Birmingham Royal Ballet: Beauty and the Beast

If you follow Birmingham Hippodrome on Twitter, you may have seen some beastly antics around town this week. And that is, of course, because the Birmingham Royal Ballet are performing Beauty and the Beast.

Bull and the Beast... Courtesy of @brumhippodrome

Bull and the Beast… Courtesy of @brumhippodrome

If you head to this ballet expecting the happy, funny, charming Disney version that many of us have learnt to recognise, you will find this ballet surprisingly dark. Indeed, like most ballet adaptations of fairytales, Beauty and the Beast is intense the whole way through, apart from a few light-hearted scenes offering some comic relief.

With brilliant costumes and clever, effective set design, this ballet is definitely worth seeing. From large group dances, to duets, to solos, the choreography is stunning, gripping and is excellently executed by the large cast.

4.1.1

The choreography and costumes work brilliantly together, as the dancers perform animal-like movements, echoing their wild clothing. A particular standout moment is during the first act when a group of birds take Belle to the Beast’s castle. They move in a constantly rotating triangle formation, with lighting illuminating just the dancers’ faces and hands, carrying Belle towards the Beast. Dark and beautiful, this moment is exceptional.

In fact the lighting throughout the production really gives it a magical edge, highlighting and complementing the excellent performers.

If there are any parents out there worrying if this ballet lacks the cheer needed for your children, don’t worry (*spoiler alert*): we witness a stunning, happy, Disney-like ending!

Beauty and the Beast is only on for one more day. Catch it while you can!

Lee Bul at Ikon

Entering this first UK solo exhibition by Korean artist, Lee Bul, is (for want of a more grown-up word), magical. Confronted by a new commission, After Bruno Taut (Devotion to Drift) (2013), a piece suspended from the ceiling, comprised of chains and glass beads, the visitor is launched into this exhibition with a feast for the eyes. The exhibition continues with more beauty, lights, mirrors and trickery, making this a must-see show at the Ikon.

At the centre of 'Via Negativa' (2012)

At the centre of ‘Via Negativa’ (2012)

Playful and child-like, beautiful and crazy, experimental and chilling, this exhibition is bursting at the seams with creativity, fun and imagination. The curatorial decision to not display information about the pieces plays to the strengths of this show, allowing the visitor the freedom to engage his/her imagination with Bul’s works. And what a treat that is with such a collection of intriguing and immersive installations and sketches.

Inside Lee Bul's 'Bunker (M. Bakhtin)' (2007/2012)

Inside Lee Bul’s ‘Bunker (M. Bakhtin)’ (2007/2012)

Lee Bul’s dystopian installations, sculptures and sketches fill the first and second floor galleries of Ikon, taking the visitor to what almost seems like another world. Mirrored corridors distort reality, while eerie sounds playing through headphones in Bunker (M. Bakhtin) confuse the senses.

Optical-illusions galore, this exhibition is interactive and fun, while being thought-provoking and at times a little scary. The maze of mirrors, Via Negativa, confuses the visitor’s sense of space as you cautiously walk through it, narrowly missing walking into reflections of yourself at every turn.

At the centre of 'Via Negativa' (2012)

At the centre of ‘Via Negativa’ (2012)

What makes this exhibition really special is that the visitor can see Bul’s creative processes. Sculptures are displayed alongside their moquettes and sketches, and material exploration is expertly shown in a series of wolf sculptures, all identical in shape and size, but made from a huge variety of materials. It is exciting and refreshing to be invited into the creative process behind this collection.

'Untitled ("Infinity wall")' (2008)

‘Untitled (“Infinity wall”)’ (2008)

Allow plenty of time to see this exhibition. It is full to the brim of exciting works, with a section of the second floor gallery reminiscent of the crowded walls at the RA Summer Exhibitions. The installations and sculptures will set your imaginations rolling, taking you back to younger years and your eyes and mind will be tricked over and over again.

Lee Bul’s work is shown at Ikon until 9th November 2014.

Symmetry in Sculpture: Recent Work by Zarah Hussain

Simple yet complicated, sculptural yet 2D-looking, clean yet vibrant. This is an exhibition of opposites.

This beautifully spaced room of work by Zarah Hussain is stunning. With simple shapes and patterns that look complicated, and 3D sculptures that when stood head-on look flat, this body of work is a treat (or trick) for the eye.

'SuperSymmetry' Image from zarahhussain.co.uk

‘SuperSymmetry’ Image from zarahhussain.co.uk

Like the past craftsmen of the Islamic World, Hussain employs traditional yet complex mathematical principles to build beautiful, repeating pattern from individual symmetrical shapes.

With the gallery full of shapes based on hexagons and equilateral triangles, one would think this exhibition would be rather repetitive. However Hussain manages to give each shape, each colour its own character and identity. Perhaps this is because each sculpture is created and painted by hand. Hussain describes this exhibition as a ‘marriage between painting and sculpture’ and this is an experiment for her in moving her expertise in painting on into 3D sculpture.

