Wings of Desire, Victoria Square, Birmingham


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The Independent Culture

Wings of Desire starts with angels roosting on rooftops, white-clad figures silhouetted against a darkening sky. It ends with an astonishing blast of digital imagery, Birmingham’s Town Hall transformed as the performers move across it.

The free event, the grand finale of International Dance Festival Birmingham 2012, is based on the much-loved Wim Wenders film. In practice, the story comes second to spectacle and a sense of place, from local jokes to the architecture of Victoria Square.

Drum’n’bass artist Goldie plays a former angel, doubling as master of ceremonies. He’s a genial, charismatic presence, speaking warmly to the crowd, though his script can plod. Adaptor Alan Lyddiard is too keen to include his favourite bits of the movie, telling us things that Wenders showed. It’s better when Goldie reminisces about his own Birmingham youth, coming in from Wolverhampton for a Saturday night. When an angel wishes he could eat a curry in the city’s Balti triangle, there are whoops of recognition from the crowd.

Dancing and acrobatics take place on a raised stage, though dancers also push through the audience, holding coloured lights, or perch on the stone bollards around the square. Australian circus company Circa dive into brilliant acrobatics, from pyramids to airy tumbling, performers flipping over and over with floating ease. One couple stand face to face, clasped in a waltz hold while standing on a strong man’s shoulders. Emma McGovern, as the trapeze artist who fascinates an angel, swings down on ropes between the pillars of the Town Hall.

British company 2Faced Dance are there to express human turbulence, swinging long coats as they plunge into steps. The dancing is impressive, but can be hard to see. Street dance steps are often close to the floor, a drawback for an audience peering over each other’s heads.

An angel chooses to fall, stepping off the parapet of the Town Hall. As he tumbles slowly down the façade, held on a rope, the whole building explodes behind him. The arts and technology collective seeper create superb projections, working with the building, overlaying and highlighting its pillars and windows. Then the digital building shatters, the physical pillars vanishing from sight when the virtual ones splinter. The whole Town Hall seems to melt, shimmering as it goes. A virtual wind blows the fragments aside, before the whole building blooms into radiant colour for the happy ending.

Until 19 May.