Fierce Festival: Club Fierce: Dance Amnesty

Birmingham International Dance Festival is upon us, inspired by themes of imagination, body, mindfulness, and digital art, showcasing great choreography and opening up new and surprising ways for you to experience dance. For the finale to the festival, we’ve teamed up with BIDF to bring you Club Fierce:Dance Amnesty. This will be a night of spectacular performance and DJ’s through which you can throw down your own notorious moves. In preparation for the club night, Maud (Fierce’s latest intern) asked Last Yearz Interesting Negro/Jamila Johnson Small and Brian Lobel some questions about their upcoming performances for Club Fierce and BIDF.

FuryZ Last Yearz Interesting Negro with Rowdy SS. Photo by Ayka LuxFollowing her sold our World Premiere at Fierce 2017 LAST YEARZ INTERESTING NEGRO/JAMILA JOHNSON-SMALL presents new performance Fury1 in collaboration with Rowdy SS who plays a live sound set. They are coming straight from performances at the Palais De Tokyo in Paris.

Does your piece inspire new ways of seeing dance? What new ways of seeing would you like to inspire? Or participation; how would you like an audience to respond or participate in your dance?

To be honest, I am always very sceptical of this idea of ‘new’ and wouldn’t want to claim that for anything I might be trying to propose through my work. Of course there are things – behaviours, expectations – that have become conventions in regards to watching ‘contemporary’ dance that I think can limit potentials of experience, exchange and thinking, that I work to disrupt…but what happens for anyone in that gap the disruption might create, I couldn’t say! We could say that Fury1 is an ongoing experiment, a live formulation or unfolding of our responses to/ experiences of the different environments (including people) in which we come to perform, and each other.

You like to keep your dancing flexible for the time and space in which you perform, are you looking forward to dancing in ‘Club Fierce’ what vibes do you expect to feed off of, how do you think it will affect your piece?

I don’t know that I would use the word flexible! I think it might be misleading in the way it suggests an openness and adaptability for someone else’s purpose. I think it’s more that the dancing happens in relation to the choreographic score as it meets each environment or context and tries to find a way to inhabit those spaces. We were definitely excited to experience this work in a club context. No expectations!

BRIAN LOBEL’s Hold My Hand and We’re Halfway There; links Depression- era Dance Marathons, where contestants danced until they dropped in pursuit of fame and fortune, to young boys dancing in their bedroom after school, where they too dance until they drop, often hoping for fame and fortune. For this performance, Brian recreates his childhood bedroom and invites us to watch or join in with the marathon.

Have you tried ‘Hold My Hand We’re Half Way There’ in a club setting before? 

The first major installation of Hold My Hand was at Shunt and ran from 10pm-2am every night for 4 nights.  On bare rock floor. In a club. Where everyone was drunk. So I’m used to doing it in such an environment.

I’ve performed the work in public squares (in Italy and Thailand), fancy dance venues (Sadler’s Wells), as a 5 day installation in an abandoned shoe store in Lower Manhattan, White Nights all night parties in Brighton and Brussels, and lots of different places… I like when the crowd is different but I am basically doing the same thing, it changes the energy of the piece in unpredictable ways.

Do you think, in this setting, you’ll ever really be dancing alone? 

I usually dance alone for about 60% of the time. People do join me, but very often, people do their own thing on their own tv sets.

Has dancing ever become a chore for you through doing this performance? – do you think you could join the dancing after your performance?

Yes, the dance always becomes a chore, and this is the purpose. While it’s fun, it’s exhausting, and smelly, and sweaty, and draining and thrilling. It’s the kind of exhaustion which is really difficult to tell whether it is worth it or just painful. This is the tension which I’m trying to bring forth in the world, and the metaphor that I think connects the work to the isolated queer body in a bedroom – are they alone, are they lonely?  Are they isolated from others? Or are they isolating themselves?

What’s your favourite dance move you’ve learnt from copying the musical routines? Could this be done on the club dance floor? 

My favourite dance I’ve learned is Rich Man’s Frug – – which is probably the most amazing dance scene of all time. And yes, of course any of these moves can (and are) used on dance floors.  Ugh. I love it.

What advice would you give to the Fierce clubbers?

My advice? Focus on the camera shots, not just the moves. If you’re watching Muriel’s Wedding (Waterloo Scene), or Jesus Christ Superstar (the Superstar scene) you’ll find the dance moves even more fun if you think of playing to an invisible camera capturing the sickest angles. 

Other performances at Club Fierce include SAFFRON and JAMES BATCHELOR. DJ’s include JONJO JURY and TE TE BANG. MC’d by the fabulous YSHEE BLACK.

