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Preview: International Dance Festival Birmingham 2016 | reviews, news & interviews

Preview: International Dance Festival Birmingham 2016

Preview: International Dance Festival Birmingham 2016

Rich cultural programme in England's second city aims to stimulate economy, promote gender equality

Nederlands Dans Theater 2 perform Alexander Ekman's 'Cacti'® Rahi Rezvani

International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) is one of the unsung heroes not just of dance in Britain, but of festivals. It treats anyone within striking distance of the West Midlands to an exciting range of performers and public dance events over three weeks, and is cleverly scheduled in May – when lengthening days and bank holidays make us want to go out and have a good time, but it's not quite warm enough for camping. With IDFB 2016 opening in three weeks, on Sunday 1 May, theartsdesk casts an eye over the programme's highlights and finds out from festival founder and director David Massingham what's new this year.

Birmingham Royal Ballet are out of town because the festival coincides with their spring touring season, but ballet fans have compensation in the shape of Carlos Acosta's Classical Farewell – some of the retiring Cuban star's last live performances. We know that Carlos "gives good gala" but so do the fresh young talents of Nederlands Dans Theater 2 (main picture), whose two shows at IDFB will definitely be worth a look. One of my highlights of the last IDFB (in 2014) was Crystal Pite's The Tempest Replica, so my top pick for this year is the triple bill by Ballet BC (British Columbia), which features the UK premiere of Pite's Solo Echo. Pite's UK reputation – already sky-high among cognoscenti, who consider her one of the best choreographers working today – is about to get a whole lot bigger thanks to the Royal Ballet's recent announcement that it has commissioned a piece from her for its 2016-17 season. Anyone who hasn't yet seen her work and wants to see what the fuss is about is well advised to catch Ballet BC's performances.

We have great dancers living and working in Birmingham - more than ever before

Their bill is also exciting because it features three works by female choreographers, still rare as hen's teeth in ballet and contemporary dance – though they are having a moment just now, as English National Ballet also presents an all-female bill this month. Is that because both companies are directed by women? Or are the times really changing for female dance leaders and choreographers? These questions and others about gender disparity in dance will be addressed during the BENCH conference, which IDFB is hosting in partnership with 2FacedDance on 17 May. David Massingham tells me that the results should be interesting: "Tamsin Fitzgerald [of 2FacedDance], who organised this conference, wants something to happen; she wants to see action and to produce a statement for change. We're actually already trying to do things differently; the festival has been careful to see that it programmes work by female makers."

Another conference will address the role of culture in the Midlands economy, which Massingham felt was neglected in the announcement of the government's "Midlands Engine" programme. He certainly wants the IDFB to contribute to the city's economy, and this year the festival for the first time has a fixed hub, which he hopes will make it more visible and tangible in the city centre. The formerly derelict Municipal Bank building on Broad Street will be filled with kinetic sculptures by Japanese dancer-turned-sculptor Shun Ito, and will host workshops, dance performances, vault tours, kids' events, a cafe, a "haiku exchange" and a big end-of-festival party. Look out for a party atmosphere during the Live Nights of 11-14 May, when Centenary Square will be buzzing with street food, outdoor dance events and, er, dancing JCBs (no, really), and on Saturday 7 May, with all-age friendly performances and workshops in the heart of the Spiceal Street/Bullring shopping district.

These outdoor performances are one of Massingham's personal top picks for this year's festival – in part because he is directing one, The Machine Show, which features choreography from the brilliant Rosie Kay, and music by French electro-rock group Rinôçérôse, whom Massingham says he has been "trying to get into the festival for a decade" (The Machine Show poster, pictured above left). His other picks include Eclipse by Hungarian choreographer Csaba Molnár – "I'm looking forward to seeing how he works with local people, who are being included in the work alongside professional dancers" – and the Leonardo da Vinci-inspired family-friendly show Vuelos by Arcalandanza, who Massingham rates highly: "It will be beautiful; they never make a bad show!" The festival also features this year's only UK performances of Hofesh Shechter's eardrum-busting Political Mother, with the choreographer himself on stage.

As well as international stars, IDFB quite properly aims to showcase what Massingham regards as the "really great concentration" of Birmingham- and Midlands-based dance talent. A show bound to tickle audiences is Corey Baker Dance's Phone Box (pictured right by Dani Bower), performed outside at various iconic red boxes across the city, while the central cultural contribution made to Birmingham by its large South Asian community is reflected in performances by Leicester-born Kathak star Aakash Odedra (whose talent impressed me at the last IDFB) and BBC Young Dancer of the Year finalist Vidya Patel. The IDFB also hosts a conference on South Asian dance, "Navadisha 2016", and there are performances by international stars of the kathak, bharatanatyam and odissi dance styles, as well as the closing Desi Grooves party for those who want to get their bhangra and Bollywood on.

Brum residents can be smug about having all this on their doorstep; those further afield might well conclude that there's more than enough here to make a trip for. Says Massingham: "We have great dancers living and working in Birmingham – more than ever before; we have great artists who make touring work; we have great opportunities for dancers. IDFB is part of that – a new breath of dance for the city."

 

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