Birmingham Royal Ballet’s summer season features a world premiere dedicated to the city -  and even a heavy metal score. And there’s plenty more to come from BRB during the remainder of 2021 too, including Romeo & Juliet meeting Radiohead! Company Director Carlos Acosta explains how he’s aiming to ensure that BRB is contemporary and cutting-edge...

Birmingham Royal Ballet is looking forward to presenting a summer programme - in partnership with Birmingham Rep - and then a ‘spellbinding’ autumn season back at its Birmingham Hippodrome home. 

Cuban ballet and contemporary dancing star Carlos Acosta took over as Director of BRB in January 2020, just two months before the UK went into lockdown for the first time. It’s fair to say that his first year in charge has been challenging in the extreme... 

“We’re working on two world premieres and one UK premiere for our Curated By Carlos triple bill, which runs for a weekend,” he explains. “Then we also have the beautiful and popular classic, Cinderella. We can’t wait for them to come to life with an audience. The future is looking very optimistic and the morale within the Company is high. We’re getting into a creative mindset, despite all the chaos, and we’re constantly looking for opportunities for both the Company and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. I’m so positive about how our vision for the future is coming together and the goals we want to reach.”

The first piece in the Curated By Carlos triple bill is Miguel Altunaga’s City Of A Thousand Trades - a work dedicated to Birmingham, its history and its heavy metal heritage. 

“City Of A Thousand Trades came about through our Ballet Now initiative,” says Carlos. “The idea is that with the support of the Oak Foundation, we give up-and-coming designers, choreographers and musicians the leg-up they need. Miguel Altunaga is one of these talented choreographers. This is his big break.

People used to call Birmingham ‘the city of a thousand trades’ because it was the shop of the world; everyone was making things. The city is largely fuelled by immigrants, and we think these legacies of industry, diversity and multiculturalism should be celebrated. I’m incredibly happy with the result. The music by Mathias Coppens is beautiful and very different. It’s a true love letter to the city. In my directorship, I want to capture the imagination of the local community - and also for that community to know that we’re going to be reaching out to them. We’re going to be collaborating with so many artistic institutions in creating ballets that resonate with communities, which is why City Of A Thousand Trades is so special.”

Second on the bill is an abstract work inspired by the unstable times in which we live. Imminent touches on the subjects of the burning Amazon, democracy, and the rise of populism. “I’ve been taking a sneak peek into rehearsals, and choreographer Daniela Cardim is doing such a great job of tackling the topics,” says Carlos. “This world premiere has a much larger score than City Of A Thousand Trades and is composed by Paul Englishby. Imminent is more of a classic piece, like the Company is used to - pointe shoes and all. It’s great to present the full spectrum of what the Company can do in one single evening. City Of A Thousand Trades is much more contemporary, whilst Imminent is much more classically based. I really want BRB to be very versatile. I want to show we can do it all, and that we’re current. I want us to be able to say ‘we do ballet the best, but we can also expand into other areas’. This will bring the very best dancers, choreographers, musicians and more to us as well. By challenging the way things have been done at the Company before, I hope to raise the level.”

The last work in the triple bill is Chacona, which will here be receiving its UK premiere and is choreographed by Spaniard Goyo Montero.

“Goyo is currently the principal choreographer at the Nuremberg Ballet. I’ve known him a long time, as he was studying at the ballet school in my home country of Cuba. I’d been following his career closely, so when I founded my own contemporary dance company, Acosta Danza, I made him the resident choreographer. We’ve worked on a lot of pieces together, and I really love his work. Chacona is set to Bach’s Chaconne. It’s really beautiful and a great way to close the triple bill.”

The other half of BRB’s summer season features Company classic Cinderella, which has been adapted for the current climate by its choreographer and former BRB Director, Sir David Bintley.

“Everybody thinks about the number of dancers being the only consideration for social distancing, but actually the number of crew is important as well,” Carlos points out. “Cinderella is a very large production, and David Bintley and John Macfarlane - the designer who’s also behind the world famous creations for The Nutcracker - have been very gracious in readapting it. We had to make sure the production hadn’t changed to the point that the narrative had been compromised. Also, as we’re working within bubbles, we have two entire casts for just one production. Should a bubble need to be removed due to illness, then we have another there to carry on the show. We’re not a company of hundreds of people, so this also made it an opportunity to ask for help from students and freelancers. We want to involve them in our work because they are the people who have been most affected by this situation. They weren’t as able to travel to new auditions and get up to speed. There also weren't many contracts for hiring in general. An entire generation is in danger of being lost in the arts world, but we want to help create opportunities to stop that.”

BRB will then return in the autumn...

“I’m calling it my very first season as Director again, because obviously all my plans for my previous first season had to be ditched. We’re starting with a Romeo & Juliet celebration, including the magnificent traditional version and Radio & Juliet - a ballet set to the music of Radiohead from Slovenian choreographer Edward Clug. Then we’ll also be collaborating with others on another production that we’re not ready to announce yet, but the idea is to have a huge celebration of the story and its topics. After a long absence from Birmingham Hippodrome, it will be great to get back to our base. 

Of course we will be returning with The Nutcracker, and also have a show coming up in the spring. Next year will be a very important one for us and, with the Commonwealth Games, for the city.”

Although Carlos is very much focused on the future, he nevertheless takes time out to reflect on BRB’s achievements during the past extremely challenging 14 months: “I feel very proud that, despite the pandemic, we have achieved incredible things. Even while we were closed, we were creating and learning - Lazuli Sky and our first live stream of The Nutcracker. I think we’ve done a really good job at keeping the Company together and morale high. We keep reminding ourselves of the positive future to come, which lifts our spirits. Already there’s  massive interest in coming and working with us. For me as Director, this is very encouraging. People are taking notice. I look forward to getting back to a place where I can be very mobile, getting out into the world, meeting up with other leaders at different companies, spreading the word about Birmingham Royal Ballet, and creating alliances. We want there to be this awareness that BRB has set itself a new path and identity going forward. I’m very proud of the team that’s worked with me in establishing this direction. Achieving greatness isn’t easy, but we will definitely get there.”

With a government roadmap to reopening the country set out but not yet confirmed, Carlos is keen to see people returning to UK venues: “Streaming is a mechanism that we had to use constantly during the pandemic in order to keep our audience connected with us - and we hope to continue that in the future. I don’t see why stage and streaming can’t exist side by side for companies moving forward. But we have to do it in a way where they don’t compete with one another. Nothing can top the thrill of going to see a live performance. But streaming is the next best thing if you’re abroad in Texas, New York or even further. Throughout the pandemic, digital brought companies some essential cash to keep them going. With that money, we then have the means to dream bigger and make big investments into new productions. But streaming will never replace live performance. 

“We don’t want to send the wrong message to local people: that if they can log onto a show in their living room, there’s no point bothering to come out to an actual venue. I would encourage everyone to go to their local theatres, their local institutions - anywhere they can - and consume art. Not only for their own spirit, but because this brilliant part of life is at risk if people don’t. Going to a production and being totally invested in the music, the dance, the design and the thrill is something we all need. This last year has been traumatic. The arts is the perfect way for people to come together and heal.”

BRB present Curated By Carlos at The REP, Birmingham, from Thursday 10 to Saturday 12 June.  Cinderella shows at The REP, Birmingham from Friday 18 to Saturday 26 June. 

For further details on Birmingham Royal Ballet, visit: brb.org.uk