Tickets are £5 advance from HERE

Club Fierce: Dance Amnesty is a part of the BIDF’s Saturday Session Special Offer which is a full day of events and performances for tickets and info please click HERE.

Women and Theatre: Call Out For Chorus Members

Female singers needed for our new musical theatre production Women of Longbridge.

We are after female singers to join us in learning a new community song, which will be part of a new outdoor musical theatre performance in Longbridge on Saturday 23 June.

You will need to attend the rehearsal on Thursday 21 June and ideally the dress rehearsal on Friday 22 June (but not essential). Attendance at all 3 performances would be wonderful, but if you can make just one, we can still include you, so do come along.

Call Women & Theatre on 0121 449 7117 for more information. We look forward to seeing you!

Rehearsal: Thursday 21 June from 730-9pm at Longbridge Methodist Church 1654-1658 Bristol Rd S, Rednal, Birmingham B45 9TY

Dress rehearsal: Friday 22 June from 6-9pm at Bournville College, Longbridge

Performances: Saturday 23 June at 11am, 3pm & 6pm. Longbridge Town Centre

Graeme Rose's Blog: Sweeties here…

Furnace FJSM A5 Leaflet - PF4

Furnace FJSM A5 Leaflet reverse - PF4

The Box Offices are now open for the July performances of Fred Jeffs: The Sweetshop Murder, commissioned as part of FURNACE, Birmingham REP’s Community Engagement Programme.

Tickets for the three shows are free, but limited in number so please book ahead if you can.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Why Buy Now?

Tickets are on sale for our new show The Capital that opens in October and although I love the purity of turning up on the night of the performance handing over folding money in exchange for a ticket and walking into the show, here I expound five brief arguments as to why this is a terrible idea.

Book now because in doing so you separate the pain of payment from the joy of consumption leaving you psychologically free to enjoy the show even more.
Book now because you will enjoy four months looking forward to seeing the show rather than four months of thinking ‘I really must get round to booking for the new Stan’s Cafe show’.

Book now because it means you will see the show. If you don’t book now your diary will fill up with other things that you will enjoy less but which can’t be moved or cancelled. Stake your claim on your own time for something that you love doing and which happens very rarely the performance of a new Stan’s Cafe show.
Book now because the show’s going to be tremendous, very popular and if it sold out you’d kick yourself for not having booked in earlier – you’ve know about if for four months after all!

Finally a reason that will be recognised by anyone who has ever put on any kind of event… Book now because good early sales generate a positive feeling around the show and positive feelings around a show create a better show.

Graeme Rose's Blog: Dionysus & Cupid

Here’s a couple of hapless Greek deities from the 1992/3 show, ROUGH, devised by Bodies In Flight

Instagram Photo

Photographer and printmaker Edward Dimsdale has collaborated with Bodies In Flight throughout its history; not only documenting the work, but developing a visual language which provides the interface between the core themes of ‘Flesh’ and ‘Text’. Ed is currently compiling images from the company’s back catalogue in preparation for a programme of 30th Anniversary artworks for 2019. As well as a publication from Ed, there are plans for a new performance piece, which, I am excited to say, I will be a part of.

In ROUGH, four seemingly redundant Greek Gods are reduced to touring the Working Men’s Club circuitwith their whirlwind interpretations of the Greek tragedies; all the juicy, gory bits compacted into a tasteless melange. When things go a little too far – even by their own standards – the Gods don their angel wings, pick up their lyres and ascend to a heavenly place…

Scan 4

Backstage with Bodies In Flight. (clockwise) Simon Pegg, Graeme Rose, Catherine Porter and Charlotte Watkins. Bristol, 1992



Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

Spoiler Alert – this review of Friction Art’s Everything Must Go describes what happens in the event. I recommend you go to the event THEN return to this review and see if you agree with it.

Sunday is the last performance. Tickets are just £10 for adults and lots of people are eligible for concessions at £5.


Birmingham Wholesale Market occupies a huge site, 28 acres of prime real estate a mere apple’s throw from New Street Station. It seemed inevitable that redevelopment and the commercial imperative would catch up with the vast 1970s concrete warehouses and that time has finally arrived; the traders have moved out, the bulldozers are on the horizon and squeezed in between, to conduct the last rites, are Friction Arts with their performance event Everything Must Go.

