Category Archives: Dance

Birmingham Royal Ballet Presents: The Nutcracker @ Birmingham Hippodrome

Nutcracker

When this event became available, I could not help but grab it at the first opportunity, and had waited avidly for it ever since. Having been familiar with the astounding music composed by Tchaikovsky, I expected nothing less from the production itself.

I had not seen a ballet before, and it is not something I had ever really considered; my main interest being big shows and musicals. However, from my experience of the ballet, I could not recommend it more highly. First of all, the venue was out of this world. The Hippodrome has definitely gone all out to decorate with the most beautiful, homely and welcoming Christmas decorations I have seen so far this year – not to mention the grand ornate interior of the theatre itself.

Flicking through the programme waiting for the show to start, the orchestra began to warm up and instantly a warm Christmassy feel took over me. There is no better sound than a live orchestra, with each instrument adding its own individual timbre. The curtain rose and on stage laid a huge pile of presents, shadowed by the most humungous Christmas tree I had ever seen – and it got bigger! It definitely brought out the big kid in me; the set being composed of a grand log burning fire, accompanied by warm crimson lighting. I wanted to jump up on stage and ransack all of the presents myself … that was until the dancers came prancing gracefully onto the stage – I somehow don’t think I would have fitted in!

Tracing back 127 years, the story of The Nutcracker is constantly evolving to this day; each producer adding their own touch to the festive ballet. The performance is built upon the musical foundations of the breathtakingly enchanting musical suite composed by Tchaikovsky. The music and choreography work interdependently to portray the narrative of Clara’s magical journey.

The story tells of a family holding a Christmas party for all their family and friends. The jolly atmosphere takes a mysterious turn when the magician, Drosselmeyer, enters the stage, bringing gifts for all of the children and performing tricks which leave the children dazzled. The whole play then turns into a magical fantasy performance when all the toys come to life at the stroke of midnight. The Second Act commences with Clara flying across the stage on a beautiful white Swan where she enters an enchanted land inhabited by a number of magical characters, including the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Fairy. This section included much of the well known and well loved music by Tchaikovsky such as the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ and the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’.

The performance was astounding to say the least. As I mentioned earlier, as a typical fan of musicals boasting big performances shaped by bold beaming voices, the ballet dissimilarly entranced me in its absolute silence. The story was told completely through the music and dance; ranging from the jubilant opening ‘Christmas Scene’, to the sudden change of a mysterious minor key upon the magician’s arrival.

It was a real traditional family production, putting emphasis on all generations: the excitable children eagerly waiting to open their presents, the graceful adolescents, the proud parents, and topping it all off with the comedic duo of the grandfather and grandmother. It was so nice to see young girls in the audience leaping and dancing around after the performance, and it really hit home for me how inspiring the performance must be for young children, particularly those aspiring dancers.

If you have not had the pleasure of attending a performance by the Birmingham Royal Ballet as of yet – it is an absolute must! The next show being performed by the spell-binding dancers will be Swan Lake (running from Wednesday 5th – Saturday 15th February.)

by Victoria Williams

Watch This Presents: Triumphant @ Guild of Students

triumphant

Cast:
Ryan Brown, Bruce Lancaster-Rous, Sarah Lonergan, Sara Page

 Crew:
Director, choreographer and writer – Cassiah Joski-Jethi. Producer: Florence Schechter

Triumphant, an original piece of physical theatre, written, directed and choreographed by Cassiah Joski-Jethi is nothing short of a success: it is possibly one of the most exciting and original productions I have seen in my three years at the University.

The four characters in the piece were often child-like, consumed by stifling confusion and feelings of hopelessness, which were communicated through beautifully choreographed movements and wonderfully executed dance routines.

However, these feelings weren’t for the characters alone to experience. The fourth wall was broken repeatedly throughout the performance, with audience members being handed books and being spoken to by the cast; it was unnerving at times, adopting some of the characteristics of in-yer-face theatre to incite self-reflection; this was most evident when the dance studio’s mirrors were revealed and the audience uncomfortably looked at themselves and one another. The dance studio was the perfect space for the performance: there was a simultaneous intimacy and claustrophobic sense created.