And this is an element of the sculptures that is noticeable, although not initially tangible. Indeed, while Hussain has managed to achieve clean lines and symmetry, the pieces just stop short of being clinical, maintaining a sense creativity and expression that cannot immediately be grasped.

Hussain talks beautifully about the exhibition in this clip:

My favourite thing about this body of work is that these are not static sculptures. They interact with light and shadow such that as you move, they move with you. This exhibition is understatedly active and playful, interacting with the viewer as you stroll through it.

There are also two large paintings amongst the sculptures that draw on geometric ideas. In fact friends that I went to the exhibition with said that the canvases reminded them of drawing using spiral kits when they were children. That is the beautiful opposition that these works hold: vibrant and energetic, yet structured, systematic and mathematical.

This beautiful exhibition of contemporary sculpture has been around at BMAG for quite a while, but it is only showing for a few more weeks! Make sure you grab a visit before it closes!

True to Life? New Photography from the Middle East

From Morocco to Afghanistan, photography has become an increasingly important medium in today’s Middle East. It allows artists from this vast and diverse region to project an accessible, engaging and often deeply personal voice.

This exhibition is one of the most interesting collections I have seen for a while. Not only does it present beautiful and sometimes difficult images, it also asks the viewer to question the integrity of the very images they are seeing: ‘Do these photographs reflect real life, or are they merely versions of reality created by the photographers?’

With the Middle East frequently discussed and represented in the media, this question posed in True to Life? is a welcome one. The viewer enters the exhibition reminded that photography does not present the facts. We are immediately invited to step into this space with a critical eye, leaving our prejudices and indeed our faith in a camera lens at the door.

Spread across two galleries in BMAG, the first room of this free exhibition is haunting. A series of six portraits from Shadi Ghadirian’s series Qajar span one of the four walls. These images, staged and photographed like traditional Iranian portraits include women with modern objects that are forbidden in Iran. The mixture between old and new, forbidden and expected is particularly striking.

'Qajar #1' Image from shadighadirian.com

Shadi Ghadirian: ‘Qajar #1’ Image from shadighadirian.com

In the next room, Hassan Hajjij’s two pieces are displayed side-by-side. Saida in Green, the face of the exhibition sits alongside Jama Fna Angels. Both of these works depict Moroccan women wearing versions of traditional dress that are covered in symbols of western consumerism. The frame of Jama Fna Angels is decorated with aluminium cans, aerosol cans and glass bottles with famous, western branding on them. The repetitive nature of this piece gives a nod to pop art, creating an interesting, typically Moroccan, yet Warhol-like image.

Hassan Hajjij: 'Saida in Green' Image from bmag.org.uk

Hassan Hajjij: ‘Saida in Green’ Image from bmag.org.uk

The standout works for me were the poignant images from Amirali Ghasemi’s 2006 series, Party. In these photographs of young people enjoying a house party, any visible flesh is blocked in white, while any hair is blocked in black, creating cartoon-like, featureless young adults. These party-goers are having their anonymity and safety preserved but are consequently covering up their identity and even their race.

Before reading in the supporting information that this was a work based on the underground youth culture of Tehran, images of the secret parties in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (graphic novel and 2007 French animation film) came to mind. Perhaps Ghasemi was aware of Satrapi’s work. For me, the association deepened and enriched my understanding of the photographs and added an extra element of youth rebellion to the images.

Such was my fascination with True to Life? that I made notes on almost every work featured. However, I must leave some space for surprise for any future visitors. This exhibition has been brilliantly crafted and presented and it is certainly one to leave you thinking. Go to it with an open mind, leave your previous convictions at the door and question everything you see. You will not be disappointed.

 

True to Life? is in galleries 12 & 13 of the Birmingham Museum until 2nd November 2014. Entry is free.

The Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham

It’s not often that you walk through the centre of Birmingham and overhear families and friends greeting each other asking: ‘Are you going to the library?’ In fact I am sure that is not a phrase often heard anywhere in modern Britain. Perhaps the new £189m, nine-story Library of Birmingham will change this.

Sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai gave an inspirational talk at the opening of the library on Tuesday 3rd September, urging the public to remember and speak out for the 57 million children around the world that do not have an education. Her speech was followed by a performance by dhol drummers and a big queue to enter the building.

Looking down on the children's area

Looking down on part of the children’s area

Once inside, the emphasis on learning is evident. With a vast children’s section including a soft-play-type area for children to read comfortably, the library provides a fun and relaxed space to engage with books, far from old notions of a library being a silent, somewhat stagnant place.

'A Midsummer Night's Dream', Su Blackwell

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Su Blackwell

What makes the venue stand out for me is that it is more like an arts centre than a library. Interspersed with gardens, cafés, an art gallery, music practice rooms, an amphitheatre, lecture rooms, artworks, a BFI Mediatheque and so much more, the space looks set to cater to a whole range of people and tastes.

The Rotunda

The Rotunda

‘Amazing’ was a word that echoed throughout the building: never before have I seen or felt such excitement for a library. The beautifully designed rotunda gives the interior a prestigious feel and on the opening day, it was lined with volunteer brass players who presented Together We Breathe’, a piece by Super Critical Mass.