Friction Arts are stalwarts of the Birmingham performance scene, burrowing their way into their local community to make true socially engaged art with an international perspective. Wholesale Market is right on their doorstep and they have long been building relationships there both with the weekday traders and the denizens of the site’s huge Sunday morning Car Boot Sale. Tonight’s requiem carried evidence of the investment made in these relationships and was charged with the company’s emotional engagement with the site and those who have animated it through almost 900 years of history.

Site-specific events carry an frisson when the site is specifically somewhere you’re not normally able to access. This evening a ramshackle group of us gathered beyond the security barriers and the vacant guard’s hut on the great concrete deck of the Market’s plaza. A beautifully produced Audience Manual gives us a brief history of the site as the very origins of the settlement that is now the City of Birmingham and a guide as to the art we will encounter within.

We are admitted to an initial cavernous space designed as a drive-thru for articulated lorries but the entrance into the main trading hall is blocked by a very large screen carrying a video recording of a brightly lit wholesale market scene, passing vans, forklift trucks, piles of boxes of vegetables, traders and customers wandering around, a market day winding down. This scene spools on unblinkingly until eventually the image fades and the screen is slowly raised revealing the same scene here and now grey, hollow and apparently lifeless. Like many moments in the evening’s event it is a simple idea well realised and effective.

The trading hall is vast, grim and intimidating, truly spectacularly Soviet-ugly, I like it. We are given time to explore artworks commissioned by Friction commissioned documenting or responding to the site; these range from Dan Burwood’s large, sombre photographic portraits of workers, to a witty sculptural of fruit trays held in place by miniature figurines. Marcus Belben had pulled together a lot of local history and in a small back office – whose wall was lined with photographs of the site in action – half a dozen telephone receivers carried aural histories from workers on the site.

Not all the commissions were strong, some possibly weren’t shown to their best effect on site and there was always the lingering suspicion that you’d missed something out – which wasn’t necessarily such a bad thing.

When as an audience we started kicking our heels, collectively acknowledging that with the best will in the world we weren’t going to read all the historical documents or listen to all the testimonies or sit through all the film loops, the worker/performers started to rattle into action, calling and whistling, pushing carts and cages and pump trucks. Eventually they coalesced at the centre of the three pronged building, on a form of traffic island whose perimeter hosts a series of vast cylindrical concrete pillars keeping the roof up and whose centre is marked by a totemic square pillar wearing a vast circular concrete collar maybe 6m from its base.

The performers are in dirty work wear, boots and dark rubber gloves, they do jobs, they pile wooden pallets against the central pillar and hug the peripheral pillars. They embellish the pallets with more found objects, fake grass, golf clubs, some clothes on hangers, maybe a necklace and some half broken furniture. Everything is removed and then rebuilt, the hugging repeats.
It becomes clear we’re not being told a story, we are watching something happening. There is an invocation of the market in the week and on the Sundays. There is a homage to and struggle with the fabric of the space. Vegetables and fruit arrive and a chopped up, ripped up and peeled, the shavings and peelings fall and with the performers circling rings emerge of different coloured offerings – a rangoli, the waste.

This group performance section concludes neatly with a triangle of the performance space being enclosed by industrial cling film layered, higher and higher, partitioning the performers off from us and fading them away.

We have smelt decay in the air, we have seen age old grime and fetid water, discarded materials, the fruit and vegetables but as yet no flesh, this is to come. Lee Griffiths’ voice booms out through the space, we seek it out and find his thin naked carcass cling-film wrapped from neck to knees to an old hand cart, half stood, half reclined facing us. This startling image quotes an initiation rite for newbies working on the markets, yet here the voice isn’t new but ancient. Griffiths recites etymological roots of Birmingham’s name, he invokes the spirit of the city and its markets, he acknowledges the energetic cycle of destruction and rebuilding which helps define the city, he links us, the City’s residents with those who have gone before us.

As Griffiths is wheeled off, by a rather perfunctory stage manager, his place is taken and the mood leavened by a sprightly gentleman in a black yoked donkey jacket tap dancing to the evening’s first music – up until now a soundscape of found noises has echoed through the halls, but now there is music, as if the horns and reversing hazard sounds of all the trucks and fork-lifts have shifted pitches and come together to form a happy band.

The dancer leads us to the golden centre of a vast spiders web that fills one end of the building’s north limb, where the flowers were sold. Entering the centre of the web we follow a long twisting tunnel made of broken down fruit boxes, black plastic and yet more cling-film. We have our hands shaken “goodbye”, “goodbye” we get an item of fruit with a label and thought attached and that’s us and it finished, out into the (relatively) fresh evening air.

