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Message in a Bottle - Birmingham Hippodrome

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Dance set to music by Sting tells refugee tale
In 1979, rock band The Police released the song 'Message in a Bottle'. Written by the group's lead singer Sting, it told the story of someone on a desert island sending out an SOS message in a bottle and waiting for a response. But in return, a hundred billion messages in bottles were received from people also looking for friendship and a home.

Message in a Bottle Birmingham Hippodrome
Message in a Bottle

It was this song, and many others by Sting, which inspired the dance drama Message in a Bottle, which comes to Birmingham Hippodrome on September 24 as part of Birmingham International Dance Festival. The show, which premiered in 2020 but whose tour was postponed due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, was created by choreographer Kate Prince, founder and director of ZooNation. A huge Police fan from childhood, Kate had long dreamt of creating a work to Sting's music and mentioned her idea in the PS of an email to Sadler's Wells – the next thing, she knew Kate was meeting Sting.

It took two years for Kate to create Message in a Bottle which features music from more than 20 of Sting's songs including 'Every Breath You Take', 'Fields of Gold', 'Roxanne', 'So Lonely', 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic' and 'Walking on the Moon'.
The show tells the story of a family whose lives are ripped apart by war. Leaving their home as refugees, Message in a Bottle follows the adventures of the three adult children, Leto, Mati and Tana, as they attempt to rebuild their lives in exile from their homeland.

Working on the show with Kate as associate choreographer is Lukas McFarlane, who explains how they all became immersed in refugee stories. "Kate came up with the idea and wrote and designed the show. I was lucky enough to be associate choreographer and so I was a bouncing board for her ideas. She formed this from a lot of documentaries she watched and a lot of stories she read to be as genuine and based in reality as possible as regards to the characters and their relationships."

Message in a Bottle Birmingham Hippodrome
Dance drama to Sting's music

And Lukas believes dance is the ideal medium to tell this story. "Dance is such a universal language that it eliminates the need for audible language through talking. And this lets you sit with the emotion of what the characters are going through in a way that you wouldn't with dialogue. There's so much energy portrayed on stage – it's so raw, so genuine, and that helps to tell quite a raw and emotional story of these people having to flee their home and having to find a sense of family and protection and safety in other places where they feel very foreign and isolated. To use dance as a universal language means everyone can feel this no matter what language they speak."

Born in Canada, Lukas gained fame in the UK after he was named best dance act in Sky 1's Got to Dance at 19 years old. He's gone on to contribute to other television talent shows including X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, So You Think You Can Dance and The Voice, as well as working with celebrity artist including Celine Dion, Carly Rae Jepson and Taylor Swift.

Message in a Bottle is a new direction for Lukas – and one he was keen to try. "I got an email from Kate one day about the start of something new and exciting that she was interested in me being part of. I jumped at it because I'm a big fan of hers and I had never worked in theatre before. I come from a very commercial background, TV, artists, music industry but my training had been in theatre – tap, ballet, contemporary dance. To work with someone who is at the top of her field about something so relevant to today's society was something I couldn't say no to. My base is contemporary where Kate has more of a hip hop background. Although we had never worked together before it was like a match made in Heaven, it just flowed really well, creating the work together and bouncing ideas off each other."

Message in a Bottle Birmingham Hippodrome
Telling the refugee story

For Lukas, it has also been interesting creating dance around Sting's songs. "Sting is one of those artists where you don't know you know as much music as you do. Kate is a huge fan of his, so this is a life-long dream for her. She always says to me 'Picture an artist you grew up listening to at 14 and now making a show to all his music at 40 – and with his blessing!' Sting came to the first workshop and he got emotional. He said he never thought he'd see his music like this. He said it was the 3D version of his music and that he had spent so much of his career worried about how music sounded to his audiences, he never thought it could be visually produced in the way that we did."

And Lukas adds: "Sting gave us the green light right there. He's been very open to what we need recording-wise. He has re-recorded so much of his music for us and was so open to all the renditions and arrangements that we've made. A lot of the music is totally different from the original and fits tone-wise and mood-wise. A lot of the reviews say that you wouldn't think dance and hip hop would fit with Sting and then you come to this show and you realise it very much does in a way that people don't expect."

Message in a Bottle is hard to describe, says Lukas. "What I've been saying to people is 'If you think you know what you are coming to watch let it go because you don't'. I honestly think there's nothing like this out there right now," he says. "I think to try and classify it would be wrong because it's special and unique. You should have no expectations because I promise you will be blown away. The biggest message is that, regardless of background, race, ethnicity, sexual preference or all those things, at the end of the day love and hope is what prevails. Knowing that you can create a family anywhere and maybe that doesn't necessarily have to be a blood family - just respect, understanding and acceptance makes people feel like they belong."

Message in a Bottle plays Birmingham Hippodrome on September 24 see or call 0844 338 5000 for more information and tickets.
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Why? Musical set to songs by Sting tells refugee story
When: 24 September 2021
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome
Cost: From £15
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