Christmas At The Botanical Gardens

Last Thursday was possibly the coldest night of Winter so far, but it was also a night full of magical sparkle and beautiful lights. A very special blogger event was taking place at Birmingham’s beautiful Botanical Gardens which have been transformed into a wonderful illuminated trail for the festive season, and with the promise of vintage fairground rides, warming mulled wine and deliciously festive food, we donned our hats and scarves and braved the cold in order to see the Botanical Gardens in a whole new light.

We were not disappointed.

The glasshouses, trees and bushes of the gardens are totally transformed as they twinkle and sparkle in the darkness. There are tunnels that are emblazoned with lights, and the eerie glow of the fire garden bathing everything in an orange light. The whole gardens are a riot of colour and sparkle, with lots of wonderful Christmas touches, from the 12 days of Christmas mural, to a reindeer trail which ends with a golden Rudolph. You can also find Santa, and some of his helpful elves along the route too.

There are numerous food and drink concessions both inside the trail and at the start of it where you can feast on gourmet hotdogs, festive cookies and a variety of hot and cold drinks. The mulled wine and ciders are delicious, and there are also bottled cocktails that are well worth a taste. This is also the area where you will find a beautiful, traditional carousel ride and a helter skelter, a definite taste of Christmas past.

But it is the finale that really takes the breath away. The lawn aviary finale is quite simply stunning, as the lawn and glasshouses are all light up and Christmas music plays. If there really is such a thing as a Winter Wonderland, then this just might be it.

Christmas at the Botanical Gardens runs until December 30th, you can find opening times and ticket information here.

With thanks to the Brum Bloggers for the invitation.

Reviewed: Penguin Cafe Mixed Programme

The Autumn season of the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome began last night with the Penguin Cafe mixed programme, an eclectic collection of three short ballets headlined by the sublime ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe. The triple hander showed the diversity of ballet, from the Ragtime dancing of Elite Syncopations, to the Morris dancing of ‘Penguin Cafe’, right through to the paired back, beautiful simplicity of Concerto.

Concerto

A bare stage, plain rehearsal style costumes and the stirring music of Shostakovich, Concerto is a ballet that definitely has two moods. The first and third act are upbeat and lively, but it is the second act dance that stays in the memory, a lucid, sensuous pas de deux that, on this occasion, was performed to perfection by Jenna Roberts and Tyrone Singleton.

‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe

There is one word that perfectly sums up ‘Penguin Cafe’ and that is enchanting. But although the story raises smile after smile through the characterisation of the endangered species, it also has a series message about the conservation of these disappearing animals. The wonderful opening scene features the penguin of the title, in actual fact the know extinct The Great Auk, danced by the wonderful Ruth Brill in ‘Air A Danser’, this is an elegant dance that brings to mind 1930s tea dances, particularly with the bias cut evening gowns of the female dancers.

We then see the humour of the wonderfully loveable Texas Kangeroo Rat (Tzu-Chao Chou), struggling to get comfortable as he tries to sleep and delighting the audience with his incessant scratching. It is a fine performance by Tzu-Chao Chou, filled with warmth and funny moments. The scratching leads neatly to fantastically named Humboldt’s Hig-Nosed Skunk Flea, danced with light hearted finesse by Laura Day, and given exquisite, and hilarious support by five morris dancers, showing how ‘Penguin Cafe’ makes the surreal something really special.

But as light hearted as the early scenes are, there are darker moments to this ballet. Tyrone Singleton again sizzles as the Southern Cape Zebra, proud and strutting but hunted down, all the while surrounded by women in zebra striped dresses who seem to ignore what is happening.

Penguin Cafe is wonderful in that the music remains upbeat right until the end, which is oblique and open to interpretation. Is the storm that comes made up of acid rain? Is the final scene of animals on the ark an premonition of our future?

Elite Syncopations

Elite Syncopations is a delight, a ballet that also brings the Royal Ballet Sinfonia onto the stage and into costume. Using the music of Ragtime, notably that of Scott Joplin, Elite Syncopations is a one act composition, using a dance competition as the premise for showcasing a range of wonderful dance routines that both inspire and amuse.

