Birmingham is bidding to establish itself as a world centre for dance by launching a new international festival next year.
Russia's renowned Kirov Ballet, members of the National Ballet of China and the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan are among visitors to the inaugural event, which also includes companies from Spain, Quebec, South Africa and Cuba.
The month-long festival, which will run from April 28 to May 24, is a joint venture between the DanceXchange, the dance development agency for the West Midlands, and the Birmingham Hippodrome. It is supported by the Arts Council, Birmingham City Council and Advantage West Midlands, and is planned to take place every two years.
David Massingham, artistic director of the DanceXchange, and Stuart Griffiths, chief executive of the Hippodrome, are its joint directors.
Leading British choreographer Akram Khan is creating a new collaboration between his own company and the National Ballet of China. This is co-produced by the DanceXchange, whose resident company Bare Bones will stage an international triple bill choreographed by Garry Stewart, artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre, Sarah Mitchinson from the US and Rui Horta from Portugal.
Performances will take place at the Hippodrome and a range of other venues across the city including the Birmingham Rep, the Town Hall and outdoor spaces. Japanese choregrapher Saburo Teshigawara will create a unique dance installation piece in Ikon Gallery's Eastside space.
There will be many opportunities for community involvement including workshops and classes and a youth dance event at the Town Hall led by visiting choreographers including a well-known Bollywood artist.
The grand finale will be a "Salsa at Sunset" event at The Mailbox, bringing together people from across the city in a huge synchronised salsa ensemble.
The festival builds on the success of DanceXchange and the Hippodrome in building audiences and participation in dance since the theatre complex reopened with enhanced studio facilities six years ago.
Research carried out last year showed that audiences for dance - both ballet and contemporary - are growing faster in the West Midlands than in most of the UK, with an increase of 12.7 per cent between 2002-03 and 2005-06.
It also showed that the dance audience is younger and more ethnically diverse than for any other art form, giving the festival an opportunity to build on the city's changing demography.
At yesterday's launch, which included excerpts from works by Akram Kahn, Garry Stewart and Birmingham choreographer Rosie Kay, Stuart Griffiths said: "Our ambition is to grow this festival into the biggest and best festival of dance anywhere in the world.
"It seems a natural step forward to bring more dance to a city with one of the youngest and most diverse populations in Europe."
David Massingham commented: "This is dance without limits. We will have dance in the streets, squares and even shop windows. We are thrilled to be presenting some of the world's best artists."