dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Three new works put BRB dancers through their paces
This triple bill has been a long time coming. Originally programmed for spring last year, COVID-19 may have put the brakes on it but only temporarily. And near sell-out audiences at Birmingham Repertory Theatre clearly believe it has been worth the wait.
First on the programme is the new ballet 'City of a Thousand Trades', which Birmingham Royal Ballet director Carlos Acosta calls 'a love letter to the city of Birmingham'. Choreographed by Miguel Altunaga who co-directs with Madeleine Kludje, the piece recalls Birmingham's reputation as the city of a thousand trades during the Industrial Revolution but it internalises this idea, focussing less on the idea of a cityscape and more on how an individual responds to a new location.
City of a Thousand Trades
Initially, there is an overpowering sense of isolation, as dancers move around the stage but seem disconnected, trying to settle into a new community. A spoken score by Birmingham Poet Laureate Casey Bailey asks us what we would risk in order to gain something and there are recordings of migrants sharing their first experiences of moving to the city.
At this point, it all feels alienating and daunting as we learn how people have traded their past, their homelands and their families for this new life, leaving them uncertain if they have risked too much. This sense of estrangement is reflected in Mathias Coppens' imaginative and evocative score as strings bring us a soft and lilting lament. But then Coppens takes us into an energised score, inspired by Birmingham's heavy metal sound, so that the music reaches a crescendo and the dancers come together in harmony, in hope and in a new sense of what it means to be home.
Daniela Cardim's premiere 'Imminent' is also very much of the moment as the piece was inspired by tipping points within world politics and the environment. Again, there is an uneasiness in Paul Englishby's score as the dancers teeter on the edge of some kind of disaster.
The peaked white background could be an iceberg, a glacier or even snow-covered mountains and it also reminds us of the idea that we are seeing just the tip of the problems and below so much more is happening that we can't envision. And yet the work isn't dark but is full of optimism as light enters the stage, a door opens and dancers move into this new dawn.
Imminent is the latest work in BRB's ongoing Ballet Now project which commissions new work to develop up and coming choreographers, composers, set designers and other professionals and from this production, there is little doubt Cardim, a former dancer, has a wonderful sense of the potential of the human body for movement.
The final piece of the trilogy, 'Goyo Montero's Chacona', is the only production not premiering as part of the triple bill but this is the first time the work has been performed in Birmingham. Set to music by Bach, it asks a lot of its dancers by blending contemporary and classical in a fast-paced and technically dexterous 15-minute whirlwind. There's no breathing space for the 16 performers in this high energy piece which also calls on every dancer to be perfectly synchronised so that the individual parts move as a dynamic whole.
All three pieces in the triple bill are largely corps de ballet pieces and it is encouraging to see so many dancers rising to the challenges of each work. From principals to artists, there is much to admire in the dancers' handling of the performance - even more impressive when we remember many of them have been practising in their kitchens for much of the past 14 months.