may have been born without legs, but there is an amazing grace and smoothness about his movement as he shifts, almost effortlessly if seems, around the space using his hands and powerful shoulders. The Remix dancers too make you want to look at them as they move across the floor.

And then there are the three fabulous musicians at the back of stage. Britons Dom Coyote and Gregory Fenton, and South African jazz singer Sandile Gontsana kept up an evocative stream of sound that enhanced the mood wonderfully.

Eventually, focus is regained as pillow fights begin and everyone ends up on the bed. Even the musicians get to join in as the live music is replaced by Elvis singing “Be Mine Tonight”. The ensuing storm of white feathers is a beautiful final image.

Part the Cultural Olympiad, "The Impending Storm" will also be performed at the Unlimited season at the Purcell Room in London on 7 and 8 September.

Author:  David [ Fri May 04, 2012 3:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

Two days to go to the first of the outdoor pieces I'm supposed to be seeing - Shuan Parker's "Spill" in Cannon Hill Park. It's still cold but the good news is that at least it's not raining. Fingers crossed!

Author:  David [ Fri May 04, 2012 3:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

Another view on "The Impending Storm" from Zoe Anderson in The Independent.

Author:  David [ Mon May 07, 2012 6:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Crescent

Not contemporary dance, but it was great to see Birmingham Royal Ballet playing a decent part in the Festival for the first time. I know schedules and other commitments got in the way, but their previous absence has always struck one as being rather strange.

For a report on their interesting mixed programme, including a cracking new work by Jessica Lang, click here

Author:  David [ Mon May 07, 2012 9:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

Family Day
‘Cu-cuco’, ‘Nubes’ - Aracaladanza
‘Spill’ - Shuan Parker
mac, Birmingham; May 6, 2012

David Mead

Birmingham’s mac (Midlands Arts Centre) was a hive of activity over the IDFB’s Family Weekend. The sight of the sun, a rare event during this wet Spring, surely helped, as the centre had a real buzz about it when I popped along on the Sunday. There were plenty of activities going on including workshops for the very young, older children and families, formal and informal ‘pop-up’ performances, and associated drawing and other craft activities.

Isn’t there a saying something along the lines of, “Somewhere within us all, there always exists a child”? After sitting through and thoroughly enjoying two performances by Spanish company Aracaladanza, renowned for creating shows for infants, children and families, all I can say is that it must surely be true.

“Cu-Cuco” is aimed at the very young. Facing the ‘stage’ in Foyle Studio was a host of cushions large and small, plus one row of regular chairs at the back. Dancers Natali Camolez and Raquel de la Plaza Humera gave us 25 minutes of sheer, unmitigated delight. The colourful and engaging dance incorporates all sizes of umbrellas, magic lights, plastic bags that float in the air, sets that double as costumes, and a pair of the most delightfully expressive sock puppets you will ever see. It was a treat for all the sense and kept the youngsters - and us oldies - enthralled throughout. If ever you needed proof that dance aimed at young audiences can be sophisticated, this was it.
Nubes (8). Aracaladanza in Nubes (Clouds). Photo Eduardo García Gonzalez.JPG
Nubes (8). Aracaladanza in Nubes (Clouds). Photo Eduardo García Gonzalez.JPG [ 49.28 KiB | Viewed 10354 times ]

“Clouds”, usually presented under its Spanish title “Nubes”, is aimed at whole families. Inspired by the paintings of René Magritte it presents a series of magical, surrealist images. How many dance pieces have giant clouds, smaller clouds that turn into sheep, ballerinas that sit atop stepladders, doors through which dancers come and go but that seem to lead nowhere, and giant eight-foot tall dancers juggling oversize apples? It was an absolute delight from start to finish, but two scenes really stand out above all. First is when the cast appear as eight foot tall dinner-suited men, but with huge bulbs where the head should be. The dance that followed, especially after they unscrew and remove their ‘heads’, was clever enough on its own, but when the now headless figures suddenly produce canes and launch into an all too brief pastiche of “Top Hat” it becomes utterly brilliant. And if you want hilarious, the dance in diving flippers to Vivaldi will take some beating. Magritte would doff one of his famous bowler hats to the madness of it all - and yes, they are in the piece too.

Between the two Aracaladanza shows there was time to catch “Spill”, specially created for the Festival by Australian Shaun Parker. It’s designed to be danced in children’s playgrounds, using whatever equipment is there as a set. For once this Spring the sun was out as everyone set off on a procession to the performance site. It seemed to me that this should have been a jolly parade, but it was oddly muted. Despite the staff giving out a few noise making weapons, banging drums and waving flags, it was all rather quiet.

