Feature by Diane Parkes

Carlos Acosta is a busy man. After two years of leading Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) through the Covid pandemic, he and the company are making up for lost time with a packed schedule promising greatly loved classics and a host of new works.

With a series of interactive and family events at Birmingham Rep this month, a Commonwealth Games-inspired triple bill at the Hippodrome in June, a further triple bill of new works alongside Delibes’ Coppélia in October and then the launch of the refurbished Nutcracker before Christmas, Carlos has a lot on his hands.

But he is keen to use this year to showcase the talents of the company.

“So much of what we wanted to do has been suppressed for two years, and now we can go out and deliver it,” he says. “It is a really ambitious programme, but I have always said I want to develop the dancers and the company. BRB is one of the crown jewels of Birmingham, it’s a company people can be proud of, and now we’re delivering new works, new talent and a new repertory. BRB is fresh and exciting - and it’s quality.”

After successfully touring Carlos’ Don Quixote in February, the company have been working on two programmes for the spring. From 8 to 14 May, a residency at Birmingham Rep features Dance Track 25, a celebration with more than 200 former and current students of the company’s Dance Track programme, which offers free teaching to Birmingham children. The season also includes a family concert with a new 23-minute Cinderella, and two performances of An Evening Of Music And Dance, featuring excerpts from classics including The Sleeping Beauty, Winter Dreams and Agon. In addition Carlos will lead an open masterclass in Studio To Stage, which sees him joined by Assistant Director Dominic Antonucci to share backstage secrets about creating new ballets.

“These are chances for people to see BRB on another level,” Carlos explains. “We are celebrating what we have done in the past with Dance Track but also looking forward. It’s a great awakening after this pandemic nightmare and allows us to show people what is coming from the company. It is part of our ongoing relationship with Birmingham Rep, a relationship in which we produced City Of A Thousand Trades and where we hope to produce more works in the future.”

In June the company move back to the Hippodrome stage for triple bill On Your Marks, inspired by the Commonwealth Games. Forming part of Birmingham International Dance Festival and Birmingham 2022 Festival, the triple bill is the first time BRB will perform with dancers from Carlos’ other company, Cuba-based Acosta Danza.

“Acosta Danza have for a long time performed a really popular work called Twelve by Jorge Crecis, with music by Vincenzo Lamagna. Now Jorge has upgraded this work so it has 12 dancers from Acosta Danza and 12 dancers from BRB in this new version, 24. It’s all about celebrating sports and mathematics and is a really fun crowd-pleaser.”

Receiving its world premiere as part of the triple bill is Interlinked, a new commission from Brazilian choreographer Juliano Nunes. Will Tuckett’s Lazuli Sky - which the company premiered in October 2020 to reduced audiences because of Covid - also features.

“Juliano is a brilliant choreographer and is working with the Australian composer Luke Howard on this piece, which has the Commonwealth Games in mind. And this is also a chance for everyone who couldn’t see Lazuli Sky before to come and experience it now. It’s a great piece by Will, who is from Birmingham, and uses augmented reality in a really amazing way.”

October sees BRB presenting one of its most challenging triple bills ever. Into The Music features three works new to the company: Uwe Scholz’s Seventh Symphony, set to Beethoven, and Jiří Kylián’s Forgotten Land - neither of which have been performed in the UK before - plus Morgann Runacre-Temple’s Hotel, which will be receiving its world premiere.

“This is a very ambitious triple bill that includes three ballets which have never been performed here, and one is a new creation as well. There is a lot of work learning them and getting to the right level technically to perform them. I keep giving dancers works which help their development. You need to stimulate them artistically and give them the opportunity to have access to the work of these amazing choreographers from across the world.
“Kylián is a genius, and Forgotten Land has never been done in the UK. It’s one of Kylián’s classics, with eight couples, 16 dancers, and music by Benjamin Britten. Seventh Symphony is a piece for the whole company - there are about 40 dancers on stage - and it’s also a gift for the Royal Ballet Sinfonia to be playing Beethoven’s symphony.”

Runacre-Temple’s Hotel is a journey into the secrets and lies that are hidden behind closed doors. Set to music by Swedish composer Mikael Karlsson, the piece is the latest commission from BRB’s Ballet Now programme, which fosters new talent by commissioning work from emerging choreographers. 

Alongside the triple bill, BRB will perform Delibes’ ever-popular full-length ballet, Coppélia, for the first time in five years. The story of toymaker Dr Coppélius and his lifelike doll is a charming comedy classic.
“It’s the ultimate family ballet - apart from The Nutcracker. People like Coppélia a lot, and so it starts the new annual season on a high. It’s a feelgood ballet.”

The year ends with a grand finale when the refurbished Nutcracker is unveiled at Birmingham Hippodrome in November. First staged in 1990, the production’s sets have undergone a £1million refresh, and Carlos is promising an eye-popping treat.

“The effect is going to be great. You are going to see that red room with the red coming at you very vividly, like when it was first created 30 years ago. It will be like it was created for the first time.”
Now Carlos is urging Birmingham audiences to return to the theatre after Covid and experience live BRB performance.

“I want this company to be unpredictable and eclectic and fresh, performing world-class dance in Birmingham, and the programmes for this year are part of this. There are so many exciting things happening in the company, and I really want Birmingham people to come and see these amazing shows. This year is the time to come and see BRB.”

Diary dates for 2022 and beyond...

Dance Track 25 takes place at Birmingham Rep on Sun 8 May

An Evening Of Music And Dance shows at Birmingham Rep from Fri 13 to Sat 14 May 

On Your Marks! (three works which form part of Birmingham 2022 Festival) shows at Birmingham Hippodrome from Thurs 23 to Sat 25 June

Into The Music - a triple bill celebrating the marriage of music and movement - shows at Birmingham Hippodrome on Fri 21 & Sat 22 October

Sir Peter Wright’s world-famous production of The Nutcracker returns to Birmingham Hippodrome from Sat 19 November until Sat 10 December.

BRB’s much-loved staging of Swan Lake is back in the Midlands in 2023, playing Birmingham Hippodrome from Wed 15 to Sat 25 February