Welcome to Birmingham pt. II – DanceXchange

It’s been roughly 12 years since I last attended a dance performance, I have no idea what it was but at a guess I’d say it was some form of school trip as part of theatre studies. Tonight I am breaking that duck with my first visit to Birmingham Hippodrome and, based within it – DanceXchange.

Founded in 1993 and originally based on John Bright Street, DanceXchange [dx] partnered with the Hippodrome and Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2001 to become the largest dance partnership in Britain. It is at their studios I am to meet Mike Hyde who has graciously offered to give me a tour and tickets for the showing of Rosie Kay’s ‘There is Hope’, receiving its premiere tonight.

I park up at the Arcadian, a spot that is beginning to develop into my favourite parking spot in the area, and head over to the Hippodrome – down the right hand side and to the entrance on Thorp Street where I am to meet Mike.

After accidentally walking past each other on the lift, we get our bearings and begin the tour of the studios situated around the dx offices. In these studios members of the public can participate in over 40 classes every week. Catering for all ages and levels of ability, the classes start at an affordable £3 and styles are varied. As mentioned, I’m no expert in dance, but the location feels modern and bright, with a sense of privacy. Classes are well hidden off from general access so there’s no fear of accidental onlookers; even though I appear to be one as I am given the tour. I feel this is important, I know that if I ever take up something new I am always cautious as to who can see me fail miserably the first few attempts. I don’t get the sense that you would feel that here when taking a beginner class. Or any class for that matter.

With multiple levels of skill covered for each of their dance classes, DanceXchange gives members the opportunity to progress from beginner to advanced in house. Mike tells me that this is the ideal scenario, with classes for all levels of ability offering a number of entry points, which, alongside their Centre for Advance Training (a national scheme which develops young dancers aged 11-16 who may wish to advance to professional training), means that one day dancers may even return to dx as a professional performer.

The Patrick Centre is our next port of call. This studio theatre became the first dedicated dance space outside of London when it was opened in 2001. Residing in the Hippodrome, it is DanceXchange’s own performance area. With over 200 seats, the theatre is regularly used to host performances by touring companies from around the UK and further afield, which often include shows from dx’s Associate Artists. It can also be used to host functions and events.

We head out of The Patrick Centre for the time being and move past the audience who are busily readying themselves for a performance on the Hippodrome’s main stage, out of the building and across the street to StageSide, the theatre bar. It’s here we are able to sit down and discuss what DanceXchange’s role is in the city’s arts scene. It turns out it’s quite a major one.

As well as managing education and outreach projects across the West Midlands, dx co-produces the month long, biennial International Dance Festival Birmingham in partnership with the Hippodrome . This year’s festival was the third incarnation of IDFB and ran from 23rd of April to the 19th of May. Featuring dance choreographed from across the world the performances took place in theatres, cinemas, streets, parks and even children’s playgrounds. ‘Spill: A Playground of Dance’ – directed by Shaun Parker and inspired by London 2012 – was a project led by DanceXchange that saw a new 30 minute outdoor production take place using existing children’s playground equipment as the set that took dance into the heart of communities as it toured the West Midlands.

It’s projects like this one that has seen DanceXchange charged with carrying on the Olympic legacy in the region. ‘Dancing for the Games‘ – the West Midlands’ programme of dance activity, funded by the Cultural Olympiad, saw almost 30 organisations lead a wide range of projects across the region, encouraging everyone in the area to try something new. DanceXchange will be taking over WestMidlandsDance.com to continue Dancing for the Games’ good work into the future as they look to take advantage of the positive momentum generated by the Olympics for active leisure.

Last year saw DanceXchange celebrate 10 years at the Hippodrome and to celebrate they held a special anniversary season that included Hofesh Shechter, 2Faced Dance Company, TAO Dance Theatre and a show from Bare Bones – DanceXchange’s own touring production company.

Everything I am hearing is extremely impressive. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I arranged to meet Mike. Naively before I moved to the city I felt, like many do, that the cultural centre of the UK is London and have been walking around blind to everything Birmingham has to offer, despite living only an hour away in my hometown of Banbury. It’s for this reason that I am writing these articles, venturing to new places and experiencing new things. Dance is certainly something new to me and though I am impressed by everything Mike has told me I am rather apprehensive about viewing my first performance in recent memory.

As I head back into The Patrick Centre and take a seat at the back of the theatre I am asked by the gentleman next to me if I am a dancer. I am not, not only have I not really attended any dance before, but I also dance like an 80 year old man. I am not very supple, so this does amuse me. We chat about me moving into the city and what it has to offer before being quickly silenced by the beginning of the production. This could either be surprisingly enjoyable or a very long 2 hours.

Fortunately it’s the former. Whilst there were parts where I wasn’t sure whether the appropriate reaction was to laugh, be shocked or dignified I really enjoyed large portions of Rosie Kay’s work. I impressed myself by being able to follow the storyline, something I did wonder if I’d be able to do so and a large portion of the enjoyment of a show is understanding what’s going on. The musical accompaniment is by a trio of improv musicians from the Mubu collective and is quite outstanding – possibly my favourite part. The whole experience was extremely enjoyable from the setting and surroundings to the production itself and something I would gladly do again.

DanceXchange has opened a door to a new arts medium I can enjoy. From afar of course, I won’t be dancing myself, I don’t think my body can handle it. But I would certainly recommend the classes to anyone looking to try something new and active and the theatre space to anyone looking for an enjoyable evening.

You can find out more about DanceXchange, their classes and their programme here. DanceXchange’s Autumn Season of performances in The Patrick Centre continues this week with Forgetting Natasha by State of Flux