Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage
A ballet soundtracked by the music of Black Sabbath will premiere in September, Birmingham Royal Ballet director Carlos Acosta has announced.
Billed as “the world’s first heavy metal dance experience”, the three-act ballet will feature eight songs from the Brummie band, including Paranoid, Iron Man, War Pigs and the eponymous Black Sabbath, re-orchestrated for the Royal Ballet Sinfonia – with added drums and electric guitars. The rest of the score is newly composed, inspired by the band’s music.
Since Cuban ballet star Acosta joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2020 as Artistic Director, his aim has been for the company to reflect its home city, both in the diversity of its dancers and in the subject matter of its ballets. They previously made City of a Thousand Trades, about the history of immigration and industry in the city.
“Black Sabbath is probably Birmingham’s greatest export, the most famous and infamous cultural entity ever to emerge from the city,” Acosta said, “so naturally I was drawn to the idea of a collaboration between what most people think is the most unlikely of partners.”
Setting a ballet to rock music is not entirely unprecedented. Wayne McGregor’s 2006 ballet Chroma, which was a hit for the Royal Ballet, used songs from the White Stripes orchestrated by Christopher Austin, who also works on the Black Sabbath show, along with composers Marko Nyberg and Sun Chain.
Black Sabbath’s co-founder and guitarist Tony Iommi is fully behind the project. “Black Sabbath have always been innovators and have never been predictable, and it doesn’t get more unpredictable than this,” he said. “I never thought I would combine Black Sabbath with ballet, but it sounds good.” Iommi praised Acosta’s infectious enthusiasm and the energy of the dancers, with whom he performed at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. Acosta hopes Iommi can make a cameo onstage. “He’s a cool guy,” he said. “The band’s enthusiasm for the project is a huge support,” Acosta continued. “They put their trust in us to deliver something completely new and original, and that’s quite a responsibility, but one we’re happy to take on.”
Black Sabbath: The Ballet won’t be a biography of the band, but is “conceptually” and “visually guided” according to Acosta, though rehearsals don’t start until April, so the piece has yet to take shape. Lead choreographer is Swedish dance maker Pontus Lidberg – who has previously created work for Acosta’s contemporary dance company, Havana-based Acosta Danza, as well as New York City Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet – and there will be additional choreography by Cuban dancer Raúl Reinoso and Brazilian Cassi Abranches . The dramaturge will be Richard Thomas, best known for writing Jerry Springer: The Opera, with designs by Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea.
Acosta’s mission in Birmingham is to draw a new audience to ballet and create dance that reflects the contemporary world, as well as mastering the classics. On that front, the company will embark on a national tour of Swan Lake on Feb. 15, but they’re also taking excerpts from that ballet to Birmingham’s Hockley Social Club street food market, to reach audiences who might not be attending the theatre. Other recent developments include the creation of BRB2, a new graduating company for some of the most talented young British and international dancers aged 18-22. Dancers at BRB2 are given two years to gain essential experience in their professional career and a chance to play leading roles at a young age. They will start touring the UK in April.
• Black Sabbath: The Ballet premieres at Birmingham Hippodrome on September 23, with further dates in Plymouth and London to be announced.