A view down to the amphitheatre from one of the terraces

A view down to the amphitheatre from one of the terraces

What I realised as I was walking around the beautiful building is that people are not just excited about a new library. We are excited about what this structure symbolises. It shows investment in Birmingham, despite the financial crisis. It shows that the public are cared and provided for by their city and that Birmingham is in fact a place that is growing and alive. Indeed as Malala stated in her speech, a city without a library is like a graveyard.

Library interior

Library interior

My only hope is that the library continues to excite and amaze and that it truly becomes a place where a diverse community can learn and enjoy the arts together.

Birmingham Back to Backs

image[9]

Hurst Street, Birmingham

Tucked away in an unexpected corner of Birmingham are the National Trust preserved Back to Backs. These houses were occupied as homes from 1831 right up until 1967 when they were deemed unfit to live in.

To visit the Back to Backs you first have to book a tour to go around Court 15 but you wouldn’t want it any other way. The tour guide was fantastic, endlessly knowledgeable, and really brought the place to life. The tour lasted an hour and 45 minutes and the time flew by as we were shown around two properties and the communal courtyard, wash room (or brew house) and toilets.

image

Taken from the exhibition

The tour was full of the stories of the many individual families that had lived in Court 15 and was interspersed with voice recordings of old tenants. It was very well planned logistically, as we had to tackle eight steep, spiral staircases and cram into small rooms in our group of about ten.

image[2]

One of eight small, spiral staircases

However this only added to the brilliant insight the tour gave into the experiences of the people who lived in these cramped conditions. Court 15 was comprised of 11 houses, each with a family in, meaning that roughly 60 people would often share the one wash room and toilet and lived in very close proximity to one another. One of the previous tenants speaking on a voice recording stated that as a child he would often try to stay out of the house for as long as possible as the conditions were so uncomfortable.

image[1]

Looking out to the courtyard

The entire experience was absolutely fascinating as the tour guide covered over a hundred years of history focused on one very small plot in Birmingham. The excellent renovation and preservation of the site sent us back in time as we experienced how other people lived.

image[5]

Washing line in the courtyard

The Back to Backs are a far cry from the grand mansions and beautifully kept gardens any seasoned National Trust member may be used to. The space is very limited (of course) and there isn’t a cafe or cream tea in sight!

image[8]

1930s Sweetshop

But don’t worry – there is a 1930s sweetshop on the corner and there is not enough time for afternoon tea with so much to see and do. As well as the guided tour, the National Trust has an interactive exhibition upstairs, with old clothes, examples of the household pests that people lived alongside and detailed information about living conditions. It also includes fragments of the various wallpapers that were recovered and videos that explain the complicated conservation process.

13.05.18-04 Lucy in back to backs, Birmingham

Going back in time in the exhibition

I felt a whole lot cleverer when I left the Back to Backs and was delighted to have visited what felt like a pocket of history in a largely renovated area of Birmingham. I thoroughly recommend a visit if you enjoy history, have an interest in Birmingham, or just fancy a bit of fun!

For more information see the National Trust website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/birmingham-back-to-backs/visitor-information/

Jazzlines at Symphony Hall

Taken from THSH promotional material

Taken from THSH promotional material

I went to my first Jazzlines Free Gig at Symphony Hall this Friday: Jazzlines Trio and the Jazzlines Ensemble. If you are after a bit of fun, relaxation, talent or culture in your Friday evening then Symphony Hall Cafe Bar is the place to be.

The upbeat start from the Jazzlines Ensemble turned a grey, Friday afternoon into what felt like a carnival (albeit a fairly stationary one) and there were smiles all round. The Jazzlines Ensemble is a group of young musicians who attended the Jazzlines summer school. Their playing was generally tight and together but what struck me the most was the incredible confidence of the young people.

Clearly the informal setting provided a great space for the young musicians to experiment and make mistakes in a supportive and encouraging environment. Not that there were many mistakes made: in their third song ‘Centerpiece’ one of the boys played a stunning flute solo (this guy also showed his skills on the saxophone in other pieces) and the laid-back attitude of the whole ensemble was a real joy to watch.

Jazzlines Trio

Jazzlines Trio

The Jazzlines Trio took to the stage next and was truly fantastic. Comprised of a double bass, a piano and drums, the group was later joined by a trumpeter, saxophonist and singer and the entire performance was stunning. I hurt my head trying to keep up with the drummer’s insanely complex rhythms and the Trio really showcased its skills playing one of pianist Reuben James’ own compositions which was tranquil, beautiful and a delight to listen to.

Jazzlines

Jazzlines

However, perhaps my favourite observation of the night was the amazing atmosphere in the space and the hugely diverse audience. From school children to OAPs to professionals there was a great mix of people in Birmingham early on a Friday evening, coming together just to enjoy a bit of jazz! I would absolutely recommend it and hope to go to many more of these gigs, which happen every week by the way!