Carlos Acosta announces plans for BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET 2020-21

The Nutcracker. Céline Gittens as the Snow Fairy © Emma Kauldhar

Less than one month into his new job as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Carlos Acosta announces plans for world premieresclassic revivals and brand-new partnerships in his first year as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Opportunity, talent and inspiration are the key ingredients that underpin his vision and ambition for the company.

‘Bringing major new works to the stage will forge a new direction for this wonderful company. I plan to present international choreographers whose work will be new to British audiences. I want Birmingham Royal Ballet to be surprising and unpredictable, whilst continuing to be world-class exponents of the classical repertoire that means so much to me personally. Continuing to drive, develop and support initiatives such as Freefall, Dance Track and First Steps connects directly with my desire to ensure the future, on and off stage, is more reflective of our experience and society today.  I embrace this responsibility and hope to bring new audiences to ballet by being accessible, by nurturing talent and by creating opportunities to experience and be inspired by this beautiful artform, in many different ways. I am grateful to Arts Council England for their vital funding of Birmingham Royal Ballet and to Aud Jebsen, for generously supporting my artistic vision in my first year as Director.’ Carlos Acosta

Carlos Acosta © Man Yee Lee
Carlos Acosta © Man Yee Lee

The first chance audiences will get to see Carlos Acosta’s vision translated to programme will be in June 2020. He has curated a three-week summer festival spanning London and Birmingham that brings together dancers and musicians; visual artists, writers and thinkers who inspire him under the banner Curated by Carlos (10 – 13 June Sadler’s Wells; 19 – 27 June Birmingham Hippodrome). The programme gives a unique insight into Carlos’ cultural influences and his vision for Birmingham Royal Ballet as a company hungry for creative collaborations.

At the heart of the festival is a mixed bill of electrifying ballet that showcases Birmingham Royal Ballet’s versatility and includes the world premiere of a new duet for Alessandra Ferri and Carlos Acosta by Spanish choreographer and resident at Acosta Danza, Goyo Montero whose work Chacona, set to J S Bach, receives its UK premiere. The latest Ballet Now commission, Imminent, from British/ Brazilian London-based choreographer Daniela Cardim featuring commissioned music by Emmy Award-winning composer Paul Englishby receives its world premiere, and Theme and Variations, George Balanchine’s love letter to the classical Russian ballet, set to the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite No.3 completes the programme. All music is performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s acclaimed orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

Momoko Hirata in Theme and Variations © Roy Smiljanic
Momoko Hirata in Theme and Variations © Roy Smiljanic

For the second half of the Curated by Carlos festival, Birmingham Royal Ballet will perform Carlos Acosta’s stunning production of Don Quixote at the Birmingham Hippodrome (19-27 June), opening as part of the final weekend of Birmingham International Dance Festival which runs throughout June celebrating Birmingham as a world-leading destination for dance (#DestinationDance). This will be the first time this vibrant and joyful production will be presented in the UK outside the Royal Opera House in London. This much-loved 19th-century classic is drawn from Cervantes’ famous novel and set to Ludwig Minkus’s score. Don Quixote showcases the technical brilliance of the dancers, and is packed full of the most exciting fireworks ballet has to offer – huge jumps, electrifying pirouettes and gravity defying lifts.

Don Quixote - Céline Gittens as Kitri © Bella Kotak
Don Quixote – Céline Gittens as Kitri © Bella Kotak

Alongside mainstage shows in both venues, Acosta has invited acclaimed visual artist Conrad Shawcross to present his artwork, The Ada Project featuring contemporary musicians responding to the movement and physicality of his robotic instrument. The exhibition will be open to audiences at both the Lilian Baylis Studio in London and the Patrick Studio in Birmingham (Lilian Baylis Studio 10-13 June, Patrick Studio 23-27 June).

Ada Lovelace, the Victorian mathematician, computer visionary and daughter of Lord Byron, serves as a springboard for the artwork. Shawcross has programmed choreographic pathways, based on various mathematical aspects of her life’s work, for his robotic instrument to perform. Each pathway has been responded to by a series of music commissions by leading contemporary composers, including Mira Calix and Tamara & Mylo. Acosta danced with a larger robotic artwork by Shawcross as part of the Royal Opera House/ National Gallery Titian project in 2012.