The piece itself was described as a “cheeky celebration of the child within.” Largely parkour-based the four performers threw themselves around the swings, slides and climbing frames. I’m sure the rather wet and potentially slippy ground contributed, but it all rather lacked excitement. Sure there were a few neat moves and swinging round the various bars, it all too often looked like hard work. Supposed near misses were not ever close, and an overly aggressive fight seemed strangely out of place. Being in the great outdoors, there were plenty of passers-by. Many people stopped to watch, but many also went on their way again after a few minutes, which rather said it all.

Aracaladanza’s “Clouds” (“Nubes”) continues on tour to Dublin (Pavillion Theatre), May 12-13; Ipswich (Jerwood Dance House), May 16-19; Buxton (Opera House), May 29; and Lincoln (Drill Hall), May 31.

Author:  David [ Thu May 10, 2012 4:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

‘Sombrisa’, ‘Carmen?!’, ‘Mambo 3XXI’
Danza Contemporánea de Cuba
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham; May 8, 2012

David Mead

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Mambo 3XXI. Photo Justin Nicholas.jpg
Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Mambo 3XXI. Photo Justin Nicholas.jpg [ 22.03 KiB | Viewed 10280 times ]

Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili seems to be everywhere right now. But as someone who usually comes up with some interesting an innovative takes on things, and who is very good at using the skills of the dancers he is working with, it was with some anticipation that I took my seat for his latest piece for the Danza Contemporánea de Cuba.

“Sombrisa” is a co-commission by the Newcastle Theatre Royal (where it premiered the previous week) and Sadler’s Wells. Tying in with London 2012 and the Cultural Olympiad, the theme is boxing, or more specifically, shadow boxing. The choreography is well-structured with lots of canon. There are plenty of boxing references in the costumes with the men in shorts, bow-ties and shorts, and the ladies in short black skirts with frilly white edges that, while looking a little like French maids outfit, also bore a strong resemblance to those bagging shorts boxers wear.

Just in case you didn’t get the idea behind the piece, apart from one couple at the very end, the cast wear boxing gloves throughout. There is plenty of jabbing and punching plus, it has to be said, some neat footwork. But it is rather repetitive, with an alarming lack of togetherness in the unison sections - of which there are many. The repetition may reflect the driven beat of Steve Reich’s “Drumming”, but all too often it also fails to keep pace with it. Perhaps I expected too much, but all in all this was hugely disappointing. My mind didn’t so much take the occasional wander, as set off on a major hike.

Matters did not improve with Kenneth Kvarnström’s supposedly funny “Carmen?!” which fails dismally to invoke the spirit of Bizet’s piece. The seven men make inane references to various animals, including a repeated bull motif using fingers for horns. At one point there are noises that sound like bovines in pain. It was about here that I felt like calling for the vet. Later, women’s knickers also manage to put in an appearance. The dancers seemed to enjoy it, and it did raise a couple of laughs from the audience, especially during the one-legged conga, but far more telling was that more than a few failed to return after the second interval.

And then, out of the blue, a gem appears. “Mambo 3XXI”, from company dancer-choreographer George Céspedes’ is 30 minutes of total delight. Set to electronic versions of music by Cuban ‘King of the Mambo’ Perez Prado and Alexis de la O Joya it really taps into the dancers’ souls. It starts quite slowly, almost cautiously but before long the dancers are giving it their explosive all. It’s packed with clever, fast moving solos, duets and small group work that zip past at speed, mixed in with the occasional ensemble sections - and here the agile, energetic and sexy dancers prove they really can dance as one. There are dance references galore - street dance, capoeira, lindy hop and many more. You could accuse it of being somewhat stereotypical. It does rather scream “Cuba” at you, but it’s a heady fun-filled cocktail that sends you home happy.

Author:  David [ Sat May 12, 2012 6:29 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham; May 11, 2012

David Mead

It’s been a long time. It was some 20 years ago that Slyvie Guillem last appeared on a Birmingham stage, then in “Manon” with The Royal Ballet (that was in the days when they saw themselves as more than just a London company). But what a triumphant return. The silence in the auditorium during all four pieces was quite striking. But this was no reverential hush. They were simply entranced. I’ll swear you could have heard a pin drop.

In the opening “Solo,” Guillem is bathed in a pool of light that comes from a group of low slung spotlights. Carlos Montoya’s flamenco rhythms are met with a combination of sudden accents and classical grace. There are references to the style, but this is more about capturing the energy and feel of the music, which she does magnificently.

Her second solo, “Two”, is even more stunning. Now in black, she dances in a small square of light, the beams glancing off her bare arms and back quite beautifully. And what an expressive back; every muscle can be seen and seems to have something to say. As the speed of the dance picks up, her arms and legs become whirling blurs leaving a trace in the mind long after they have passed.

