Following the live and on demand stream of The Nutcracker at The REP, 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 poignant, hope-filled response to COVID’s impact on live performance and demonstrates the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s deep-rooted desire to keep ballet alive during difficult times. Directed by Roseanna Anderson and Joshua Ben-Tovim and named after the whimsical, heartstring-tugging song by Benjamin Scheuer, the film features a host of Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers as well as some of the Company members who all work behind the scenes to make performances possible, in a tribute to the industry.
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 we hear is not just an encouragement but recognition of a shared live experience that nourishes all involved. This unique concept from Carlos Acosta, realised in collaboration with up-and-coming directors Roseanna Anderson and Joshua Ben-Tovim of award-winning company Impermanence and decorated singer songwriter Benjamin Scheuer, is another indication of his ambition to expand the creative horizons of the Company.
Birmingham Royal Ballet 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, we can only wait to see what might be possible. Watch this space!
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 BBC Arts: 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; whilst continuing to nurture and highlight the world-class talent in his own company, there is also a strong pull to do the same through cross-art collaborations.
Says Scheuer: ‘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 honor 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.’
Roseanna Anderson and Joshua Ben-Tovim of Impermanence said: ‘Carlos Acosta has an enthusiasm and drive to create and connect. That energy became part of this film which has been an amazing thing to be involved in. Birmingham Royal Ballet is about entertainment, craft, skill, beautiful costumes; it's about light and scale, and it's about audiences. We wanted the film to show all that. Benjamin has an incredible song-writing ability and his history of performing in the theatre gave the whole project a feeling of genuine sentiment, which is so important. There was a big team involved and everyone went above and beyond to make this film happen.’
Whilst things remain in flux and plans continue to be revisited, Birmingham Royal Ballet proves once again that they are an agile and creative company and under Carlos Acosta’s directorship who knows where the road will take them.
Cover image: Momoko Hirata and Mathias in Cinderella. Above: Birmingham Royal Ballet Deputy Head of Costume Vanda Hewston; Birmingham Royal Ballet Artist Eilis Small; Birmingham Royal Ballet Director Carlos Acosta and Composer and Musician Benjamin Scheuer.© Impermanence