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Telling a century of history... Without a word

SILENT GENIUS: Neema Bickersteth in Century Song [Photo credit: John Lauener]

IMAGINE HISTORY being told without words – a history of feeling, told through art.

This is Century Song, a unique music and multimedia journey through one hundred years of black women’s history, which will be staged at mac Birmingham, one of the city’s leading arts centres, on Tuesday May 10 at 8pm.

The performance, created by Canadian soprano Neema Bickersteth, and award winning collaborators director Ross Manson and choreographer Kate Alton, take the audience on a fascinating wordless journey.

It features music by some of the past century’s most adventurous composers, as well as projections by Germany’s fettFilm – extraordinary visuals that bring to life major art movements of the 20th Century.

Both whimsical and riveting, Century Song is a wordless chronicle of the age, all built from art. It’s being presented by Volcano Theatre and Richard Jordan Productions.

Soprano Neema said: “As a classical singer, I have spent a great many years training my voice, to the exclusion of almost anything else. Once I became comfortable with my ability as an opera singer, once I got to the point in my career where I felt immersed in the form, and no longer a student of it, then I began to question the form itself.

“I started to wonder how, I as a black person singing white European roles from another era, connect personally to this art form.

“The idea of my acceptance into the form wasn’t complete enough for me. It became problematic to connect with what I was trained to sing. I love this music, but I began to feel constricted in my expression of it.

“I began to look for other ways to fuse my training and love of classical music with my dawning awareness of other modes of expression.

“With Century Song I examine this collision – or perhaps negotiated agreement – between my own background, and Western classical music. To me, the key to such an experiment is an exploration of identity.”

Director Ross added: “Century Song is really a way to examine the present through art, and through the knowledge that in art, one can find complex clues to what goes on inside every human.

“The present is, of course, where everything meets, and keeps re-meeting, over and over, until time runs out. Our history, everything that has happened before shapes us, is constantly meeting inside us, being updated by what we’ve most recently learned, or remember, or imagined; this present self both shapes and is shaped by the potential of what lies ahead – for good or for bad. We’re like silk passing through a keyhole.

“In this show, Neema explores how her present came to be by embodying in music and dance the people who came before her. Like all of us, there are many, many people upon whose lives our own lives are built.”

For ticket details on Century Song, visit: or ring 0121 446 3232. The mac arts centre is next to Cannon Hill Park in Edgbaston, Birmingham B12 9QH.

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