By: Rosie Sharman-Ward, TRP Reviewer
Smoky, passionate and lyrical, by sheer alchemy Carlos Acosta turns Heavy Metal into pure gold. Weaving familiar gritty riffs with spectacular choreography it is an extraordinary hymn to Birmingham’s famous sons, Black Sabbath.
An astonishing collaboration, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Black Sabbath is a triumphant reimagining of what ballet can be. Legend from the world of dance, BRB Director Carlos Acosta meets heavy metal legend, Black Sabbath’s guitarist/ songwriter Tony Iommi and they create something, well, legendary!
Presented as three acts, each with their own aspect of the band, the show comes together as a sensational whole. Act One: Heavy Metal Ballet focuses on the inspiration and power of heavy metal music. Raul Reinoso’s gorgeous, emotional choreography brings us dancers in black entering to the sounds of sirens and the sweep of searchlights. The voice of Ozzy singing the anti-war War Pigs sails over the stage becoming absorbed into the orchestral music and swirled around as the dance becomes more frenzied and intense against a background of fiery light and smoke. The dirty sounds of Iron Man cuts across and to my delight a guitarist (Marc Hayward) appears. He is followed by the dancers, who enthralled by his music, echo the movements, ebbing and flowing around him. Two break away in an enraptured kiss, now blind to everything but each other and dance an exquisite pas de deux amidst the smoke to Solitude. The act ends with the Guitarist blasting out Paranoid during which the dancers and my 13 year old self come out to play! As lightbox icons depicting moments in Sabbath’s history come and go the dancers swoop around the Guitarist and lift him up, still playing, bringing a whole new meaning to “air guitar”.
All through the show the orchestration of Black Sabbath’s music teases and tantalises with a phrase here or a sound there. Sometimes abstracted, sometimes recognisable, lovingly bending and entwining the original music. I will confess to a small amount of silent scoffing when I first heard that it would be played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia but in fact the ingenious way it has been created is a huge success. On occasions I felt it could be a little louder and more powerful, however, this is metal after all!
Announced by the rain and bells from Black Sabbath, the second act The Band tells the tale of Black Sabbath and its original members, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward from inception to the parting of the ways with Ozzy. Brilliantly choreographed by Cassi Abranches we now see dancers, some in 70s garb, against strips of light, appearing and fading. Whilst voice overs by the band play across music, the choreography reacts to the story told, first ethereal then punchy. When drugs take their toll, demons appear, overwhelming and releasing the dancer only to recapture them pulling us between empathy and frustration for the victim.
The final act Everybody is a Fan is a tribute to the music and legacy of Black Sabbath and their fans. Pontus Lindberg, Lead Choreographer and Artistic Director takes up the reins and the dance changes gear again. Now dressed in band t-shirts, the dancers flood across the stage and seem to become first the Band then the music, amazing choreography. A changed up version of Iron Man pounds out across the auditorium bringing a slightly uncomfortable edge to the performance along with the iconic metal demon now dragged onto the stage. The movements shift in and around it, breaking away as recognisable riffs appear from the orchestra. Dancers organise into one body then fade back with each riff. Our Guitarist returns playing Laguna Sunrise slowing the mood and interacting with a stunning dance where the music and the dancer become one entity. Changing tempo again the feel of the piece is now more confident and becomes a celebration. The entire company are on stage for a dazzling finale pumped full of the joy and energy of a great gig – wow!
From an idea by Carlos Acosta in 2020 as his second of three tributes to Birmingham to this breath-taking ballet is a huge leap. I imagine that the members of Black Sabbath themselves never thought they would be celebrated in this way! I am so glad that the creative team had the vision for this is a masterpiece. Sharon Osbourne described the band as “four regular blokes who, the four of them together, make magic.” The BRB has taken that magic and danced with it. Utterly fabulous.
Tracks featured: War Pigs, Iron Man, Solitude, Paranoid, Black Sabbath, Orchid, Planet Caravan, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Laguna Sunrise
Composers: Christopher Austin, Marko Nyberg, Sun Keting, Designer: Alexandre Arrechea