It’s back! Albeit with a new name, new logo, new dates and a different feel and focus. Yes, the Birmingham International Dance Festival (BIDF), IDFB as was, produced by the DanceXchange, returns to the city from June 1-24, 2018.
For just over three weeks, dance will feature in all Birmingham’s major theatres. In the city’s streets and squares, meanwhile, there will be loads of free performances and opportunities to get dancing.
Although there are still a few things to be announced, the theatre programme looks a bit different and feels rather reduced from previous festivals, especially in-theatre. In particular, gone totally are the big name overseas touring companies at the Hippodrome, which has a much reduced role this time around.
The highlights instead all come from UK-based ensembles, with one ‘must see’ event likely to be the world premiere of a new production of Georg Büchner’s play, Woyzeck, by Leo Butler with choreography by Rosie Kay, at the Rep from June 15-23. It’s a celebration of fighting for a better life when everything else seems to be against you, but most of all we are promised a celebration of the West Midlands spirit as a professional cast is joined by a community chorus of one hundred performers and dancers.
Matching that is a very rare Birmingham appearance by Company Wayne McGregor, who will perform Atomos at the New Alexandra Theatre on June 1-2. It’s a 70-minute ride full of McGregor’s sculptural, jarring and hauntingly beautiful dance as he shares his awe at the nature of the universe and humanity’s place in it. The audience are invited to wear 3D glasses for part of the show to get the full impact of Ravi Deepres’ 3D film and screen installations.
A lot of very innovative dance comes out of the Czech Republic and this year BIDF welcomes Vera Ondrasikova & Collective with the UK premiere of Guide at the Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre on June 8-9. Another work in which light is important, it’s described as an “audio visual experience in which the past and present become one, as the performer sculpts light watched by an audience immersed in electronic music.” Sounds intriguing, but let’s hope the electronic wizardry doesn’t overpower the dance as is so often the case.
The Patrick Centre will also welcome veteran dancer and choreographer Rui Horta, back on stage after thirty years of absence with a deeply personal performance of Wasp on June 15-16.
The Hippodrome’s main stage will surely bounce and throb on June 14 when ISH Dance Collective from Amsterdam will bring their vert ramps and extreme sports in Elements of Freestyle. Another UK premiere, the show fuses live music, breakdance and theatre with inline skating, free running, skateboarding, BMX and freestyle basketball.
Rather fortuitously, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s usual June mixed programme, Polarity and Proximity, falls within the BIDF dates and is included in the festival programme. This year it features Twyla Tharp’s exhilarating In The Upper Room, Alexander Whitley’s Kin, and a new piece by George Williamson, the first of the ten new works to be produced as part of BRB and Sadler’s Wells’ Ballet Now project. Birmingham Royal Ballet are on from June 20-23.
There will be plenty happening at mac in Cannon Hill Park on June 16-17, when the arts centre will host a festival family weekend with a packed programme for children and families to participate, create and watch dance. The highlight is Kindur (Icelandic for ’sheep’) by Company TPO from Italy. It’s an interactive show in which the whole audience can join in an adventure as part of a larger flock, either from their seats or on stage, as their movement triggers sounds, images, music and colours. It may be aimed mainly at 5-10 year-olds, but it sounds fun for all.
Also at mac, on June 13-14, are Candoco Dance Company, noted for work that challenges and broadens perceptions of art and (dis)ability. They will present a double bill of the new Face In by Yasmeen Godder, and Let’s Talk About Dis, Hetain Patel’s playful interrogation of identity that probes the audience to think beyond surface appearances. Good news is that there are no clashes of mac performances and cricket at Edgbaston, which makes the place nigh on impossible to get to.
Hopefully, one advantage of the festival shifting to June is better weather for the outdoor events. Last year’s Centenary Square weekend was met with glorious sunshine, but over the years there have been any number shows on decidedly chilly May nights.
This time, it’s back to Victoria Square, which the festival outdoor programme will transform in a varied programme, sponsored by Colmore BID, that includes interactive performances, participatory events, and live music and performances from local and international talent. In among the dance, there will be interactive VR swings, light and sound installations and sensory technology sculptures. Local foodie favourites will add to the atmosphere.
Opening the Festival Square on June 1 is Morning Gloryville. Part exercise craze, part mass party, we are promised “firm favourites” from the local music scene and a “big headline DJ.”
Following on that weekend, Birmingham Dances is a programme of outdoor performances, participatory activities and interactive installations, interweaving dance, fitness and other movement activities.
