Carlos Acosta. Photo from Internet.
From: The Guardian
Carlos Acosta has pledged to transform Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) and bring ballet’s traditional image into the 21st century as he takes over as artistic director. On Friday he announced his first programme for 2020, including a three-week summer festival spanning London and Birmingham.
Havana-born Acosta, 46, is a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. Since retiring four years ago from the classical roles that made him famous, he has launched a contemporary company, Acosta Danza, in Cuba.
Acosta wanted the Birmingham job because “I felt the need to go back to my roots as a ballet dancer,” he says. “Ballet is my best friend. It was my refuge; it’s what I had when everything didn’t make sense. It was not just a job. I’ve been very privileged to perform with many companies and gain this wealth of knowledge that I want to pass on.”
His plans for the 74-year-old company are ambitious. “I want the level of the dancers to be raised dramatically, and the repertoire I’m bringing is crucial,” he says. “I want a company that is strong, that is not predictable, that is energetic, that takes risks, but stays true to tradition at the highest level. I’m up for big crazy ideas. I’m never going to say no to anything that’s new and bold.”
Acosta’s spirited production of Don Quixote, first performed in 2013, will be at the centre of the Curated By Carlos festival this June. It marks the first time it has been performed in the UK outside London. Elsewhere, in an eclectic mixed bill, Acosta will perform a duet with Alessandra Ferri by Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero, alongside a world premiere from Brazilian-British choreographer Daniela Cardim and George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. The festival, which Acosta hopes will help the company “position ourselves as a brand that can entertain at all levels”, will also include artist Conrad Shawcross’s installation, The Ada Project, a robotic sculpture programmed with choreographed movement.
An important part of Acosta’s vision for BRB is staging the work of international choreographers unknown in Britain. In the autumn the company will dance the first UK performance of a work by Uwe Scholz, former director of Leipzig Ballet. Scholz’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is programmed alongside Jiří Kylián’s epic Forgotten Land, set to Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. Acosta also plans collaborations beyond the ballet world, including Birmingham organisation Sampad.
In 2021, BRB will perform at London’s Royal Opera House for the first time in 20 years and tour to smaller towns and cities that may not usually see ballet at this level.
BRB was founded in 1946 as the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, which became the touring arm of the Royal Ballet before the company moved to Birmingham in 1990. David Bintley retired in 2019 after 24 years at the helm. In recent years, the company has been respected for the quality of its work and dancers, but has not always been considered the most artistically exciting troupe.
One of the challenges all major companies face is striking the balance between reliable titles such as Swan Lake and new works that don’t always perform well at the box office – audiences for some shows in Birmingham have been as low as 40% capacity. Acosta aims to bring in wider audiences and take the company out into the community, projecting a trendier, younger image and promising more than 20,000 tickets available for £20 or less.
He plans to change the type of ballets the company commissions to reflect 21st-century Britain. “I want to come up with stories that represent Birmingham, a proposition that is completely different to the rest of the companies in the UK. Stories that are not the obvious ones, so people start looking at us in a different light. When you talk about a traditional company, some people might think, ‘yesterday’. I want people to see us as ‘now’.”