As part of the exhibition programme there will be special evenings of talks and live music performances with the robot, hosted by Conrad Shawcross. The talks series titled Meetings of Minds, sees Carlos Acosta inviting a number of artists, writers and thinkers to appear in conversations about their creative. Speakers include journalist, writer and presenter Mariella Frostrup, philosopher and author AC Grayling and novelist and journalist Howard Jacobson, author Katie Hickman and novelist, biographer and critic Miranda Seymour, writer of In Byron’s Wake, a book about Ada Lovelace and her mother.

The Ada Project - Mona Tam
The Ada Project – Mona Tam

There will be a panel discussion focusing on the music in the festival (Lilian Baylis Studio 12 June), titled Bach, Tchaikovsky and Beyond. Chaired by Sarah Kirkup, with Paul Murphy, Principal Conductor of Birmingham Royal Ballet, composer Paul Englishby and James Murphy, and Chief Executive of Royal Philharmonic Society (further speaker to be announced). The discussion is supported by the RPS Drummond Fund.

On the opening night of Curated by Carlos festival, Cuban / Iranian band Ariwo will perform in the foyer of Sadler’s Wells before the show and in the intervals. The band combines traditional afro-cuban rhythms with hypnotic electronic beats and textures and carnival-inspired melodies and improvised solos. Ariwo brings together acclaimed Iranian electronic composer and co-founder of Parasang, Pouya Ehsaei; Carlos Acosta and Irakere’s Latin Grammy-winning ‘percussion virtuoso’ Hammadi Valdes; figurehead of London’s Cuban music scene, Oreste Noda; and Tom Misch/Alfa Mist supporting  London based Jazz trumpeter, Sam Warner.

The Curated by Carlos festival culminates in a free Family Day at Birmingham Hippodrome on Saturday 27 June. Alongside the two shows that day of Don Quixote and The Ada Project exhibition, families will have the chance to immerse themselves in the world of ballet and explore Birmingham Hippodrome as the company animates and transforms the foyer spaces with a variety of fun-filled activities including costumes displays, arts and crafts, face painting, a talk for families by artist Conrad Shawcross, technology and art workshops, ballet training led by Birmingham Royal Ballet artists and National Youth Ballet, flamenco sessions, music workshops led by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, touch tours and audio descriptions for sight impaired children and adults, the chance to watch Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers take class and watch Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production team set up the sets on stage, and more.

For autumn 2020 a tantalising Triple Bill (1 – 3 October, Birmingham Hippodrome; 27 & 28 October Sadler’s Wells) features Seventh Symphony by Uwe Scholz (d.2004 former director of Leipzig Ballet) whose work has never been presented in the UK before, in a celebration of Beethoven’s music in the year of his 250th anniversary of his birth, this huge work fills the stage with 36 dancers; the world premiere of Ballet Now commissioned choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple with 2019 Linbury  prize-winning design by Sami Fendall and a new music score to be announced; and renowned Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián’s epic and melancholic Forgotten Land, set to Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem brings the evening to a thrilling climax.

The Seventh Symphony. Leipzig Ballett in Uwe Scholz’s The Seventh Symphony © Andreas H. Birkigt
The Seventh Symphony.
Leipzig Ballett in Uwe Scholz’s The Seventh Symphony © Andreas H. Birkigt

On tour Kenneth Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet, a ballet very close to Carlos’s heart, will travel to Plymouth, Birmingham and London in October; and in January – March 2021 David Bintley’s enchanting version of Cinderella. In tandem, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s fantastic First Steps version of Cinderella for children aged three to seven years and families, will tour to Southampton, Salford, Birmingham, Plymouth, Sunderland and Bristol. This is a unique children’s introduction to ballet including a charismatic storyteller who explains what’s happening and crucial mime elements, as well as the full Royal Ballet Sinfonia orchestra. Birmingham Royal Ballet is the only large scale ballet company to include a full orchestra playing for its children’s shows, rather than recorded music.

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Elisha Willis as Cinderella and Iain Mackay as the Prince © Bill Cooper
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Elisha Willis as Cinderella and Iain Mackay as the Prince © Bill Cooper

Additionally, there will be a tour in May 2021 which will include Jorge Crecis’ Ten, originally created for Acosta Danza, and a new commission to be announced shortly, bridging a gap for Ballet provision in smaller towns and cities in the UK. Venue and full programme details to be announced.