The dance competition allows us to enjoy a range of soloists, dancing whilst the rest of the troop sit on stage and watch, almost like they are sizing up the competition. I loved the Stoptime Rag, with Jenna Roberts dancing the role almost like a drum majorette, complete with a costume that brings to mind the stars and stripes. The Alaskan Rag is hilarious, with the mismatched coupling of Yvette Knight and Tzu-Chao Chau bringing laughter to the theatre and showing just how funny ballet can be.

This is a bright and vibrant ballet, full of joyful moments, and yet at times it also brings to mind the dance floor desperation of ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’, also centred around a dance competition, also taking place around the time Joplin’s ragtime music was in vogue.

The Penguin Cafe Mixed Programme is a brilliant way to enjoy a diverse and colourful range of ballets.

A triple bill with joyous dancing, ragtime music and animals sheltering from a storm!

Thu 28 – Sat 30 Sep, Click here for ticket information.

 

Autumn Fashion Preview at House of Fraser

It is been an exciting time for House of Fraser this September, especially when it comes to fashion. New collections have been coming in across the store, with some gorgeous pieces in the Iconic Biba range and the revamped Linea. But the brand that has drawn the most press and excitement has been the return to fashion of Danielle Heleyal, and her brand Issa. Issa became a household name after Kate Middleton wore their blue dress for her engagement to Prince William.

Now the brand is back with a classic range of dresses for House of Fraser. There is, not surprisingly, a Kate dress in the collection, although this is not a copy of the engagement dress (that is the Darcy dress, which comes in a range of colours including that royal blue.). The collection is fabulous in that it is stylish and totally wearable, but also classic and elegant. These are dresses that you will be wearing for years and they will still look as fresh and vibrant as the day you first got them.

Andrew Blanazs is the personal shopper at House of Fraser, Birmingham, and he kindly showed us lots of key pieces from the new Issa collection. as well as showing us key looks from my favourite range Biba, and Linea, which has definitely upped its game for Autumn 17.

Linea

I was totally loving the pops of bold colours, including this season’s red and mustard shades.

Linea Khloe Structured Jacket With Popper £55 Click to visit Linea

Linea Luna Knot Front Dress 375 Click to visit House of Fraser

Faux leather is still a big story, and this bikes style would work to toughen up a shift dress, or just worn casually with jeans and a t-shirt.

Linea Buffy Pu Biker Jacket £75 Click to visit House of Fraser

Another ‘pleather’ jacket. I just adore the fluted sleeves on this one, but, as Andy says, when that trend disappears, you can also take those off and have a three quarter regular sleeve instead.

A few more Linea picks

Linea Eden Floral Cold Shoulder Ruffle Dress £79 Click to visit House of Fraser

Linea Cora Tie Front Dress £69 Click to visit House of Fraser

Linea Farah Pleated Dress £85 Click to visit House of Fraser

Biba

New season Biba has that 1970s feel tied into the Art Deco trends that has always proved to be so iconic. Black and gold are dominating colours, but there are also the red and mustard shades that seem to be so prevalent this season.

My personal favourite piece is the stunning Oriental inspired fan and dragon print dress that has beautiful lace detailing and a tie neckline. This has a lovely 1970s feel and is frankly a bit of a showstopper.

New Biba Devore Fitted Midi Dress £79 Click to visit House of Fraser

 

Biba Tokyo Dragon Printed Pleated Dress £89 Click to visit House of Fraser

More picks from Biba

Biba Printed Frill Layered Dress £99 Click to visit Biba

Biba Leopard Print Pussybow Dress £49 Click to visit House of Fraser

Biba Printed Floral Fluted Sleeve Dress £89 Click to visit House of Fraser

Issa

Issa may just be your go-to brand for a special occasion dress this Christmas, whether you are looking for something classy for Christmas day, or something formal or sparkly for an evening occasion. The dresses embrace jewel colour and a range of styles, from knee length wrap styles, to full length gowns, and with lots of stretchy jersey, these are dresses that will be comfortable, as well as fabulous, this season.

ISSA Millie Ruffle Front High Neck Dress £99 Click to visit House of Fraser

ISSA Megan Printed Dress £109 Click to visit House of Fraser

ISSA Maddie Plain Side Detail Dress £99 Click to visit House of Fraser

A few more Issa picks

ISSA Hazel Knitted Frill Sleeve V Neck Dress £99 Click to visit House of Fraser

ISSA Isabella Satin Dip Hem Dress £129 Click to visit House of Fraser

ISSA Stella Wrap Front Tie Dress £89 Click to visit House of Fraser