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Pied Piper

Boy Blue
Date reviewed: 18th March 2009
The Hippodrome, Birmingham

I’m getting a little bored of permanently writing glowing reviews of all the dance I see in the West Midlands. There’s nothing better than a rubbish show for a critic to really sink their teeth into for a nice juicy rant. Unfortunately for me, however, the leading street dance company in the UK isn’t going to give you much to vent your verbal spleen on.
London-based Boy Blue’s Pied Piper does pretty much what it says on the tin; it’s, yep, the old folk tale of the Pied Piper. As you’ve never seen it before; however. I’m not sure that the Brothers Grimm imagined their eponymous hero somersaulting around in a boiler suit with his rubber-limbed counterparts ‘Eagle’ and ‘Scorpion’ to rid the streets of a mass of hoodies, but more fool them. Boy Blue did, and deliver a breathtaking display of physical prowess.

The most stunning thing about the Pied Piper is, as you would expect, the sheer acrobatics of the performers. Both Kenrick Sandy’s choreography and Ultz’s direction display an effective interplay between individuals and group movement. The solo dancers, including the mind-bogglingly flexible Sandy himself, have plenty of chance to show off their prodigious back-flipping, wall-leaping, head-spinning talent, whilst the group pieces are striking for their sheer size and precision.
There’s an enormous sense of energy from the dancers; with a commitment to each movement, big or small. Sandy in particular is poetry in motion – with a clear understanding of physical storytelling and using the body as an art form literally from fingertips to toes. There is a degree of charismatic cockiness that goes into street dance, but I have to say I did think that there was a slight element of self-indulgence in Sandy’s choreography: casting himself as the ultimate hero; a Christ-like figure who single-handedly vanquishes hundreds of hoodies in a series of hot-shot dance-offs, outwits the cartoonishly clueless bureaucrats, wins over the children, generally saves the day – oh, and has a load of scantily-clad women draping themselves all over him. (Not sure I remember them in the Grimm version, unless there was a tag line that I missed? ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlin – and His Bitches’ … )   
That said, there is a competitive, confident chutzpah to street dance and this element is also appropriately worked in to the show with much highly physical dance/fighting, contention and separating the men from the boyz.
The show is strong on visual images: the horde of identikit hoodies, with ‘ASBO’ emblazoned on their tracksuits all moving as an angry mass, or the mirroring of the Piper’s exquisite snake-like movements by the ‘nest of vipers’, for example. Added to this the steamroller urban score from Michael Asante and you’ve got one of the most heavily atmospheric theatrical portrayals of urban street life around at the moment.   
Bizarrely, one of the highlights of the show are the children. I had kind of forgotten that the Pied Piper story does actually involve children and initially groaned silently inside when the gaggle of little ones were led on. However, all associations with nauseous children’s choirs were blown out of the window within moments – these kids kicked ass. Clearly all little Sandys in the making, they leapt, span, back-flipped and twisted with as much verve and attitude as the adult performers – and not a cutesy grin in sight.
The downside was what they did with the story itself; there wasn’t enough ingenuity or punchy references to make this a really hard-hitting tale. Simply replacing rats with hoodies does not a clever alternative look at today’s troubles make. The character portrayals were somewhat 1-dimensional, with the Governors so ridiculously caricatured to be effective. Although it was atmospheric, I don’t feel that it delivered enough of an impact in terms of its message. I’d like to see Boy Blue creating their own tale, doing something more creative with it and rolling it out with their unique impressive relish.  
That said, the moves themselves are really the centrepiece for this show, and are suitably spectacular.
– Fiona Handscomb
Until 21st March

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Reviews of Sylvia and Pomp and Circumstance


The reviews of Birmingham Royal Ballet‘s latest productions are in. Here are the ones I’ve found.


Pomp and Circumstance:

Photo of the Sylvia cast by Your Beautiful Photography who produced the photos used to advertise the performance (their portfolio of dance photography is worth a look).

Also, ballet.co.uk have a very useful reviews search page which would’ve saved me some time trawling around if I’d found it sooner.

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Pied Piper at the Hippodrome

At the Birmingham Hippodrome from 18-21 March, Pied Piper is:

a bold, contemporary, hip-hop performance inspired by Robert Browning’s poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin. It is an innovative, original and thrilling fusion of dance and narrative, taking an edgy look at morality

It’s had impressive reviews from Metro, Time Out and ukhh.com. It was also featured as one of The Independent’s dance highlights of 2009.

This video trailer gives you an idea of what the show’s about:

Tickets are available here.

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People Dancing brochure


People Dancing, as it says on the brochure, is:

a three year programme of activity aimed at encouraging mass participation in dance and dance related activity across the West Midlands.

The commissioning process is just starting and a series of roadshows was recently staged to spread the word. People Dancing is particularly looking to support:

  • Dance at grass roots level
  • A portable dance stage
  • Dance leadership
  • Site-specific dance participation
  • Marketing and digital archive

There’s more information in the brochure which can be viewed online here. The design of which was done by the talented folk at Supercool (and thanks to Katie for sending me a copy).

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Making Space need a dance artist


The Summer Dancing Festival 2009 (I can’t yet find a website to link to) will be an eight day festival of classes, workshops and performances taking place in Coventry from 21-28 June 2009.

The festival will include a project called Making Space which will give three artists:

the opportunity to develop their creative practice in a 15 day residency, beginning 6th June. One of these places will be reserved for a West Midlands based Dance Artist.

Details about what the opportunity includes and how to apply are on the Arts & Media website.

Applications need to be in by 20 March and must be sent to:

  • makingspace@nullhotmail.co.uk; or
  • Making Space at Summer Dancing, Institute for Creative Enterprise, Technology Park, Parkside, Coventry CV1 2QR

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EADA National Selection Competitions

I’ve recently been in touch with Martin Cutler of dancewarehouse who is currently working to put on the EADA National Selection Competitions at The New Bingley Hall on Saturday 14 March. It’s a prestigious occasion – as Martin says:

we are organising the event for The English Amateur Dancers Association to select the top two couples who will then go on to represent the country at the World and European Championships later this year

This event is for the ‘Elite Group’ The Amateur Ballroom and Amateur Latin competitors (aged 16 to 34 incl) as well as the Senior 2 Ballroom (aged 45 to 54 incl)  and also Senior 1 Latin American (aged 35 to 44 incl)

The event will also see the debut demonstration of the new partnership of Christopher Hawkins and Joanna Bolton, each former World Professional Ballroom Champions with different partners. This new pairing promises something special.

Full details on the National Dance Events website.

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