A show wreathed in smiles

Just like that! Barry Kirby and the rest of the Freefall company in rehearsals for last year's  We Dance project as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Picture: Alex Griffiths

10 and ¾

Freefall Dance Company

The Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

ANY performance worth its salt has to have a purpose, it has to have something to say, a story to tell and in its 10th anniversary celebration Freefall managed all of that and more without even breaking stride.

The purpose was simple; give the performers a stage to express themselves and their ideas and then give them stories to tell through music and dance - and the 19 strong cast did just that with an entertaining performance full of charm and humour.

Freefall was set up in 2002 as a partnership between Fox Hollies School and Performing Arts College, a Birmingham special school - in more ways than one - in Moseley, and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

The idea was simple; to provide an outlet for gifted dancers with learning difficulties with the help and encourgement of former dancers from BRB. Ten years on and some of those founder members are still dancing with the company as adults along with new recruits and the first graduates from Junior Freefall which was launched in 2006 as out of school-hours dance training for younger dancers with learning difficulties.

And it was Junior Freefall who, for the first time, opened a Freefall performance with Big Day Out inspired by their senior partners' 2005 tribute to the silent movies.

It was a dance which gave us everything from trains and a tiger hunt to a troop of chimpanzees and a herd of elephants all to a huge video backdrop.

The Patrick Centre might be a small theatre but it is a big space and these young dancers, Charlie, Emma, Hannah, Jade, Joseph, Katy, Reece, Sean, Tracey Fleetwood and Faye Peach used it well filling the stage with movement and an infectious enthusiasm.

The programme also included the film Freefall commissioned by Mencap which was created as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad project – We Dance and where it was seen by an estimated 1.5 million people and is now being shown at festivals round the world.

The second dance piece was a Freefall premiere with Chairs which used chairs as props – the clue is in the name - to explore various dance style including a sort of Sharks and Jets homage to cool, a Parisian café scene which took you immediately to the banks of the Seine

The finale of Seaside Rendezvous, a tribute to Freddie Mercury, from an earlier performance by Freefall. Picture Lee Fisher.

There was a tango from the sultry heat of a Buenos Aires bar, a touch of Zorba from Greece, a German hint of military two step and that English party favourite – musical chairs as a finale.

It was a dance which demanded precision and some complex movement creating scene after scene with just chairs but the cast of Sarah Jobson, Nikitta Malins, Julia Nicholls, musical chairs winner Barry Kirby, Chris Treadwell, Nicky Hodges, Paul Pedley, Chris Brookes, Tara Bishop and Josef Reed pulled it off with some style.

The second act saw a restaging of the company's 2011 production of Seaside Rendezvous which is inspired by the late Freddie Mercury and the music of Queen – 14 tracks are used – along with memories from the golden age of seaside holidays and Donald McGill's saucy postcards, with ice creams, flasks of stewed tea and picnics putting the sand back in sandwiches . . . those were the days . . .  

It was not all fun though. There was a dramatic pas de deux for The Prophet's Song and a sadness with My Melancholy Blues and Love of my Life. We even had a pitched battle on Brighton seafront between mods and rockers –  those were the days again . . . .

All to an ever changing video backdrop of 50s and 60s seaside postcard style graphics.

BAGS OF FUN

Like the junior section the seasoned performers of Freefall command every inch of space to tell their story and they tell it with appealing style and grace, an endearing honesty - and  bags of fun. These are performers clearly enjoying themselves and it is catching.

It might have all started in a school but this is no school concert though, this is mainstream theatre with a performance which embraces a very professional standard of production values. Something appreciated  by an audience which included Sir Peter Wright, the first artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet who led its move from London in 1990, along with David Bintley, the current  artistic director, and a former principal and guest principal with BRB and the Royal Ballet, star Japanese dancer Miyako Yoshida.

Also there, helping to turn a celebration into a gala evening, were BRB Chair of the Board Professor Michael Clarke and Angela Clarke, BRB's Ballet Mistress and assistant director Marion Tait, Gus Garside, the National Arts Development Manager for Mencap, Ken Bartlett, Creative Director of the Foundation for Community Dance along with Desmond Kelly former Assistant Director of BRB.

Bintley, told the audience that Freefall had seen an extraordinary ten years  and said that no matter what sort of day he had had, no matter what difficulties or problems he had faced “every time I come to a Freefall show I end up wreathed in smiles.”

And you don't get a better recommendation that that.

A full house, cheers and a standing ovation –  not every show that appears at the Hippodrome can boast that on its CV! 31-01-13

Roger Clarke

Lord of the dance

Lee Fisher, Birmingham Royal Ballet's Head of Creative Learning, is also Artistic Director of Freefall, a project he became involved in 15 years ago along with Keith Youngson when Fox Hollies was then in Acocks Green.

They were exploring dance in education and he said: "We found a group of dancers with learning difficulties who were gifted and we decided to form a community dance company”.

It was formalised as a dance company five years later when Freefall was born and has grown from strength to strength.

Lee, a former soloist with BRB, is not just satisfied by giving people with learning difficulties a chance to dance though - he wants to give them the means and the opportunity to perform.

“We want to create a professional product and put on an entertaining evening.”

With ten years under his Freefall belt Lee still has plans for the future and dreams to support.

“We want to create more opportunities and help other groups to grow. I would like to see more Freefalls. Extending it to all BRB's touring theatres with Freefalls in places such as Sunderland or Salford.

It is massive to me. It is an extended family and I learn from the dancers. I am involved in making good theatre and it is just a pleasure.” 

BRB

FOX HOLLIES SCHOOL  

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