Black Sabbath – the Ballet: International Tour

Photo: Johan Persson

“Generals gathered in their masses/Just like witches at black masses/Evil minds that plot destruction/Sorcerer of death’s construction” (Black Sabbath – War Pigs)

The background

Black Sabbath

“The Black Sabbath story began in Birmingham, England, where Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward were looking to escape a life of factory work through music. The four musicians got their start in such psychedelic outfits as the Rare Breed and Mythology (although Osbourne had been a short-haired Mod who loved soul music). Influenced by the reigning British blues bands – Led Zeppelin, Cream, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – the four of them formed Earth Blues Company (shortened to Earth), in 1968 (…) Forced to change their name because there was already another band named Earth, they opted for Black Sabbath, after the 1963 Boris Karloff film”. (Source: Black Sabbath official website – https://www.blacksabbath.com/history.html)

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Directed by Carlos Acosta, Birmingham Royal Ballet is one of the world’s great companies, a true powerhouse in classic ballet and contemporary dance. Proudly rooted in Birmingham, their home since 1990, they cherish their connections with the diverse people of our city, perform everything from grand romantic ballets to breathtaking new dance works inspired by our world today – including many pieces created just for us by the world’s best established and emerging choreographers. Source: Birmingham Royal Ballet official website – https://www.brb.org.uk/the-company)

Carlos Acosta

“Born in 1973, Carlos Acosta grew up as the 11th child of an impoverished family in one of Havana’s poorest districts. With the persuasion of his father, Carlos was sent to train at the National Ballet School of Cuba. Here he trained with some of its most influential teachers including Ramona de Saa. From 1989 to 1991 Carlos performed throughout the world, guesting with several leading companies including the Compagnia Teatro Nuovo Di Torino in Italy.

A natural talent and winner of prestigious prizes, after travelling a performing all over the world and maturing a great deal in Houston, he joined the Royal Ballet in 1998, where he continued his incredible career. In the 2014 New Year’s Honours List Carlos was awarded the CBE, deciding to retire in 2015.

In January 2020, Carlos became Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet where he set to the task of building on the Company’s classical traditions whilst expanding its repertoire and reaching out to new and more diverse audiences”. (Source: Excerpts taken from Carlos Acosta official website – https://www.carlosacosta.com/about-carlos/)

What kind of relation could exist between Black Sabbath and Birmingham Royal Ballet?

It all began when Carlos Acosta, literally drawn by the sound of Black Sabbath, decided to choreograph a ballet to pay tribute to the band but also to create a connection with the city of Birmingham itself, where the members of the band were born and moved their first steps into the music world.

Let’s raise the curtain on “Black Sabbath – the Ballet”

The performance develops into three acts (Act One: Heavy Metal Ballet, Act Two: The Band and Act Three: Everybody is a Fan) for a total running time of 2h10 min (incl. two intermissions) of absolute energy and power.

The leitmotif is War Pigs, one of Black Sabbath’s greatest hits, also for its “anti-war” meaning, being critical of the Vietnam war.

While Black Sabbath fans attending the ballet will recognize other successes like Iron Man, Solitude, Paranoid, or Laguna Sunrise, the full evening ballet is a unique undertaking with three composers and three choreographers, led by the renowned choreographer Pontus Lindberg and composer Christopher Austin (who has also orchestrated the White Stripes music for Wayne McGregor’s Chroma), working alongside award-winning writer Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer, The Opera) to create an extraordinary metal symphony over three acts.

Together with the songs, people can also hear the music accompanied by some oral testimonials from Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi (who tells how he lost the tips of the middle and ring fingers of his right hand in an accident at the factory he used to work) and Sharon Osbourne (Ozzy’s wife).

Photo: Johan Persson

Just before the ballet begins, I spot Carlos Acosta seated a few rows in front of me. While looking at the people in the theatre, I start thinking about the motivation which made them come to the show, and the reason is that some of them were there because they are fans of the band – you can spot them proudly wearing the band T-shirts – others because they love ballet, and others probably just out of curiosity.

I am also pretty sure that some people are there with the intent to prove that this combination cannot work, that “classic” means “forever” and that “heavy metal” is something to forget about.

Believe me! There is no better way to prove them wrong. When world “apparently” apart collide, the combination is explosive.

The show ends with a performance of all the dancers, together with the on-stage guitarist Marc Hayward.

“Day of judgement, God is calling/On their knees, the war pigs crawling/Begging mercy for their sins/Satan laughing, spreads his wings/Oh lord, yeah!” (Black Sabbath – War Pigs)

Do you want to know more about the relation between classical dance and rock music? Check out my previous article: “Let’s dance: la danza classica diventa rock!”, published on Musicalmind on September 13th, 2022 (ITA only): http://musicalmind.altervista.org/lets-dance-la-danza-classica-diventa-rock/

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