A team of Hip-Hop dance artists have been announced for a new ‘Roaming Dance’ commission for Birmingham International Dance Festival 2021.

In partnership with DanceXchange and Punch Records, north Birmingham community arts hub Saathi House have commissioned the talented Joseph Toonga, Emma Houston and Bellatrix to deliver two projects for ‘Roaming Dance’, one of six large-scale commissions through their Gallery37 North initiative.

‘Roaming Dance’ is planned to culminate in summer 2021 with a performance in an outdoor place or unusual space in North-West Birmingham, as part of Birmingham International Dance Festival (BIDF).

Visual creatives Emma Houston, Bellatrix and Joseph Toonga will be joined by early career Birmingham-based Omar Spence who will take up an artist-development opportunity offered as part of the project.

Joseph Toonga

Joseph Toonga's dance work explores theme of racial stereotypes and bias towards Black men DanceXchange
Joseph Toonga’s dance work explores theme of racial stereotypes and bias towards Black men

Commissioned artist Joseph Toonga originates from Cameroon and was raised in East London. Rooted in the Hip Hop culture and form, he has established himself as a forefronting change-maker for the scene.

Through this commission, Joseph will develop a new Hip Hop outdoor work, Born to Protest, bringing real life stories from black British men, challenging unconscious bias of black culture by countering stereotypical images of danger and intimidation with references to sensitivity and vulnerability.

‘Roaming Dance’ will enable Joseph to curate a crucial engagement strand as part of Born to Protest that provides the opportunity for young ethnic minorities to tell their stories and share their experiences as well as becoming part of the professional performance that will travel to a range of locations across Birmingham as part of BIDF 2021.

Joseph Toonga said: “I’m very excited to be able to work with artists from Birmingham and look forward to sharing experiences together and seeing how we can express that through dance. Hopefully through this commission I can give not only myself but the dance community in Birmingham a chance to showcase our talent and build a network together for future work.”

Emma Houston and Bellatrix

Emma Houston is joining forces with Bellatrix to explore the experience of being queer womxn operating in heavily male dominated spaces Lisa Gilby
Emma Houston is joining forces with Bellatrix to explore the experience of being queer womxn operating in heavily male dominated spaces

Dancer Emma Houston has joined forces with musician Bellatrix for a new interdisciplinary collaboration project. Both artists are prolific in their fields, with the shared lived experience of being queer womxn operating in heavily male dominated spaces, and through challenging societal norms at large within their work.

Emma and Bellatrix will be working in collaboration with local communities in Birmingham to devise the narrative of an interdisciplinary performance using music, speech and dance.

Bellatrix and Emma Houston will be working in collaboration with local communities in Birmingham as part of Gallery37 North Supplied
Bellatrix and Emma Houston will be working in collaboration with local communities in Birmingham as part of Gallery37 North

The artists will facilitate workshops that explore themes of identity and personal relationships, to conformity and pleasure, through a movement and sound journey. The stories and conversations that arise will be woven into a live soundtrack and inspire the movement process.

Emma Houston commented: “We are beyond excited to have been offered this opportunity. We’re looking forward to working together, connecting and collaborating with new people in Birmingham, and getting to know the city better. It’s super affirming to be given the chance to bring this project to life, and it’s also a big opportunity for us as professional artists.”

Omar Spence

Omar 'Kidd Ronin' Spence will be joining the Gallery37 dance cohort in North Birmingham Omar Spence
Omar ‘Kidd Ronin’ Spence will be joining the Gallery37 dance cohort in North Birmingham

Birmingham-based Omar Spence takes up the artist development opportunity working alongside Joseph. Also known as ‘Kidd Ronin’, Omar was inspired, at aged 18, by his father and godfathers who were part of the first generation of breakers in the UK.

Talking about the artist development role Omar Spence said: “I feel ecstatic to have been given this opportunity, even more so considering who I’ve been paired up to work with. I look forward to learning more about producing, organising, performing and choreographing at such a high level and hope to bring all the knowledge I can back to my peers, crew and students.”