Local dance is to the fore from June 4-8, with an open stage supported by Dance Hub featuring a range of lunchtime and early evening presentations and a number of special commissions reflecting the festival’s themes. Also in Victoria Square and shifting away from usual perceptions of dance will be multi-disciplinary artists, local DJs; morning yoga and mindfulness activities.
There’s more the following weekend, June 8-10, including Compagnie Dyptik from Saint Etienne in France with the high-octane, hip-hop D-Construction. Joining them from Montpellier are Compagnie Didier Theron who challenge perceptions of a dancer’s body in Air, a playful piece that sees four dancers in inflatable latex suits; and Israeli choreographer Ofir Yudilevitch’s Gravitas, a duet combining dance and acrobatics performed on an air floor mat.
As usual, there’s a touring strand to performances. Origami, will visit outdoor locations around the city from June 22-24. Satchie Noro and Silvain Ohl, were inspired by the ancient art of Japanese paper folding to transform a 40-foot shipping container into a shape-shifting performance space.
Alongside the performance programme will be a series of professional and industry events, debates and workshops, creating space for dialogue, collaboration and sharing of ideas, as well as skills development.
There’s still a few things being finalised, and the full programme of events will be announced in the coming weeks.
Find out more at www.bidf.co.uk
SeeingDance editor, David Mead, muses on the new look festival
Under David Massingham and Stuart Griffiths, International Dance Festival Birmingham, IDFB as it was, featured a remarkable roster of big name touring companies and incredible range and number of performances. It established itself as a match for the most important international dance festivals across Europe, Colours in Stuttgart, Tanz im August in Berlin and the like.
New directors bring new ideas, though. It was always likely things would change, and they have. BIDF and DanceXchange artistic director Lucie Mirkova and associate festival director Paul Russ of Dance4 have stripped away the big overseas touring names at the Hippodrome and instead focused much more on outdoor events that might attract the general public, in doing so stretching ideas of what a dance festival might be.
To be fair, things probably had to change. Regardless of the new directors’ new vision, that Hippodrome main stage events in particular have been reduced massively should not come as a surprise, especially to anyone who heard Hippodrome chief executive and artistic director Fiona Allen’s speech at the opening at IDFB 2016. It may have been phrased unfortunately and not exactly the best of occasions, but she had a point. Big touring companies cost a lot of money and too many IDFB shows had poor audiences. There were more than a few very thin evenings in the Patrick Centre and Warwick Arts Centre too. Maybe the festival was simply too big. Maybe there was just too much. People do, after all, only have so much to spend, a point well made by Mirkova. So, less theatre shows all round.
The tighter focus on Birmingham is to be welcomed, as is the shift of dates. The latter is only partly an attempt to get better weather. Russ notes that May is a very busy month for festivals in the UK, but while that has been advantageous in sharing costs of touring companies, he hopes moving to June will bring greater attention to the city as well. I can’t help feeling it’s an indication where BIDF now is, but Mirkova talks specifically about avoiding a clash with the Dublin Dance Festival; not an event I would have been comparing previous IDFBs to. Still, hopefully there will be no more need for thermals for the outdoor shows! I’m not sorry to see the back of that ink-splodge logo either.
There are some big names. It’s especially good to see Company Wayne McGregor in the city and to have a Birmingham Royal Ballet big-stage programme as part of the festival, even if it is their regular June mixed-bill week (I was surprised to hear Mirkova and Russ suggesting they had influenced its timing and content). I’m looking forward to seeing Woyzeck at the Rep too, although how much it is a dance piece, or how much dance there is in it, we shall see.
What one thinks of the new look festival is coloured by what one wants from a festival and one’s outlook on dance. I cannot help but feel that the 2018 event lacks the ‘wow’ factor, the same sort of clout or prestige as previously, certainly international clout. I hear Russ’ point about notions of internationalism not always being about something from overseas but it sounds like words to fit the situation and I’m far from fully convinced.
You can hardly argue with the new directors’ desire to engage more with the wider public, and outdoor events will certainly be seen by more passers-by (the return to Victoria Square will help a lot). The trick will be getting them to stay and really engage, and then to get them into theatres, although I sense the latter isn’t really one of the directors’ prime aims. The host of surrounding installations, foodie trucks and so on may help, but I just hope it still feels like a dance festival. And there is still that nagging feeling that the festival has lost as much as it’s gaining.
I wish the new directors and the new look BIDF well. I hope it’s a roaring success, and more than anything that they manage to achieve a real festival atmosphere in the city, not only in and around Victoria Square on the days something is happening there, but everywhere and all the way through. Not easy, though. I do have doubts about whether the new approach will truly “grow the festival’s reputation and significance, nationally and internationally,” as Mirkova claims, but this is one occasion I’d love to be proved wrong.