After months and months of anticipating this event the Friction team ultimately had to pull it together in double quick time and the did a remarkably good job in trying circumstances. Having once been called Funding Pending the company made excellent use of Heritage Lottery and Arts Council money to make a strong, slick and thoughtful piece that was big and bold enough to escape that fate of much site-specific work and not get overwhelmed by the site. I knew when to make some noise and spectacle and when to let the venue do its own thing.

The event didn’t capture or remind us of the vibrancy, life and colour of the market, there weren’t the jokes, or the teasing, banter, robustness or camaraderie that one imagines filling the air in these dynamic work places; but tonight didn’t feel as if it was aiming to be a recreation or re-enactment of anything, ultimately if felt as if we were witnessing and part of a ritual, a ritual conducted with the fragmented remnants of something, a ritual conducted by artists to say goodbye and thank you to the Wholesale Market on behalf of a city.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Kenesh Dramaturge

Last Thursday I was holed up in the Stan’s Cafe kitchen with Keisha Grant, Artistic Director of Keneish Dance, looking at a video documenting an early draft of their new show Hi I’m…. For this piece Keisha is interested in including some narrative elements and thought it may be helpful to talk about this with someone who devises theatre shows.

Officially my role would probably be described as Dramaturge; it’s a provocateur / outside eye / collaborator position which I quite enjoy but rarely do. My ambition is to help make the piece as good as it possibly be whilst regularly checking that my definition of ‘good’ matches up with Keisha’s vision for the piece.

It was enjoyable few hours. We watched the dance through comparing what I read from it with what Keisha’s intentions were in choreographing it. We examined her worries, frustrations and aspirations for the piece and discussed how these can be addressed when she starts rehearsals again.

Satisfyingly (for me at least) I came up with one rather bold idea which I believe would unlock exciting potential for the piece to carry its narrative burden lightly and leave Keisha lots of freedom to exercise her choreographic skills. If it were my piece I’d drive this idea through remorselessly, but of course it’s Keisha’s piece so I typed up notes from our conversation and sent them over to her to do with them as she wishes. I will attend a couple of rehearsals and see if I can be of any help there and promise not to get grumpy if she’s binned all my suggestions.

Prominent in my mind is the explanation of the Dramaturge – Director relationship as originally explained to me by a German theatre producer. “James” he said “the Dramaturge may say to the Director ‘this section isn’t working, you need to make it half as long’ to which the Director is likely to reply ‘you are right, that section isn’t working, but that is because it needs to be TWICE as long’ and this is okay.”

Women and Theatre: Women of Longbridge Research Blog

Katie Haviland has been volunteering with us on our community musical theatre show Women of Longbridge, here she talks about W&T research process and what she’s learnt so far. 

Hello! I’m Katie and I’m the volunteer for Women of Longbridge.

The first time I met Rachel (project manager) and Jo (co-writer and co-director), they told me Women & Theatre love to meet people and have a chat.  From what I’ve been involved with so far, they could not have been more right! The research process for Women of Longbridge has involved countless conversations (and what feels like a hundred cups of tea) as we have visited several locations in and around Longbridge to talk to some incredible women.

On day one of our research week, I was excited to meet the team and hear more about the project. Almost immediately, I knew this was going be something completely unique to anything I’d done before.  It was so refreshing to enter a creative process with such a relatively blank canvas, as the material for the performance would come from these conversations. There was no agenda or plan, other than to listen to the women of Longbridge and hear their stories. So, after a brief meeting, we packed up lots of paper, pens, voice recorders and a washing line (there was logic behind this), and headed to Frankley Library for our first session.

Usually, the idea of going up to a stranger and saying ‘Hello, tell me all about your life please’ would terrify me, but as soon as we began chatting to the lovely women of Frankley, all those nerves went away.  The power of conversation really did shine through, and around three hours later we already had some great stories! One particularly sticks out in my memory: Val told me the story of her, at the age of fourteen, buying a train ticket to Liverpool and stealing a used milk bottle from outside Paul McCartney’s house. She managed to make it all the way home with this precious bottle, and treasured it in her bedroom for weeks. Unfortunately, her mum found the bottle, washed it and put it out for the milkman to collect! Val never told her mother this story, as she was still nervous to tell her that she had skipped school, despite this being fifty years later!

As the week of research continued, we delved into the heart of Longbridge to speak to women in the Extra Care retirement village, attend a tea dance at the Austin Social Club and pay a visit to Meadow Rose Care Home. It was such a heart-warming process to see the women we spoke to gradually opening up about their lives. So often, women apologised for ‘being boring’ or ‘going off topic’ when they had just shared a significant memory from their past or an exciting hope for the future.  We weren’t after showbiz drama or celebrity stories! Instead, we were meeting real women with just as important and interesting stories to tell, and it was a privilege to be able to hear just a handful of the stories the women of Longbridge have to offer. Thank you to all the women and organisations for sharing your stories, time, tea and biscuits with us!

