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Change is afoot – Part I

Categories: Extra-curricular, Nice stuff, Our work

Repeating silhouette of Victorian-style ladies' boots

Last year I took part in the first Pointe Blank with 26 other designers/illustrators. We each created a poster for Birmingham Royal Ballet's production, Coppélia, and those posters were subsequently displayed in one of BRB's studios at Birmingham Hippodrome, and over on the project's website.

Now the time has come for Hobson's Choice to get the Pointe Blank treatment.

Mindmap of ideas

So, this time the brief is to visually represent the tale of Hobson; the drunken owner of a boot shop in Salford, who refuses to allow his three daughters to marry … until the eldest offers him a choice which is, in fact, no choice at all. That's the hugely abridged version – there's more detail about the Hobson's Choice plot on Wikipedia if you're interested.

One of few stipulations in the Pointe Blank poster design brief is that there must be some sort of reference to the Victorian era, as that's when the story's set.

My initial idea was to incorporate some Victorian language in there somewhere, so I set about researching such things – meaning that part of my brain will forevermore store the fact that Victorian slang for shoes was 'crabshells' and boots were known as 'trotter cases'. They had a way with words, those Victorians.

Handwritten note - 'trotter cases' is Victorian slang for boots

The slang didn't make the final cut but I can confirm that the design will include an illustration of a boot – a Victorian ladies' boot to be precise – and ten zeros.

I attempted to shoe-horn (!) in the puntastic phrase "It's a story of the well-heeled and the well-oiled" too, but it wasn't quite right … so an equally groan-worthy play on words will be included instead.

All will be revealed – at the launch exhibition and online – on 20th February, along with the work of the 26 other designers/illustrators.

The first dance: unrelenting, bitter and stunning

Categories: Events, Extra-curricular, Learning things

Photo of Hofesh Shechter's Uprising by Andrew Lang

I was lucky enough to be invited to Dancexchange's 10th anniversary season launch and opening performance last night; a double bill by Hofesh Shechter Dance Company. Despite having seen plenty of dance on TV and online, until last night I'd never been to a live contemporary dance performance, so it was quite an experience.

The evening kicked-off with a pre-show drinks reception (in the same Hippodrome suite which houses the BRB Coppélia exhibition) and a talk from David Massingham, DanceXchange's Artistic Director. David reminisced about the work done by DanceXchange over the past ten years, and that of the various associate artists and choreographers who've developed work in the DanceXchange studios.

One such choreographer is Hofesh Shechter who created the first show of the season, Uprising, in the very same building in which it was about to be performed. Nice aptness.

Ear-plugs were provided

Performance time! Having been ushered into the Patrick Centre auditorium (via a man doling out earplugs which looked like sweets, as you can see), we took our seats and during the usual ambient chatter in what appeared to be a full house, the lights went out. They didn't fade; they went out. Suddenly. And completely. Which caused a few gasps.

Then the music started and I understood the earplugs thing; I could feel the booming, bassy, percussive, repetitive soundtrack in my feet.

I won't do a detailed recap of the entire show as I'm not a dance reviewer but Uprising was quite amazing. As far as the dancing goes, the fluidity between perfectly synchronised movement and faux-chaotic, faux-fighting was technically incredible.

Towards the end, the sound became a bit Amon Tobin, with electronic whirring, whizzes and twists – I subsequently learned that Shechter produces the music himself, which makes sense really as sound is an integral part of the performance. As is light. This was seamless; moving from single spots to moody half-light to bright, squint-worthy floodlights. Lee Curran clearly knows his stuff.

Afterwards, a single word seemed to describe Uprising: unrelenting.

During the interval the auditorium had been transformed from Uprising's raw, industrial space into a blank white canvas for The Art of Not Looking Back. A strangely oppositional match with Uprising – the style of dance fitted together but the tone this time was shrill and brittle, and included a screaming, spitting soundtrack which was uncomfortable listening.

The booming, brash, constancy of Uprising was clearly the male to this piece's stereotypically changeable, highly emotional and volatile female. (Not least because all Uprising's dancers are men and The Art of Not Looking Back is performed by women. Makes me wonder how it'd work performed vice versa …?)

A single word to describe The Art of Not Looking Back: bitter.

The performance ended with a literally awesome sequence in which both the female and male dancers became silhouetted and appeared to rewind at top speed through several of the core moves we'd just seen. It felt like watching a film being rewound, it was that convincing. Stunning stuff.

David Massingham running a Q&A with Hofesh Shechter

An interesting after-show Q&A followed, with David Massingham and the audience quizzing Hofesh about his creative process, what influences him and whether he minds other choreographers stealing from him. (He doesn't.)

There was even a point at which I thought Mr Massingham was about to reveal his favourite film is Love Actually. (He didn't. It was a Joni Mitchell song on the soundtrack he was referring to.)

So; that was my first experience of live contemporary dance. Would I go again? Yes. In fact, I'm off to see some sinister-looking dancing clowns next month. And I will be taking those earplugs, juuuuust incase …

On 15th July …

Categories: Extra-curricular, Useful/interesting

1573 English architect Inigo Jones was born.

1799 The Rosetta Stone was found in the Egyptian village of Rosetta by Captain Pierre-François Bouchard.

1823 A fire destroyed the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

1919 Irish author and philosopher Iris Murdoch was born.

1955 Eighteen Nobel laureates signed the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons; later co-signed by thirty-four others.

1973 American actor Brian Austin Green was born.

2003 The Mozilla Foundation was established. (The same day AOL Time Warner disbanded Netscape Communications Corporation.)

2011 Likemind Birmingham celebrated four happy years of setting the alarm early for Friday morning coffee and conversation.

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Thanks to Wikipedia for the info. above. Apart from the Likemind bit which we knew already.

Dance, design and a living doll – Part II

Categories: Extra-curricular, Nice stuff, Our work

So, this is my contribution to Pointe Blank; the Birmingham Royal Ballet collaborative project I mentioned t'other week. (Dance, design and a living doll – Part I)

Rather than write a load of waffly prose about the thinking behind the design, which'd not only take me ages to compose but you ages to read too, here instead are my waffly notes and a picture of the individual design elements:

  • It's a comic story so needs to look light-hearted.
  • Layers! There are many layers to the story. Show this.
  • Give it a hand-made quality but produce it by mechanical means.
  • Background pattern = based on an embroidered costume from the ballet.
  • Hearts! There's lots about love and broken hearts, so that needs to come through.
  • It's set in an Eastern European village so the buildings should show that.
  • 'Crest' to include ears of corn - used by Swanilda to test Franz's faithfulness.
  • No suitable font for the title, so hand-drawn lettering used.
  • Wanted to do a bit of copywriting: "Magic, misdirection … and a girl with enamel eyes".
  • Bunting was the last element to be added; frames everything else and hints at the festivities at the show's climax.
  • Colours palette = sympathetic to the production design (both costumes and set).
  • Include a level of mystery, wonder and magical-ness so people associate it with fairytale-type stories.

This was a great fun project to take part in and I have my fingers crossed there'll be more where this came from.

You can have a look at the other 26 submissions on the Pointe Blank website; there're some absolute stunners: www.pointeblank.co.uk

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UPDATE: Oops. I neglected to add photos from the launch event which was held on Monday at one of BRB's studios over at Birmingham Hippodrome. Here y'are …