Memory also played a significant part in the piece. The characters desperately searched for something, voraciously read books for enlightenment, and yet still couldn’t necessarily ever put their fingers on what they were actually looking for. The dimly lit space and the use of blindfolds highlighted the characters’ lack of direction and enlightenment about their situation. They seemed to be denying themselves a crucial piece of information: one sequence followed the characters’ dispute over how an event had occurred, while another followed the characters’ fear of having to ‘go back’ to something that they had obviously chosen to forget.

The best way to interpret the piece, I felt, was to read it as a piece of post-modern art. There were several elements which fitted this label: by giving out the books so willingly, the characters seemed to reject art; they constantly sought to define things exactly by reading dictionary definitions, and their lack of appreciation for the art they owned is a typical symptom of their waning ability to affect. Moreover, one character’s cynicism towards God, and the representation of life as a repetitive cycle of a few experiences culminating in death was a clear indication of nihilism. However, as with some of my favourite theatre pieces, it was not entirely fatalistic. Towards the end of the production, the characters recollected their books, thus indicating a new appreciation of emotion, and acknowledged that they lived and died ‘triumphant’.

To look for a clear narrative in a piece like this is to miss the point completely. What Joski-Jethi’s production aims for is self-reflection. To find it life-affirming or fatalistic is an individual’s interpretation.

Whether you understand it or not, the choreography is beautiful and wonderfully executed by the cast. Sara Page is in particular a fantastic dancer, but it must be mentioned that some of the cast members have not been trained in dance, and yet moved incredibly well. Joski-Jethi has also chosen a wonderful selection of music which is melancholic, uplifting and unnerving, and perfectly matches the characters’ journeys.

It is a credit to Joski-Jethi that she has been able to cast, devise and rehearse this entire production in such a short amount of time; the fact that the end result is something exciting and entirely unique is quite frankly astonishing.

by Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

The Wake @ mac

Imagine attending a wake for the past year. What is there to say? Except the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee do we have much else to celebrate? Mac in Edgbaston seem to think so. The Arts Centre hosted the Jane Packman company, who have devised a moving performance that brings the imagination to life and looks beyond the tangible.

Upon arrival, we were delighted to have our coats taken. We received complimentary drinks; the wine certainly added to the ambience. We took our seats in a small room of 30 other people, nestled on wooden chairs with bark beneath our feet. Small side tables were dotted around, with a small ‘Living Room’ space in front for the actors to begin their performance.

jane packman

Before they began, a spiral bound notebook with envelopes in was passed around. The cast members asked us to put our names and addresses on as they want to send the audience a gift during the Christmas period. Then, as an act of participation, we were asked to fill out small cards, completing sentences such as: ‘I was livid when…’ or ‘The most splendid success I heard about was’. After filling these out, they had to be placed on the ‘bed’, on the far right of the stage.

The-wake-large

The performance then began. With a mixture of acting, singing, music, interpretive dance and even a cat of destiny it was hard to not to feel involved in the piece. Each member of the audience was also given a  bird whistle to join in the ‘autumnal’ scene. Immediately after seven lines were designated to the ‘brave’ audience members who volunteered their vocal services. When they were pointed to, their lines were read; the cast responded well to the hecklers, joking and laughing along merrily.

The actors read out the audience’s memories from 2012, which also added to the  feeling of involvement. It was an inspiring and uplifting performance that made it easy to dwell on the year in a very positive light.

At the end, a shot of whiskey was given to each audience member and the cast made several toasts: ‘to new boyfriends’, ‘to engagements and marriages’. Just before we toasted we were asked to write our goals for 2013 on little blue cards, which were then put into a box and taken away.

The performance was humorous, lively and energetic – not one to be missed.

By Hope Brotherton

An Interview with Pete Gooding

For me it’s always been pretty straight forward; I just wanted tospend my life doing something I was passionate about, for me that’s the only way as I never thought I could be good at something I didn’t love.”

