tue 28/11/2023

Black Sabbath: The Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Hippodrome review - two very different art forms merge | reviews, news & interviews

Black Sabbath: The Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Hippodrome review - two very different art forms merge

Black Sabbath: The Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Hippodrome review - two very different art forms merge

Carlos Acosta creates shining gold from heavy metal and ballet

Marc Hayward and Birmingham Royal BalletJohan Persson

These days Black Sabbath aren’t short of admirers in the arts and even further afield. Artists as disparate as veteran soul man, Charles Bradley and Scandi popsters the Cardigans have covered their songs – and then there’s Jazz Sabbath, who do exactly as their name suggests.

However, it wasn’t always so and in fact, it isn’t so long ago that Ozzy and Co were pretty much treated with contempt outside heavy metal circles. Therefore, it must have come as a surprise to many, including the band themselves, when Carlos Acosta, Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, suggested using tunes such as “War Pigs”, “Iron Man” and “Paranoid” as the basis for a collaboration between two of the foremost artists of the UK’s Second City.

Of course, using rock’n’roll to create ballet isn’t an entirely new concept. In the late 1980s, Michael Clarke worked with Manchester mavericks, The Fall to fashion I am Curious, Orange, an exuberant combination of punk attitude and pop art that included costume design by Leigh Bowery. Black Sabbath – The Ballet is a very different beast though. While I am Curious, Orange marked 300 years since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, BRB’s latest production is very definitely a celebration and interpretation of the music of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward through the lens of dance. In fact, Black Sabbath – The Ballet is divided into three acts, each with a different choreographer, that view the band and their impact from quite different angles.

In Act 1, Raúl Reinoso has taken tracks from the Paranoid and Master of Reality albums, which have then been spliced, diced and orchestrated by Marko Nyberg, Christopher Austin, Ben Foskett and Joshua Hickin to fashion a spectacular pagan rite that appears to echo works such as The Rite of Spring, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Air raid sirens and spotlights herald the opening of “War Pigs”, as black-clad dancers appear out of the darkness, swooping and pirouetting in a swarm to a tribal beat. The guitar-wielding Marc Hayward (of ex-Sex Pistol, Paul Cook’s band, The Professionals) takes the role of a Prospero, enchanting and leading the dancers into a trance, as he breaks into the dirty riffing of “Iron Man” and is carried over their heads. Kissing sprites are caught in the light and sink into the swamp-like, smoky fug, before Hayward again directs the proceedings with his six-stringed magical wand. A ritualistic circle is created and more ghostly apparitions appear before the familiar groove of “Paranoid” has the assembled cast gliding around the stage like demented fireflies in a spectacular start to this magical performance.

Act 2, which sees Cassi Abranches take the choreography reins, focuses on the band members and features voiceovers from Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Sharon Osbourne. This piece is announced by the pouring rain and clanging church bell of “Black Sabbath”, as the dancers storm the stage and mark out their territory dressed like gang members from Walter Hill’s 1979 film The Warriors. Soon, they are turning and twisting like whisps of smoke in front of six strings of light and Regan Hutsell is slithering around the stage like an erotic demon, while tales of druggy excess are recounted over Sun Keting’s interpretations of “Planet Caravan” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”.

Pontus Lidberg’s third act focuses on Black Sabbath’s fans and begins with a sound collage of audience members from the band’s 2017 final tour, extolling their love of Aston’s favourite sons. This time the dancers, all clad in Black Sabbath t-shirts, flood the stage in front of a devilish figure standing on an upturned car wreck. Floating like butterflies on a breeze, they form close ranks to the accompaniment of Christopher Austin’s take on “Iron Man”. However, they are soon swept aside by Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton’s earthy pas de deux in a wasteland of smoke and decay before returning under the command of the leather jacketed Marc Hayward and his guitar as he again strikes up the “War Pigs” riff and they join in to sing of ungodly generals and politicians leading us all to destruction. It’s all a wild pageant. However, this wasn’t the end of things and, as production came to an end, the audience was finally treated to an unexpected appearance by Tony Iommi himself (pictured above by Johan Persson), striding through the assembled troupe, grinding out the timeless riff to “Paranoid”. Needless to say, this produced an extended standing ovation from everyone present as the devil’s horns were flashed, the stage was beaten with bare hands and all the artists took a well-deserved bow in recognition of a truly great artistic collaboration, which will no doubt have plenty of metal heads exploring the dance canon further and members of the ballet fraternity similarly sampling the works of our Heavy Metal heroes.

  • Black Sabbath – The Ballet is at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 30 October before moving on to the Theatre Royal, Plymouth and Sadler’s Wells
  •  More dance reviews on theartsdesk
The devil’s horns were flashed, the stage was beaten with bare hands and all the artists took a well-deserved bow

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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