thousand trades

City of a Thousand Trades

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham International Dance Festival

At the height of the industrial revolution Birmingham really was the city of a thousand trades, the fastest growing city in the country turning out toys, medals, trophies, bicycles and later cars and all manner of weaponry and ammunition from the gun quarter and fine precious items from the jewellery quarter.

There were less savoury items such as leg irons and manacles as well as more esoteric fare invented in Brum such as custard powder and HP sauce, as well as medical X-Ray machines, hand grenades, electric kettles and the stalwart of football since the 1884 – the Acme Thunderer, the go-to referee’s whistle.

So, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s contribution to Birmingham International Dance Festival (BIDF) had plenty to go at, but, Hobson’s Choice apart,  how do you represent any trade in dance?

We open with a representation of industry, of building, of creating, using scaffolding poles and blocks of what for all the world look like concrete (designs Giulia Scrimieri) gliding around the stage manoeuvred by a dozen dancers.

There is a dynamic about the dance, an urgency driven by an insistent percussion, the sound of the Brummagem screwdriver – the disparaging term for a hammer - as a background to the words of Birmingham’s Poet Laureate 2020-2022, Casey Bailey. 

Then we shift to a new take on the city of a thousand trades, the concept of trading a past life for a new one by moving to Brum from other areas, other countries, other lives, asking the question “what would you trade to be a part of the spin of this city?”

It is a question of making Birmingham your home, and “home is inside you . . . what you are looking for is something to attach it to.”.

There are moments of joy, of reflection, of settling down to a new life in a piece commissioned by BRB director Carlos Acosta to create a dance reflecting modern Birmingham. The task of realising the vision fell to Havana-born choreographer Miguel Altunaga, along with dramaturg and co-Director Madeleine Kludje from Birmingham Repertory Theatre.  

The music was created by by Mathias Coppens, inspired by the City’s soundscape, including its claim as the birthplace of Heavy Metal way back in 1968 in the hands . . . and amps of Black Sabbath.

The result is an intriguing sideways look at a city that is home to more than a million souls, but more than that, City of a Thousand Trades is BRB’s “love letter” to the city that has become its home after trading Saddler’s Wells for Thorp Street in 1990.

Roger Clarke




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