Sandwiched between Guillem’s solos was “Shift,” a Maliphant solo from 1996. ‘Solo’ is something of a misnomer, though. Sure, Maliphant is the only human on stage, but he is accompanied throughout by his shadow, sometimes in triplicate, on the white backcloth. As a piece of choreography I found this even more engaging that the two pieces danced by Guillem. Maliphant responds so intelligently to the lighting and Shirley Thompson’s melancholic score that I became completely subsumed in the work.

And so top “Push” itself; thirty minutes of utterly transfixing dance. It’s an object lesson in how contemporary partner work, and contact improvisation-based dance in particular, does not have to be aggressive or athletic. It can be tender and, yes, beautiful. The couple roll around and over each other in a perfect and equal partnership, often stopping for a split second, allowing the mind to register things, before moving on.

‘Collison Course’

There’s more contact work to be seen outside the Hippodrome, where Australian Garry Stewart and Carmelo Musca’s large-scale installation project “Collision Course” can be seen projected on to the theatre’s frontage. It involves 48 collisions over 33 minutes; pairs, trios, quartets and quintets; all shot with an extremely high speed camera and replayed in extreme slow motion. It was too cold to stand and watch it all, but you really can see even the smallest gesture and reshaping of faces and bodies as they come into contact with each other. To see it at its best, though, make sure you go after dark.

Author:  David [ Wed May 16, 2012 6:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

Breakin’ Convention
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham; May 14, 2012

David Mead

For nine years Breakin’ Convention has turned theatres around the country into a hive of hip-hop. Visiting Birmingham as part of IDFB, it seemed like every available space in the Hippodrome was buzzing with activity, whether it was freestyle sessions with live DJs in the foyers and bars, or performances on stage.

Breakin’ Convention is not only a convention about breakin’. Bringing together some of the best international crews in hip hop with local acts, it aims to showcase a range of styles and, importantly, attempts to break conventions and stereotypes surrounding the dance style. Although on stage the programme included mainstream dance, there was plenty of more experimental work too, all curated, directed and hosted in his own very individual and very affable style by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Jonzi D.
Sébastien Ramirez and Hyun-Jung Wong in AP15. Photo Paul H.jpg
Sébastien Ramirez and Hyun-Jung Wong in AP15. Photo Paul H.jpg [ 28.79 KiB | Viewed 10204 times ]

It was one of the more unusual pieces that provided the highlight of the evening. In “AP15”, Clash 66 duo of Sébastien Ramirez from France and Korean Hyun-Jung Wong gave a fresh take on male-female duets within hip-hop. The dance was like a conversation as they explored the relationship between them in choreography that included elements of martial arts. It was often sensitive, gentle, even serene, but that included dramatic bursts as one suddenly sprang or burst upon the other. The couple showed that you can have hip hop technicality alongside emotion, meaningful dialogue and narrative. It was all quite magnetic and mesmerising. So much so, they all but silenced the enthusiastic audience; no mean feat.

Also making people think were the members of the international ILL-Abilities Crew, all of who have some form of disability, including deafness, an amputated leg, and deformed limbs from birth. Of course, disabled people (or should that be differently-abled?) in dance is nothing new. Indeed, only a couple of weeks earlier an IDFB show had included the outstanding David Toole in the cast, but I will guarantee that it challenged the perceptions of some in the audience. In “No Limits”, each dancer put their disability to the fore, their recorded voices explaining his physical limitation before launching into their virtuostic dance. If your legs won’t support you, don’t let that stop you. Just dance on your back or your hands instead. And could they dance! Their whole attitude was summed up by two statements on the voiceover: “Only our minds disable us”, and “The first failure is not trying”; something we should all bear in mind.

Top of the more mainstream crews was the current b-boy world champions, the 9-man Vagabond Crew from France. In “Alien” their flipping and somersaulting was interspersed by some beautiful sculptural moments. A man rising and reaching skywards from a heaving mass of bodies and a representation of the multi-armed Buddha particularly stick in the memory. In a later section they even try some wit, when each gets to enter the stage like some sort of alien insect.

One of the great things about Breakin’ Convention is that rising youth and local groups get to take part alongside the established international acts. Kicking off the evening, Street Dance Academy showed plenty of energy and, most impressively, amazing discipline in “Unite”. They could have shown the Cubans who were here the previous week a few things about dancing together with precision timing. Alongside them, in “EVOL”, Ella Mesma presented a tense solo that explored the boundaries of sexual consent; saying yes when we mean no, and vice-versa. Her dance included much suggestive use of leg locked positions and touching of her body. It was an impressively meaningful piece. Sadly, despite the obvious nature of the subject matter, certain members of the audience couldn’t handle the switch of tone and found it all amusing. Only when Jonzi D explained all at the end did the penny drop. The local line up was completed by NuProjeks’ “The MisF!ts”.