Birmingham must feel a million miles from your life now in Ibiza, what are your most vivid memories of the Brum scene? Did your 15 year old self feel the pull of Ibiza as a response to what Birmingham had to offer?

Not at all. I had an amazing time going out in Birmingham when I was younger. It started after a trip to Ibiza in the summer of 1989 where I went to a club for the first time in my life, when I got home me and all my mates went to a weekly party at The Hummingbird called The Snapper Club, this was very influential for me, listening to DJ’s like: Lee Fisher, Jock Lee, DJ Dick, Neil Macey and others. Tracks like Frankie Knuckles ‘Your Love’ and Rhythm Is Rhythm ‘Strings Of Life’ were the big moments that convinced me to start buying records every week from shops like Don Christies, Summit and later Pure Records. By the end end of 1989 and going into 1990 I had started going to all the illegal raves around Coventry and Birmingham like Amnesia House and R.A.W, amazing times. The following year in 1991 DJ Dick’s Breathless night at Snobs was also amazing, so many great times and many fond memories. A bar called 49ers was also a big thing for me, listening to an amazing DJ called Nathan Gregory play an eclectic mix of Acid House, Jazz Funk, Rare Groove and Disco, which went on to shape my musical taste in a big way.

The Birmingham music scene has stepped up a bit recently, after a bit of a lull, with the rise of Rainbow and other venues pulling in big names, a change from your time at Rafael’s, do you think the city has what it takes to be a  centre of underground music?

I hope so, there are new venues opening up near the Rainbow now so I hope this builds into a proper scene again and really starts to attract people from out of town again like it used to. My only recent experience of playing in Birmingham was for Renaissance’s 20th birthday recently with Sasha, Dave Seaman, Anthony Pappa, Guy Gerber and Josif, which was at the Gibb Street Warehouse, which was fantastic. And to be honest when I started playing in the city around 1993 there was lots of great stuff happening with the likes of Miss Moneypenny’s bringing in all the biggest names and also clubs like C.R.E.A.M, The Steering Wheel and Wobble all having their own sound.

The city seems to have taken to Deep House, what genre do you see as being in Brum’s blood?

Early on, like everywhere else it was Acid House, then clubs like Moneypenny’s made it more girl friendly and sexy. Following that you had parties like God’s Kitchen who bought a harder sound and now I’m pleased to say deeper sounds seem to be in favour at places like the Rainbow, so like most places around the world it changes with the times and fashion. Deep House is cool again now which is great and it’s nice to see more grown up intelligent sounds being so popular.

What parts of life in Ibiza should Birmingham adopt?

Well that’s just not possible, Ibiza works so well due to the fact that everyone is on holiday, no one has work the next morning and the sun is shining, so you can’t really replicate that anywhere in the U.K, sadly.

For us students, who don’t know where we’ll end up in a few years, what advice would you give to achieve our dreams, like you have?

For me it’s always been pretty straight forward; I just wanted to spend my life doing something I was passionate about, for me that’s the only way as I never thought I could be good at something I didn’t love. As we spend so much of our lives at work, it makes total sense to enjoy this as much as possible, life’s too short to wish it away dreaming of doing something else.

For our students, to whom sunsets in Ibiza seem like another planet, what tracks would you throw on to chill us out a bit?

I have so many amazing tracks I play at sunset, I look for tracks that are packed with emotion, so here are a few of my favourites:

Craig Armstrong – Weather Storm
Ennio Moricone – Deboarh’s Theme
Salt Tank – Saragasso Sea
Thomas Newman – Revolutionary Road
Vangelis – Love There

You’ve travelled the world with your music, and checked out all the scenes in the all corners of the world.  Where would you advise our students to visit, for those who might want to go somewhere other than Ibiza, or on a bit of a shoestring?

