REVIEW: Black Sabbath the Ballet
As a lover of music in general, my first response to being asked to review this show was ‘Hell Yes!’ But, with no real idea what to expect when I walked through the theatre doors. This was possibly a similar feeling experienced by most of the audience, which appeared to consist of a combination of seasoned ballet lovers, and die hard metalhead fans of yesteryear. But one thing was for certain: we were all unprepared for what we were about to witness.
How would the music of Black Sabbath be combined with the elite dancers of Birmingham’s Royal Ballet? It soon became apparent that there would be no storytelling as such in this performance, but a unique production, intertwining the beauty of the ballet, and juxtaposition of the music, whilst also referencing the lives and music of the band members.
The performance contained 3 acts, all featuring different themes, displayed through classic and contemporary style dance, all very much unique in their delivery.
The curtains opened painstakingly slowly, purposefully to enhance the audience’s expectation, and revealed a troupe of silhouetted dancers, shrouded in black, with a sea of mist swirling around them. The air was punctured with the sound of Ozzy’s piercing vocals, singing the first lines of War Pigs. For the next half hour, I barely remember breathing, as both the audience and I were held captivated by what unfolded on the stage.
A mixture of classic and contemporary ballet followed, accompanied by symphonic compositions, entwined with Sabbath’s original sounds. The dancers at first appeared a little unsynchronised, which was momentarily distracting, but this soon dispersed, and I found myself swept away by the elegant precision and fluidity of their movements, unable to take my eyes off them.
The end of act one concluded with individual solo elements from the dancers, each using this moment to display their own power and skill. One ballerina pirouetted around the arc of the stage, with incredulous speed, and still a broad smile on her face.
A black leather clad guitarist appeared sporadically throughout the evening. Marc Howard, joined the dancers on stage, playing his red guitar, surrounded and uplifted by the dancers, as the two elements were united. Personally, he felt just a little too clean-cut to be a truly believable metalhead.
The second act was reminiscent of West Side Story. The dancers wore clothes of the 70’s, highly contrasting with the traditional ballet costumes of the first. The accompanying music was also up-beat and the style of dance more contemporary to align with this. The act painted a clearer picture of Black Sabbath as a band. The individual members could be heard in recorded dialogues, revealing their experiences during the early days of the band’s formation, as workers in the factories of inner Birmingham.
The simple stage design consisted of white lightboxes, suspended above the stage, featuring images relating to the music of the band’s career: boots, guitars, drumsticks etc. Subtle lighting and a lack of too many clever special effects, enhanced the performance of the dancers, leaving the audience’s focus solely on the beauty of their dance.
An overturned silver car appeared on stage during the final act. An iconic demon figure stood on top. Yet it was never made quite clear how the car referred to the band in any way, and this felt a little random.
The final act contained a combination of elements from the first two. Classic ballet costumes, and 70’s flared jeans, with both styles of dance colliding into an explosion of colour.
For me, the perfect and most memorable moment of the evening was during act one, as the two dancers, Javier Rochas and Yaoqian Shang, performed a pas de deux. Their bodies entwined in an eternal kiss for the entire duration of the performance, their lips never separating for a moment. With breathtaking fluidity, their bodies flowed as one entity, from one position into the next, utterly captivating. The audience were also spellbound, and responded with a roar of approval at the end of the act. Undoubtedly, I’d never witnessed anything quite as exquisite through dance.
Black Sabbath fans may have been slightly disappointed that more heavy elements of their music were not frequently used. Or maybe the the orchestral compositions written specially for the show, did contain those elements of original music, it’s purely that I am unfamiliar with them. However, the show in its strange juxtaposition of heavy metal music and ballet, did sublimely work. I left the theatre feeling I’d been witness to something special and unique and with the very distinct possibility I may have discovered a newfound love of Ballet.