Romeo and Juliet: Yasuo Atsuji as Romeo © Bill Cooper
Romeo and Juliet: Yasuo Atsuji as Romeo © Bill Cooper

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s successful An Evening of Music and Dance will return to Symphony Hall Birmingham on 12 February 2021. Following the success and sell out of last year’s Royal Albert Hall concert, the Company has been invited back by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform with them at the Royal Albert Hall in an evening titled The Beauty of Ballet conducted by Music Director Laureate, Barry Wordsworth on 4 November 2020.

There are new partnerships in the pipeline including the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire whose orchestra will perform for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake Dreams on 23 February 2020. This outstanding Birmingham orchestra of young talented musicians will have the opportunity to perform for a ballet for the first time, conducted by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Principal Conductor, Paul Murphy and led by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia’s Leader, Robert Gibbs.

Birmingham Royal Ballet is also partnering with two Festivals in 2020, with Wayne McGregor inviting the Company to perform his duet 2Human at Dance@Grange Festival (10 & 11 July). Birmingham Royal Ballet will also perform for the first time at The Latitude Festival in Suffolk also in July 2020.

Dance Track with Carlos © Man Yee Lee
Dance Track with Carlos © Man Yee Lee

Birmingham Royal Ballet is committed to supporting and offering creative opportunities for local children and young adults. The company’s talent identification programme Dance Track visits a quarter of all Birmingham primary schools annually. Every year 80 children, aged six to eight, showing a natural talent for ballet join Dance Track and are given free weekly ballet lessons taught by Birmingham Royal Ballet staff, as well as free uniforms and ballet shoes. Talented Dance Trackers are supported to apply for both the Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School associate programmes. These special programmes provide children with more advanced training to refine their dance technique and are the first step on the long journey to become a professional dancer. The Dance Track children will give end of year celebration performances at Patrick Studio in Birmingham on 9, 14 and 16 July with the Learning Engagement Access and Participation (LEAP) Ambassadors Celebration on Friday 17 July.

Freefall Dance Company, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s own company of highly gifted dancers with learning disabilities, returns to the Patrick Studio for its annual performance showcase on 12 November 7pm. Tickets will be on sale from June 2020.

Freefall Fedora Workshop © Greg Milner
Freefall Fedora Workshop © Greg Milner

2020 marks the 30th anniversary of Birmingham Royal Ballet moving to Birmingham, and what better way to celebrate than by returning to the Hippodrome and Royal Albert Hall with Sir Peter Wright’s version of The Nutcracker that he created as a gift to the City of Birmingham 30 years ago in 1990. To mark the occasion Birmingham Royal Ballet is refurbishing John Macfarlane’s stunning sets, supported by funding from loyal audiences.

Birmingham Royal Ballet will also be celebrating by partnering with fellow Birmingham arts organisation, Sampad South Asian Arts & Heritage which also celebrates its 30th Anniversary in 2020. Birmingham Royal Ballet will host a choreo-lab residency bringing together two dancers and choreographers from both organisations, to share practice and explore each other’s dance languages. Bharatanatyam dancer and rehearsal director with Akram Khan CompanyMavin Khoo, and First Soloist with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Kit Holder, will spend a creative week at Birmingham Royal Ballet working on new choreography. They will share their findings with local colleagues at the end of the week (29 June – 2 July, sharing date on 3 July).

Celebrating the company’s rich history, Birmingham Royal Ballet will join its sister company The Royal Ballet and Yorke Dance Project at The Linbury Theatre in May 2020 as part of an evening celebrating the choreographers who have shaped the Royal Ballet companies’ shared history. The evening, titled Heritage, will feature Birmingham Royal Ballet performing Sir Frederick Ashton’s Dante Sonata (1940, performed at the Linbury Theatre, 14-19 May 2020).

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Dante Sonata © Bill Cooper
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Dante Sonata © Bill Cooper

Acosta’s first year will culminate in the company’s jubilant return to The Royal Opera House in summer 2021 after an absence of twenty years. It promises to be a spectacular homecoming to mark the end of the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 30th anniversary year, programme information to be announced.

In Birmingham Royal Ballet’s continued efforts to make ballet more accessible, in 2020 there are over 20,000 tickets available across the season for £20 or less.

This is just the beginning of the journey. As I get to know the city of Birmingham and meet more and more artists from all walks of life, the more I see the opportunity to collaborate as a major part of my role. I look forward to announcing further exciting projects and embedding my vision and ambition in the very heart of this great city. Watch this space.’