So far I have played in over 70 countries and places like Brazil and India are amazing right now, there is so much to see, and so much culture, especially in India, and a great music scene is building in both places. For example I have played at the Sunburn festival in December every year for the last 5 years on the beautiful Candolin beach in Goa, it’s gone from about 3,000 people in the first year to 25,000 last year. In Brazil you have D:Edge in Sao Paolo, which is amazing for underground music set over 3 floors with an great open air roof terrace and then in the South clubs like Warung Beach and Green Valley are incredible. Green Valley holds 8,000 in an open air venue surrounded by forest and Warung is slightly smaller but every bit as impressive.

You pride yourself on ‘not pigeon-holing yourself’ musically, anything you would never, ever play?

Yes, bad music. I really only see 2 types of music, good and bad, so I play anything if I’m into it and would never play anything I’m not in to.

What should we play at our parties at the moment? What labels should we name drop?

You should play music you love, and not worry about what other people think is cool as fashions come and go all the time musically. In my opinion, right now labels like  Futureboogie, Apollonia, Culprit, International Feel, Brownswood Recordings, Melodica Records, Rebirth and Dynamic are consistently releasing great music and of course my new label Secret Life Records is about to start- we have signed some great tracks with the first coming out this autumn!

Are your Mixtapes the DJ version of our essays? Do you have to have a plan, an angle and a conclusion?


I simply go through all my favourite new tracks, then put them in order of tempo and key – that’s the starting point- then go from there. It’s about matching the moods of tracks, though, more than anything, but the idea is that it’s a journey and tells a story. A more alternative mix would start relaxed and easy, then build up in tempo and energy and cover: Chill Out, Electronica, Balearic Disco, Deep House, Drum n Bass and anything else that I fancy. With a straight up club mix I would start with Deep House and build up to stuff with more energy so that again it tells a story.

I’ll see you at Bestival, really looking forward to your set. Can you bring the sun and the beach with you, please?

Based on the weather so far this year we shouldn’t get our hopes up, but fingers crossed things pick up- as I write this the sun is shining, so let’s see!

Words by Laura Harris.

Student Nightlife: A Club Too Far?


Coming from a small city in West Sussex, my experience of clubbing has been limited. Nonetheless, coming to Birmingham was an eye-opening experience. If you are a student in Birmingham, there is a strong chance you have, either willingly or inadvertently visited Broad Street. It is a place where clubs fester and decisions are made on impulse, whether it’s to take a solo and expensive taxi ride home due to aching feet and a desire for sleep, or to make a drunken food purchase and consume chips in a manner that erases all traces of dignity.

Birmingham’s size as a city and its many universities mean that, there are a large variety of places to visit at night-time, ranging from the sleek and expensive to the grungy and grimy – all offering a different clubbing experience. The club  Risa holds a weekly ‘student night’ which is unsurprisingly invaded with students on a night-out. It’s cheap, cheesy fun and impossible to avoid bumping into someone you know. With multiple different rooms, fun-lovers can embrace the ‘rewind room’ which plays a constant loop of songs that wouldn’t be out of place at a wedding disco, all whilst its inhabitants dance on a light-up floor, a prospect that sounds dodgy, but surprisingly is complete, unabashed fun.

Beyond Broad Street clubs do seem to appear more alternative; Birmingham offers up The Jam House, a club endorsed by Jools Holland himself, which has live music and a dress code that ensures a level of smart, classic fun. The Jam House also hosts the event Itchy Feet which is popular with both students and members of the public, due to its nostalgic nature. There are also smaller pubs worth a visit for a different kind of evening; The Victoria offers an intimate atmosphere, with reasonably priced cocktails, live comedy and themed nights.

