Aracaladanza in Vuelos at the Birmingham Rep, and Wang Ramirez in Monchichi at the Patrick Centre on May 10, 2016
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in Songs of the Wanderers at the Birmingham Hippodrome
on May 11
Only 24 hours earlier I’d remarked that something must be wrong. It was IDFB and the weather was sunny and warm (remember all those cold nights up at Victoria Square for the big spectaculars at previous festivals?). I should have known better. Sure enough, down came the rain, but fortunately both in-theatre shows last Tuesday still hit the heights on stage.
Aracaladanza in Vuelos
Up at the Rep, Aracladanza from Spain presented artistic director Enrique Cabrera’s new work Vuelos (Flights), produced in association with MOKO Dance. Like most of Cabrera’s works, while Vuelos is aimed to appeal to children, it’s not solely for children. He never plays down to them. There’s plenty to admire for us older youngsters too.
Inspired by the designs and art of Leonardo da Vinci, Vuelos (so called because of his obsession with flight, although you could just as easily associate it with flights of fancy) references many of the objects that feature in his work. Mirrors feature prominently, allowing Cabrera to present images of the body in unusual ways. One of the best sections features an amusing dance for all five dancers as they sit at a long table (think Last Supper).
Elsewhere the dancers perform with polygonal structures, and become birds and horses. Elisa Sanz’s designs for the latter are especially striking.
If there is a slight disappointment, it’s that the sense of whimsy that so often pops up in previous works isn’t as obvious here. The designs and dancers are fabulous, and it is always engaging (there were plenty of children in the house and you barely heard a sound so rapt was their attention), but that table dance apart, it didn’t make me smile.
Wang Ramirez in Monchichi
A quick sprint (well, more of a middle-distance jog really) and it was off to catch Wang-Ramirez at the Patrick Centre in Monchichi.
Danced in their usual contemporary dance meets hip hop meets dance theatre-style, Monchichi is their story, a dance very much about them and their relationship, the title coming from a nickname that an elderly resident used to give one of them when they were growing up. It’s totally absorbing from start to finish.
There is a sort of narrative woven into the 55 minutes or so. The opening section suggests the awkwardness of first meetings. They smarten themselves up. Sebastien Ramriez puts on a shirt, jacket and shoes. Honji Wang dons a blonde wig, dress and heels. Ever seen hip hop in heels? Wang proves it can be done and look great.
From designer Ida Ravn’s bare tree (reminiscent of Waiting for Godot) Ramirez plucks a small light, a sort of magical fruit, and offers it to Wang. At first she throws it away, but is quickly hooked and swallows one (actually a clever trick). Then off come the jacket and dress and we see them as the hip hop dancers they really are.
An amusing scene sees them address the audience and explain the problems of a cross-cultural relationship. They talk, often over one another. She explains she is German (not Chinese as she states forceably) with a Korean mother. We learn he is French with Spanish and Catalonian parents, and of the issues that come with such a complicated set of ‘in-laws’. As they flip in and out of English, Spanish, French, German and Korean, there are amusing moments too, not least as we hear how Germans love potatoes and the French baguettes.
Both Wang and Ramirez are fabulous dancers but it’s impossible to take your eyes off her especially. She’s a supreme popper and is remarkably adept at arching backwards; and holding it. Her movement always appears so big and so clear. His dance tends to be faster. He’s especially good at balances and flips. Much of the time they dance alone, watching each other; a nod to hip hop conventions no doubt. When they do connect, it’s with fingertips, their arms floating in a sinuous single wave. It reminded me of a ribbon. Another clever section done with remarkable smoothness sees him threading his body through her legs as she walks diagonally across the stage.
Threading through everything is affection for one another, and why not, because it is impossible not to like and admire them. The best of it is that they are entertaining with it. If you missed Monchichi, you missed a treat.
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in Songs of the Wanderers
The following evening the Hippodrome audience may have been small (somewhat concerningly, swathes of empty seats were visible at both Aracaladanza and Wang Ramirez too), but they were utterly entranced by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) in Songs of the Wanderers (流浪者之歌).
Just as at Sadler’s Wells the previous week (read Charlotte Kasner’s review here), the dancers showed remarkable strength and endurance as they suffered the hardships of pilgramage. For most, the abiding memory will be of the rice, all three and half tonnes of it. It’s a desert and it falls like monsoon rain. It’s sprayed around in golden arcs; the closing upbeat section is like a magnificent firework display. And through it all, a man stands in prayer, motionless as a constant drizzle of rice ricochets off his body; endurance of another kind.
The International Dance Festival Birmingham continues to May 22. Visit www.idfb.co.uk for details.