It certainly sounds like a wildcard but Birmingham rock will meet Birmingham ballet this autumn in the premiere of a full-length three-act Ballet Now commission, Black Sabbath – The Ballet, performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet, with choreography by Pontus Lidberg.
Besides Swedish choreographer Lidberg, who has made works for a host of major companies including the Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and Semperoper Ballet Dresden, the brand-new work brings together a host of international creatives.
Additional choreography is by Raúl Reinoso, former dancer with Acosta Danza, who created Anadromous, a piece that was part of the show A Classical Farewell by Carlos Acosta; and Brazilian dance-maker, Cassi Abranches.
Composer is Christopher Austin, who won a Tony for his orchestration of Christopher Wheeldon’s successful production of An American in Paris. He also orchestrated for Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, and Wheeldon and Joby Talbot’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at The Royal Ballet. Additional music will be by Marko Nyberg, one of Finland’s most sought after writers of film scores; and London-based, China-born Sun Keting.
Designs are by Cuban, Alexandra Arrechea. Richard Thomas is dramaturg for the project and lighting design is by Kieron Johnson.
Rehearsals will begin in April for the ballet that will feature eight Black Sabbath tracks: Paranoid, Ironman and War Pigs from the album Paranoid (1970), the title track from Black Sabbath (1970), Solitude and Orchid, from Master of Reality (1971), Laguna Sunrise from Vol 4 (1972), and the title track from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973). The music will be re-orchestrated for the Royal Ballet Sinfonia with new compositions inspired by the band also performed live by the orchestra. On stage, guitars and drums will be integrated into the performance.
Black Sabbath – The Ballet is the second Birmingham-focussed commission from Carlos Acosta. The first, City of a Thousand Trades which looked at the city’s industrial heritage and multicultural communities, premiered in 2021.
The idea of a Black Sabbath ballet has been on Carlos Acosta’s mind since he first arrived in Birmingham at the start of 2020, just before the pandemic hit. The band played their first ever gig in The Crown pub in Station Street, just a stone’s throw from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s base on Thorp Street. The pub was recently saved from demolition and is deemed a heritage site by fans.
The company are working closely with guitarist Tony Iommi, who with teenage friends, bassist Geezer Butler, singer Ozzy Osbourne, and drummer Bill Ward founded the band in 1968. The name Black Sabbath comes from the American title of the classic Italian horror movie I Tre Volti Della Paura.
Iommi would become synonymous with heavy rock, his signature, dark riffs a blueprint for many artists and bands that followed. Black Sabbath itself quickly became known for its darker themes, including occultism and drugs, and its music veered towards the thicker, louder, more riff-based. As with many bands, the line-up changed over the years, although Iommi has been an ever-present.
The ballet reflects Acosta’s keenness to promote Birmingham to the world and the diversity of the company’s offering needing to match the diversity of the city. Speaking in January, he emphasised the importance of Birmingham Royal Ballet being an ambassador for the city, a place he reckons many people know very little about. “I believe that the company has a duty to tell the city’s stories; to take Birmingham to the world. The city has a lot of hidden treasures that no-one knows about. Black Sabbath are as cool as they come,” he said.
He added that the ballet will not set out to tell the Black Sabbath story but will be more conceptual; a fusion.
Speaking at the announcement of the new ballet, Acosta says, “Black Sabbath is probably Birmingham’s biggest export, the most famous (and infamous) cultural entity to ever emerge from the city – so I was naturally drawn to the idea of a collaboration between what most people might think are the most unlikely of partners. The band’s enthusiasm for the project is a huge endorsement. They are putting their trust in us to deliver something completely new and original, and that’s quite a responsibility but one that we are beyond excited to take on. Everyone in the BRB company is thrilled to be involved and we cannot wait to share the vision for the show in more detail in the coming months. I have hand picked the creative team and will work closely with them to make a spectacular show.”
Black Sabbath co-founder, lead guitarist, co-songwriter and local resident Tony Iommi says, “I’m looking forward to seeing how this all develops! Black Sabbath have always been innovators and never been predictable, and it doesn’t come any more unpredictable than this! I’d never imagined pairing Black Sabbath with Ballet but it’s got a nice ring to it! I’ve met with Carlos several times and his enthusiasm is infectious. I performed alongside some of the dancers at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony and they had an incredible energy, so I’m happy to go along for the ride with them and see you on the other side!”
Black Sabbath – The Ballet premieres at the Birmingham Hippodrome from September 23-30, 2023, with further dates for autumn 2023 at Plymouth Theatre Royal and Sadler’s Wells London to be announced.