Club culture is undoubtedly dominant in Birmingham and their large variety of clubs on offer means that there is arguably something for everyone. As a large proportion of them actively cater towards students, it’s unsurprising that this form of socialising is so popular with undergraduates. Bliss holds the weekly student night ‘Stupid Tuesdays’ and other, smaller clubs also embrace the student customer. Snobs, a decidedly indie club, offers NUS card-holders discount on a Wednesday. As a student, therefore, going out during the week is oddly justifiable, due to the reduced prices and social aspect. This leaves Saturdays and Sundays as no longer days of play and rest, but those of reading and writing. If, of course, a student can balance this odd lifestyle then the backwards week can work out alright. However, when the opportunity to go out and dance is endless, there is the temptation to revisit the same places repeatedly, out of habit and desire for a cheaper night, leading to a lack of new experiences in the city. I find that when friends ask me what I think of Birmingham, I find myself with only an insight on the best clubs and the cheapest drinks. This has happened, because ‘going out’ is favoured by so many and lauded as the most ‘social’ aspect of university life. It can be argued, however, that going out can be oddly anti-social. There is the impossibility of having a conversation within a club (most consist of ‘WHAT?’ being asked repeatedly) and there is the difficulty of navigation within larger venues. Gatecrasher, for example, should hand out maps as trying to find a friend once inside is like navigating a maze or a labyrinth. Finally reaching said friend with a feeling of achievement is only dampened when they announce they want to leave and you realise you have spent most of the evening ‘finding people’.

Clubbing is pushed upon freshers as an integral part of the student lifestyle and freshers packs include a different club night for each evening of the week, which whilst is undoubtedly enjoyable, leaves a sad absence of more alternative nights. Clubbing is argued as a perfect way to unwind; however, when a worthy day of work hasn’t been achieved and the decision to go out overrules notions of study, it can be an unfulfilling experience.

Does clubbing encourage hedonism? Papers like the Daily Mail frequently report on pictures of students passed out on pavements, screaming anxieties of ‘Broken Britain’ and how students simply drink their loan away. There is a definite culture of drinking at any university, however, this element of student life is undoubtedly overblown, a stereotype enjoyed and perpetuated by the media to damn and critique society on a broader level. It can be argued, that the true nature of clubbing can only be judged when it is considered as to why a clubber drinks and goes out. Students may drink to forget, or to numb or ease feelings of stress, self-loathing or insecurity – like the media suggests.

However, there are other reasons why the culture of clubbing is so dominant within university life. Speaking to a friend, I was helped to realise my true feelings upon the subject as she explained what clubbing is to her: ‘Birmingham has so many clubs, so it’s hard to avoid going out, but I go clubbing because it’s fun. It’s excusable whilst I am young and as long as I am a student, I’m going to go out. It’s the perfect time to do so.’ Whilst I agree that Birmingham’s club culture should be enjoyed, it’s important to remember that there is life outside of Broad Street and it should be explored in order to fully experience Birmingham.

Words by Lottie Halstead

Voice Festival UK: Birmingham regional round

Voice Festival UK came to the University of Birmingham on Saturday 25th of February for a regional round of its nation-wide competition. Three a capella groups from Birmingham, and one from the University of Leeds, sang their hearts out to win a place at the London final, with the ultimate hope of winning a cash prize and the coveted title of ‘Best UK University A Cappella Group 2012’.

While certainly thrilling for the contestants, the evening was extremely enjoyable for the audience also. Parents, friends and random spectators alike really got involved and it was clear there was a lot of support for the singers and the competition in general. The evening ran surprisingly smoothly, thanks to a great technical team and the funny and engaging compere, Matthew Saull. Evidently, a lot of work had been put into the event so as not to detract from the sole reason for being there; to hear the performances.

The night began with an excellent set of vocal arrangements by The Sons of Pitches. Dressed in matching, bright red boiler suits, the group came on to the stage in a burst of energy that was consistent throughout their performance. With mellow and harmonic tunes such, as Kimbra’s Settle Down, as well as an inventive and funny Club Medley, the group’s flexibility and choreography reflected their talent and definitely won the audience over.

The next act from Birmingham was a newly-formed  mixed-group, Voice Versa. Whilst more self-contained than the previous act, their performance was strong nonetheless. Their arrangement of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours was especially superb and caught the interest of the judges who gave them a special award for it at the end of the night.

