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In 1990, Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet migrated to the Midlands to become Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB). In the 30 years since, the company has premiered a staggering 58 brand-new ballets in the heart of the second city.
It has also got through 75,000 pairs of pointe shoes (at a rate of 2,500 pairs a year) and emptied 3,000 cans of hairspray in the wigs department!
One of the company’s premieres, presented in its first year in Birmingham, was the now-internationally acclaimed production of The Nutcracker. BRB’s then-director, Sir Peter Wright, set himself the mammoth task of creating a new version of Tchaikovsky’s classic. It opened 98 years after the very first performance of the ballet.
BRB’s The Nutcracker was dedicated to the City of Birmingham as a token of appreciation for its support of the company. Since it debuted, there have been 619 performances of the production, 598 of which have taken place at BRB’s Birmingham Hippodrome home. It remains a beacon of artistic excellence on a global scale, making a welcome return each Christmas.
Another Birmingham Royal Ballet classic making a return - in February 2021 - is Cinderella. Sir David Bintley’s enchanting fairytale ballet, set to Sergei Prokofiev’s sumptuous score, premiered at the Hippodrome 10 years ago and featured as the BBC Christmas ballet.
Both Cinderella and The Nutcracker boast the renowned and utterly spellbinding designs of John Macfarlane. Legendary productions in BRB’s repertoire, the ballets dazzle visually, technically and emotionally, steeping Birmingham Hippodrome in glittering extravagance and generating an electric atmosphere.
Running alongside its performance schedule, BRB is heavily involved with the local community via its Dance Track initiative. Dance Track was created 21 years ago to take ballets into schools, present dance to children who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy it, and scout for talent. Today, Birmingham Royal Ballet visits one-quarter of all the city’s primary schools and runs workshops for 2,500 youngsters each year.
BRB’s Freefall Dance company, meanwhile, is made up of performers with severe learning difficulties, and is just one example of the company championing inclusivity in the arts.
Continuing Birmingham Royal Ballet’s distinguished legacy is its recently appointed director, Carlos Acosta. Taking over from the retiring Sir David Bintley last January, Cuban-born Carlos is one of the world’s most iconic principal dancers. He also heads up his own contemporary dance company, Acosta Danza.
With Covid-19 meaning that many of BRB’s plans have failed to come to fruition this year, the company is more determined than ever to deliver something special to the city of Birmingham in these uncertain times.
This autumn, an innovative digital projection and augmented reality piece is being presented at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Lazuli Sky will be the first one-act ballet to be commissioned and presented under Carlos Acosta, and utilises social distancing within the performance.
A hopeful piece by Birmingham-born choreographer Will Tucket, Lazuli Sky explores the vast openness of the sky as a direct response to lockdown. It takes its inspiration from the deep, speckled blue of the treasured Lapis Lazuli gemstone - the pigment from which was the most expensive used in Renaissance oil paintings, including those of Leonardo Da Vinci. The unique production is set to Shaker Loops by John Adams and includes the work of designer Samuel Wyer and projection designer Nina Dunn.
A second brand-new offering from BRB takes ‘honouring Birmingham’ to the next level. City Of A Thousand Trades is a new one-act ballet celebrating and inspired by the rich and diverse heritage of the second city.
Birmingham became known as the City of a Thousand Trades as Britain’s Industrial Revolution reached its peak. The city ballooned into the second largest in the UK, thanks to its central location and vast water network, which was essential for booming business. Skilled tradespeople migrated to the city from throughout the Commonwealth, including Ireland, India and the West Indies, to create the melting pot of cultures for which modern-day Birmingham is known and admired.
Commissioned as part of BRB’s Ballet Now programme, which seeks to find exciting, diverse, international and creative talent, City Of A Thousand Trades will be brought to the Birmingham Rep’s stage in May 2021 by choreographer Miguel Altunaga.
Commenting on the ballet, Carlos Acosta said: “As soon as I came here, I wanted to create a statement about Birmingham with a ballet about the history of the people of Birmingham. This is a large city and a city of immigrants who share the story of Birmingham, and I’m very interested that the work explores that.
“I also think we have a responsibility to break the stigma that ballet is elitist, white, and ‘of yesterday’. I’m interested in the idea of giving a voice which is representative of the time we are living in, so that ballet is not about the past but also the present and into the future.”
For more information on future Birmingham Royal Ballet performances, visit brb.org.uk
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