Hip Hop dance artists have been commissioned to work in North Birmingham as part of Gallery37, helmed by Saathi House Supplied
Hip Hop dance artists have been commissioned to work in North Birmingham as part of Gallery37, helmed by Saathi House

Lucie Mirkova, Head of Artistic Programmes at DanceXchange said:

“We are thrilled to be co-commissioning these three inspirational Hip Hop artists to work in North West Birmingham for BIDF 2021 and the Gallery37 North initiative. This partnership supports our curatorial priorities for the festival, taking inspirational dance out into communities to make meaningful connections with local people. We’re excited to see where these collaborations lead us!”

‘Roaming Dance’ is one of a series of six Saathi House commissions to be delivered in North Birmingham, that will collectively launch the three-year Gallery37 North (G37n) arts residency programme for young people next year, led by Saathi House in collaboration with Punch Records and several creative arts partners.

​What is Gallery37?

Some of the Gallery37 North Birmingham partner teams at Saathi House ahead of launching the 2021 commissionsGallery37 / Saathi House
Some of the Gallery37 North Birmingham partner teams at Saathi House ahead of launching the 2021 commissions.

Gallery37 is a creative development programme investing in Birmingham and its young artists through masterclasses, hyper local commissions, residencies and workshops.

This year, Gallery37 North is being helmed by Saathi House and will be transforming areas of North Birmingham with commissioned artists and arts-led organisations to deliver public art projects and engage with local communities, from January – October 2021.

To achieve this, Saathi House is working with a range of local artists and key partners including Punch Records to display £100k worth of artworks across the public realm, from high streets, shopping centres, waterways and parks.

These commissions will launch an upcoming three-year Gallery37 North (G37N) arts residency programme for young people and aims to provide opportunities, training and empowerment for underrepresented communities in the city.

As part of the initiative, the project has also begun hosting Masterclasses with artists and mentors to deliver online workshops, between November 2020 and March 2021, as a means of inspiring the next generation of West Midlands creatives.

International Dance Festival

Cie Didier Théron performed in pink suits at the Birmingham Dance Festival 2018BIDF
Cie Didier Théron performed in pink suits at the Birmingham Dance Festival 2018

Birmingham International Dance Festival (BIDF) is a major biennial festival, which began in 2008, and is celebrated for taking over the city’s theatres, streets and squares with show-stopping performances and engaging choreography.

The festival’s ambition is to connect people with great dance, creating vital space for artistic dialogue and exchange, and promoting Birmingham as a global dance city.

‘Roaming Dance’ will be a highlight of the 2021 festival next Summer, which has been re-scheduled from its original date in 2020, due to COVID-19.


To find out more about Gallery37 and all of their commissions and projects taking place in Birmingham for 2021, visit: www.saathihouse.org/Gallery37.

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https://www.iambirmingham.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Joseph-Toonga-and-Emma-Houston-with-Saathi-House-x-DanceXchange-Birmingham-Gallery37-2021-International-Dance-Festival-800x494.pnghttps://www.iambirmingham.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Joseph-Toonga-and-Emma-Houston-with-Saathi-House-x-DanceXchange-Birmingham-Gallery37-2021-International-Dance-Festival-300x185.pngStaff ReporterArtsBlack ExcellenceBLMDanceEntertainmentEventsNewsShowbizWhat's OnYoung people20/20,2021,Artists,Arts,Aston,B'ham,Bellatrix,BHX,BIDF,Birmingham,Birmingham Dance Festival,Birmingham International Dance Festival,Born to Protest,Brum,choreographer,Commissions,Creatives,dance,Dancer,Dancers,DanceXchange,Emma Houston,Empowerment,Erdington,G37,G37n,Gallery 37,Gallery37,Gallery37 North,Handsworth,I Am Birmingham,Joseph Toonga,Lozells,Newtown,North Birmingham,Omar Spence,Performance,Performance Art,Perry Barr,Punch,Punch Records,Roaming Dance,Saathi House,SaathiHouse,SH,Visual Arts,www.saathihouse.org/gallery37,Young PeopleA team of Hip-Hop dance artists have been announced for a new ‘Roaming Dance’ commission for Birmingham International Dance Festival 2021. In partnership with DanceXchange and Punch Records, north Birmingham community arts hub Saathi House have commissioned the talented Joseph Toonga, Emma Houston and Bellatrix to deliver two projects for ‘Roaming...The latest news, updates and events in Birmingham