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City of a Thousand Trades

scored for string orchestra, two solo percussionists and electronics

duration 35 minutes 

This dance piece is a love letter to the City of Birmingham. Its different communities are represented in the percussion set up. The performance is centered around stories of immigration and interculturality. 

Choreography: Miguel Altunaga

Stage Direction: Madeleine Kludje 

Cast: Birmingham Royal Ballet

Orchestra: Birmingham Sinfonietta 

Conductors: Paul Murphy (Birmingham Repertory Theater), Koen Kessels (Sadlers Wells)

'City of a Thousand Trades' was commissioned by Birmingham Royal Ballet and was first performed on June 28 2021 at Birmingham Repertory Theater, UK. More info:


The Independent: ‘…the liveliness of Coppens’ score, which flits cheerfully from strings to electric guitar, in a nod to Birmingham’s heavy metal heritage.’ 

Broadway World UK: 'Mathias Coppens’ original score clashes and clangs…'

British Theatre GuideDrums from all over the world provide the beat; there’s electronica and a live orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by KoenKessels. Two towers behind the dancers hold two phenomenal drummers (Kevin Earley and Grahame King) under Michael Lee-Woolley’s ‘dark Satanic Mills’ lighting. 

The American: Mathias Coppens' score makes heavy use of percussion and electric guitars to echo the metal trades, and drums to signify the diversity of the place, but gladly doesn’t blow your ear drums like Hofesh Shechter. It manages to be unexpectedly lyrical despite the brief and the piece really comes alive in the pas de deux where the dancers are allowed to take flight.

Sunday Times: The score by Mathias Coppens is industrious too, its percussion including anvils, scaffolding and the drum from a washing machine. Everything clangs and chimes. When a squall of electric guitar—attribute to the local heroes Black Sabbat kicks in, the dancers hit a hefty groove: even letting off steam looks like hard work.

Bach Track: Coppens’ score is a fascinating hybrid of ideas, formed around a pulsing, rhythmic base of strong percussion (drummers were situated on an upstage platform), augmented by strings and electric guitars (inspired by the Birmingham rock legends of Black Sabbath) and punctuated by the arresting pace of Bailey’s inspirational poetry. The integration of the whole was never less than absorbing and it is to Altunaga’s credit that his choreography was not swallowed up by the visual and aural spectacle but retained its own indelible presence.

Seeing Dance: Alongside the small orchestra and its soulful strings, there’s an electric guitar, and best all of all, lots of percussion, played by Kevin Earley and Grahame King sat on scaffolding at the back of the stage above the action. Metal instruments and the sound of hammer on anvil represent the trades, while multiple drums represent the city’s different ethnic groups. There’s even a brake drum from a van (motor industry), a washing machine drum (electricalengineering), and bottles. It sounds odd but it works a treat and is a million miles from the difficult listen of so much contemporary dance music

Cutting Edge: Coppens' caldeidoscopic score for 'City of a Thousand Trades' shows that he is not afraid of eclecticism, but finds in it the possibility to generate a radically contemporary sound.

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