Despite being the only group from Leeds, the men and women from 95 Keys stood their ground and delivered three powerful arrangements. Their rendition of Chicago, with solos by vocalists, J Fogel and Hannah Perlin, was especially moving and highly appreciated by the judges. The final group, the all-girls Birmingham Songbirds livened the night with their red dresses and fun choreography. Complete with Beach Boys and Spice Girls medlies, their act was vigorous and entertaining.

After an interlude with one of the University’s very own stand-up comedians, the judges came on stage, thanking all attendees and participants. Awards like ‘Best Choreography’ and ‘Best vocal arrangement‘ were deservedly given, building the suspense before revealing who was going to London. It had obviously not been an easy decision, but after much deliberating The Sons of Pitches emerged victorious. Their encore performance ended the night on a high; it was a successful evening and great advertisement in general for Voice Festival UK.

For more info on Birmingham University’s A cappella scene, click on links to the groups’ webpages and  University of Birmingham A Cappella Network on facebook.

Words by Elisha Owen

‘The Voyage’ launches

This summer a huge ship will be sailing into Birmingham as the centrepiece of a weekend of free outdoor performances to open the Cultural Olympiad. The Voyage – an hour long spectacle combining dance, theatre and music – will take place every evening at 10pm between 21-24 June in Victoria Square. The performances will be the culmination of a two year project between Leamington Spa’s highly regarded dance theatre company Motionhouse, Australian theatre company Legs on the Wall, the Birmingham Hippodrome, and Logela Multimedia.

Last Monday, I was invited to the launch event for The Voyage at Birmingham Town Hall. Through previous involvement with Motionhouse I had heard bits and pieces about this summer’s spectacle, but this was the first time I had been able to see how it is all going to look. The verdict? Very impressive and very ambitious! Five minutes into the thirty minute preview, given mainly by Kevin Finnan, the artistic director, I realised I was going to need to tweet and hash tag the flood of information he was expounding, and my opinions on it all. Here’s a brief synopsis from those tweets of what The Voyage is, what may make it a success, and what problems it might face:

The story is influenced by the history of sea voyages from the 1930s to the 1960s in an echo of those making their way to London this summer for the Olympics. Dancers, aerialists and assorted other performers will open the show by making their way through the crowd under a sea of tickertape and as they walk the gang plank onto the passenger liner they will accompanied by the huge amateur choir singing the ‘Song of Departure’. The ship will then ‘sail’ away on an ocean of tears from the numerous weeping eyes projected onto the hull and deck. The voyage can now take place, but it is punctuated by a violent storm and the ‘Dance of the Lost’ as passengers search for those washed overboard. Their rescue will take place within the crowd, and this interaction with the public and the immersive nature of the event is what underpins the whole ethos of The Voyage. The performance will finish with a triumphant and glorious arrival as the ship docks back into the square, the conclusion of an event involving not only professional dancers but also 140 community performers from the area.

Finnan gave the attendants a vivid idea of what The Voyage will look like, while leaving plenty of tantalising details to intrigue and ensure a large turn out on the opening night. The inspiration and ideas behind the performance, of immersive journeys and the “perusal of ideas” as Finnan put it, are immediately tangible to a public audience who may not have encountered dance and performance on this scale or level of ability before. The producers are aiming for an audience of 5000-6000 per night, which looks ambitious, especially as each ‘voyage’ doesn’t start until 10pm and takes place within the health and safety nightmare of the uneven square. The timing has obvious benefits and drawbacks: the night sky will make the whole show more dramatic, and a 10pm start allows those seeking evening entertainment in the city a cultural kick off before bars/clubs/recitals etc. However, the late start will also prevent young children from attending, and this is a major blow for families keen on taking in such an impressive (and free) event. All in all though, The Voyage is going to be an extraordinary way to spend a summer evening, and well worth students sticking around for (or making their own voyage back to the city). It’s certainly one I’m not going to be missing.

For regular updates follow @thevoyage2012 on Twitter.

Words by Andy Newnham