Jessica Harris sees Birmingham Royal Ballet’s interpretation of one of the city’s greatest musical exports.
Dance that communicates; dance that expresses; dance that is joyful. Black Sabbath’s music has given the opportunity for Birmingham Royal Ballet to explore these elements to the full, in a three-act programme that reflects the emergence, growth and legacy of one of Birmingham’s best-loved bands.
BRB’s company danced their hearts out to music performed by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, using new compositions that were inspired by Black Sabbath’s music. Songs included the heavy metal rhythms of War Pigs, Iron Man, Paranoid and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. In contrast were the atmospheric tones of Black Sabbath and Planet Caravan, and songs showing the band’s lyrical abilities, Orchid and Solitude. The beautiful Laguna Sunrise with its acoustic guitar focus also featured.
Act One played on themes of darkness, inspired by the opening number, War Pigs. At times, dancers moved as one, their postures and mechanical movements more machine-like than human. But it also explored themes of love and passion as two dancers performed whilst locked in an endless kiss, accompanied by an orchestral version of Solitude. Overtones of the newly found sexual freedom of the 1960s were in the air.
Guitarist, Marc Hayward joined the cast on stage. As the chords of Iron Man pulsed and his long locks flowed, he was picked up and carried like a god by the dancers. At other times, he interacted with dancers in call and response sequences.
The highlight of Act Two was a piece performed to the voice of Tony Iommi, guitarist and co-founder of Black Sabbath, telling of his accident in a sheet metal factory in Birmingham. He lost the tips of two fingers, which led him to develop his own technique of guitar playing. Male dancers performed with great poignancy to the delicate acoustic guitar riffs of Orchid. Other pieces in Act Two were performed by groups of four, reminiscent of the four band members, whilst Sharon Osbourne’s voice reflected on the challenges they faced as fame and fortune grew.
In Act Three, dancers brought on the band’s iconic demon on top of an overturned car, the metal gleaming symbolically as the tones of Laguna Sunrise conveyed a reflective mood. The act ended exuberantly in a celebration of dance and music, accompanied by orchestral interpretations of War Pigs and Paranoid.
There were some flaws in the production. At times, the images which dancers conveyed were at odds with the voice-overs. Some of the voiceovers were not fully audible and, occasionally, orchestration dominated at the expense of the Black Sabbath tracks. At times, you just wanted to hear the wail of the guitars, to hear them loud, and for the excitement of being at a Black Sabbath concert to be re-created. But then, there’s always time to clean off the vinyl at home and turn the volume up. And Tony Iommi’s special curtain call performance at press night was a high note to end on.
All in all, this is inspired programming by Carlos Acosta, BRB’s Artistic Director. His collaboration with Tony Iommi as musical consultant has led to an innovative piece both in terms of dance and music, with both dynamism and appeal. It also seems be reaching a new audience.
Black Sabbath – The Ballet was directed by Carlos Acosta. Original music was by Black Sabbath, with Tony Iommi as music consultant. Christopher Austin was lead composer and music supervisor. Pontus Lidburg was lead choreographer and artistic director. It’s on at the Hippodrome until 30th September. For further information visit birminghamhippodrome.com.
Pics – Johan Persson.