I’ll be honest, hip hop is not a dance style I would normally rush to watch. But all told, this was an evening of sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes beautiful, but always totally watchable dance.

Author:  David [ Sun May 20, 2012 12:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham; May 17, 2012

David Mead

Circolumbia in Urban. Photo Yan Pellegrino.jpg
Circolumbia in Urban. Photo Yan Pellegrino.jpg [ 44.75 KiB | Viewed 10146 times ]

Rounding off Festival performances at the Hippodrome, Circolombia presented their gritty but wildly entertaining circus meets hip-hop meets the street “Urban”.

The performers all used to live on the streets of one of the most dangerous parts of Cali in Western Colombia. Escape from the streets came via the Colombian national circus school, Circo Para Todos, which offers a demanding four-year training course to street children and young people.

While the show owes a debt to Cirque de Soleil, Cirque it is definitely not. This is altogether edgier and darker, and based firmly in the reality of the performers’ upbringing in the barrios. It mixes those personal experiences with some outstanding circus skills with energetic dance moves, all to a pounding mix of Latin reggaeton and hip hop, with choral bursts with the occasional more mystical moments thrown in for good measure. It includes plenty of references to gangs and confrontation, but it’s equally a celebration of redemption, and individual freedom.

While many of the circus tricks will be familiar, the swagger and edge they were given is not. Among the more unusual scenes were brothers Angel Alberto and Jose Henry Caycedo Casiera on a pair of bouncing ropes, and Angela Saez Garcia demonstrating amazing balance showing one elegant pose after another on a huge Celtic-cross within a wheel structure balanced on Francisco Javier Hurtado’s forehead.
Circolombia in Urban. Photo Sandra C Roa.JPG
Circolombia in Urban. Photo Sandra C Roa.JPG [ 27.8 KiB | Viewed 10146 times ]

The edginess of the street is never far away, though. The slums of Cali are shown through a ‘window’ behind all the action. Interwoven into the tricks are dance scenes in which gangs tumble across the stage, facing each other down in shows of aggression all very reminiscent of the Jets and Sharks on that basketball court in West Side Story.

The show is interspersed with brief moments where the performers tell the audience about their lives in their native Spanish with a few helpful translations on the screens at the back. The most poignant scene comes towards the end, though, the cast managing to send a chill down the spine in a ‘day of the dead’ sequence in they light candles for friends killed on the street while others appear with skeletons that are then placed at the front of the stage for the rest of the show.

Author:  David [ Sun May 20, 2012 12:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

‘Wings of Desire’
Victoria Square, Birmingham; May 17, 2012

David Mead

A big, free, outdoor spectacular towards the end of the Festival has already become something of an IDFB tradition, so after Circolumbia it was a quick dash up to Victoria Square for this year’s large-scale, multimedia “Wings of Desire”. Unfortunately, thanks to “Urban” starting ten minutes late and being 15 minutes longer than scheduled, I missed the opening.

“Wings of Desire” is based on the well-known Wim Wenders film. Drum ‘n’ bass artist Goldie is the master of ceremonies in the guise of a former angel. Brought up in the West Midlands, he recalls his memories of his youth, particularly travelling in from Wolverhampton for a Saturday night out, and of the curry houses of the city’s Balti Triangle.

But forget the narrative, which in any event pretty much gets lost. The show is all about the visuals. It opens with angels on the rooftops and balconies of the buildings around the square including the Palladian Town Hall, Museum and Council House. There is athletic and acrobatic dancing on a raised stage. Australian circus company Circa, making a welcome return to the Festival, give us more brilliant acrobatics. Hereford-based 2Faced Dance Company add some darkness to proceedings, their long trenchcoats swirling in the night. What could be seen was impressive, but the stage was simply not raised enough. The close to the floor street dance elements in particular were almost impossible to see, even standing on tiptoe.

Not to worry, because the big finale takes place on the Town Hall. First, trapeze artist Emma McGovern attracts an angel as she slides down a rope between two pillars before dancing in mid air. Then, as an angel throws himself off the building’s roof, the whole place seems to explode. Arts and technology collective seeper’s projections are quite simply astounding. They make the real building almost disappear in a blaze of special effects. It really does seem to fracture and disintegrate, a virtual gale blowing the fragments away, before order is restored in all its colourful glory.

It was spectacular indeed. If you don’t believe me, check out these videos on YouTube:

Author:  David [ Tue May 22, 2012 2:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2012

More on "Wings of Desire" from Zoe Anderson in The Independent

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