Following the live and on demand stream of The Nutcracker, Birmingham Royal Ballet continues to find creative ways of keeping audiences entertained with the release of Carlos Acosta's first major digital commission for the Company: Empty Stage.
Empty Stage is a hope-filled response to Covid's impact on live performance, directed by Roseanna Anderson and Joshua Ben-Tovim and named after a whimsical song that tugs at the heartstrings by Benjamin Scheuer. The film features Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers as well as some of the company members who work behind the scenes.
An initial melancholic tone reflecting on what has been lost, transforms into a message of hope as the lights go up and magic re-enters the theatre. The applause that is heard is not just encouragement but recognition of a shared live experience that nourishes all involved.
BRB looks towards the future with hope that at some point this year the full production of Cinderella will fill the empty stages with dancers, and theatres with audiences as planned. But as uncertainty continues to build for the spring, they can only wait to see what might be possible.
Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Carlos Acosta, said,
Everyone has been focused on creating digital content recently. We have been fortunate to have performed live on stage whether for audiences in the theatre or in their homes but this project is something else. I wanted to make a film that told the story of the past nine months in a hopeful and optimistic way and to make it a work of art in its own right rather than a version of a live experience or a promotional vehicle. I find the ideal collaborators for this in Benjamin, Joshua and Roseanna.
We felt it was important to start the new year on as positive a note as possible, whatever the situation regarding our plans looked like. As has been the case throughout 2020, Birmingham Royal Ballet's focus has been on what is possible rather than what is not.
The collaboration between Acosta, Impermanence and Scheuer came together serendipitously: in May 2020 when Carlos was featured in the BBC's programme Dance on Film, he came across a film by Impermanence. In September 2020, Scheuer wrote Empty Stage on a public piano in London and sent the track to Nick Finney from NB Studio, (the design-firm behind Birmingham Royal Ballet's 2020 rebrand). Finney introduced Carlos to Scheuer's music – it was love at first listen. Thus the collaboration was born. Working with artists from different disciplines is a deep-rooted desire for Acosta; while continuing to nurture and highlight talent in his own company, there is also a strong pull to do the same though cross-art collaborations.
In September 2020, I went for a walk in London, thinking about all the closed theatres. The phrase “all that's left is an empty stage” was going round in my head. I spied a public piano, sat down, and wrote the song Empty Stage. The song has now blossomed into a joyful collaboration of song, dance, costume, film-making, and recording technology. It is a pleasure and honour to work with Carlos Acosta and Birmingham Royal Ballet; with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, their marvellous conductor Paul Murphy and the extraordinary orchestral arranger Paul Davies; with Grammy Award-winning pianist Matt Rollings; with my co-producer of the song, Grammy Award-winning Robin Baynton; and with the brilliant Joshua Ben-Tovim and Roseanna Anderson, the directors of the film. They all bring the song to life in a way I could only have dreamed.
Top photo: Empty Stage, Birmingham Royal Ballet Artist Eilis Small ©Impermanence
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.