In a statement released today (July 25), Birmingham Royal Ballet confirmed that their dancers will officially return to the company’s Thorp Street studios on August 3. The company will be following a ‘safe back to work’ plan for the dancers based on the process tested by professional sports.
Chief executive Caroline Miller notes that 2020 marks thirty years since the Company moved to Birmingham and that it is determined to play an active part in Birmingham re-opening successfully.
Following the announcement that live indoor shows with socially distanced audiences are allowed from August, the company is pushing ahead to secure venues to deliver artistic director Carlos Acosta’s solutions for getting out into the local community and entertaining once more.
Miller reveals that Acosta has created three flexible shows that Birmingham Royal Ballet can perform in whatever spaces can be secured in different parts of Birmingham in October. With the Birmingham Hippodrome closed until at least early November, the company’s solution is to take a sprung floor out to large indoor spaces and put on free or heavily subsidised shows for socially distanced audiences. Conference, sports and community centres are all being looked at.
In the first week of September, weather permitting, the company will also perform free outdoor ballet classes in the square in front of Birmingham Hippodrome. The company is presently working with Birmingham City Council to secure another city centre public space to repeat the event. Ways of working with the Birmingham Museums Trust are also being explored.
As with most ballet companies, The Nutcracker is Birmingham Royal Ballet’s most popular show; one essential to the Company’s financial stability. Miller observes however that the number of people involved on stage, in the orchestra pit and backstage, plus the size of the set, means the show must be adapted if it is to be financially viable with reduced audiences.
Having said that, she says it remains the company’s ambition to present the Nutcracker in both Birmingham and London in December. ” It would be hugely symbolic as a positive sign of hope and recovery; celebrating the 30th anniversary of the production which was Birmingham Royal Ballet’s gift to Birmingham in 1990.”
Acosta has also commissioned a new socially distanced contemporary ballet, using projection mapping, which it is hoped to present in London at Sadler’s Wells in the autumn, and hopefully in Birmingham too if a venue can be found. We are promised an “exciting choreographer.” The show will be available as a pay-per-view broadcast for our audiences who cannot attend in person.
Miller makes no secret of the fact that Birmingham Royal Ballet’s financial position and future is tied to the survival of its venue partners. She says the company was “thrilled and grateful to government for their announcement that they will invest £1.57 billion of emergency funding for venues and hope very much that this will help Birmingham Hippodrome and all our other partner theatres in Birmingham and around England.”
Good news is that the company has not had to apply for Arts Council England emergency funding. Birmingham Royal Ballet has made use of the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, however, which she says has been a lifeline as it has given the time needed to re-plan and re-budget for the company’s long-term survival, and protected the jobs of the 180 staff, dancers and musicians.
She concludes by saying making no secret of the fact that, “Birmingham Royal Ballet’s future is under serious threat if the venues we perform at, including our home theatre Birmingham Hippodrome, go out of business or can only afford to programme big commercial shows in the future. We very much hope to be back touring soon.”