Unsurprisingly, many of these conversations were centred around the history and eventual closure of the MG Rover plant.  To be completely honest, I knew nothing about the factory before I began working on this project, but am so glad I do now. The impact the closure had on so many lives was overwhelming to learn about, and the regenerated town is still extremely mindful of its history.  The location of the performance itself is taking place where the factory once stood. Below the performance space are the factory’s tunnels, used to ensure manufacturing could continue during the war. References to the town’s history are scattered all over the shiny new shopping development (which includes the biggest M&S I have ever seen…). It is wonderful to see how Longbridge has continued to grow and expand despite the turbulent period of the factory’s closure, but continues to remember its legacy.

These weeks of research for Women of Longbridge have been unique and inspiring. The way the team at Women & Theatre are able to take real-life stories and transform them in to a performance is, quite frankly, awesome, and it has been fascinating to be a part of this process. I’m never quite sure what’s going to happen next when I go to the Women & Theatre office, and I absolutely love it! It’s been amazing to work with such enthusiastic, creative and generally lovely people and I can’t wait for rehearsals to start.

I hope to see you at Women of Longbridge on 23rd June! Performance times are 11am, 3pm and 6pm outside The Cambridge Pub in Longbridge. And it is FREE, so no excuses!  

For more information on Women of Longbridge click here GIG GUIDE: JUNE 2018

30 shows this month across the Midlands, covering  BirminghamCoventry



Mischief Move Night cutdown





Freewheelers:  Come and enjoy another packed show of experimental improv from the Midlands and beyond.  This month features local duo Squidheart.


Edinbrum:  Jarred Christmas, the quick witted master of improv, is a TV regular and Chortle award-winner.  See him & Viv Groskop in this preview of their Edinburgh Fringe shows.


The Documentary:  Showcase for graduates of the Fat Penguin Level One improv course.  Go and see Birmingham’s newest improvisers in their first public performance.


The Armando Diaz Experience:  Fat Penguin Level Two students show off what they have learned using Chicago’s most famous improv format.


Fat Penguin Improv:  The house team Bunkum Factory will amuse and delight along with stand up comedian Craig Dixon.


An Audience With Henry VIII:  Two shows with your chance to ask questions Henry VII himself about his reign, wives or ANY related subject…there may be some surprising answers!


Box Of Frogs: Monthly show in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter where audience members can join performers on stage.


The Kneejerks: A night of comedy and theatre, featuring sketches and scenes and all completely free.


Fat Penguin Improv:  The house team Bunkum Factory create comedy scenes based on the musings of a stand up comedian.



Mischief Movie Night:  Direct from a sold-out West End run and their return from six months on Broadway, Mischief Theatre bring you an improvised movie live on stage


Fat Penguin Improv:  A stand up and an improv team combine to create double the fun.


Mischief Movie Night:  Six more chances to see the new show from the creators of the smash hit comedy The Play That Goes Wrong.  Starring them, directed by you, every night is a guaranteed comedy blockbuster!


The Improlectuals:  See this improv supergroup perform spontaneous and hilarious on-the-spot comedy from audience suggestions.




Coventry Improv:  A free family friendly evening of improvised sketches and games.




Rhymes Against Humanity / The Vox Pops:  Improv double bill featuring a musical created on the spot from audience suggestions.


Gorilla Burger:  Theatre karaoke where you can be the star.  Or you can just sit back and enjoy an evening of unplanned, uncensored improv comedy.


UoN Improv:  The last show of the academic year for the student group will have a few surprises, plus the usual range of comic scenes and games.


The Cat’s Pyjamas:  The Nottingham Improv Comedy Experience host a night of fun and games, including a chance for audience members to perform.


Smash Night: Multiple acts spontaneously turn suggestions into scenes and stories bound to be breath-taking and bloody hilarious.




The Same Faces: Brilliant comedy sketches live on stage, in the style of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”.  Special party to celebrate the group’s 5th birthday.


Uncle Armando: Themed show where the group perform scenes inspired by stand up comedian Andy White.




The Same Faces:  Monthly Northampton show, taking ideas from you to make brilliant comedy sketches live on stage.




Showstopper! The Improvised Musical:  The show that has to be seen to be believed.  Olivier Award winning display from Britain’s most talented performers.


Have I missed a show?  Get in touch and let me know.                                    @MidlandsImprov