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Press Release: Press Release - EMPTY STAGE - Birmingham Royal Ballet premieres new short film commission dedicated to the live performance industry


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PRESS RELEASE
19 February 2021

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#EmptyStage

 

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Birmingham Royal Ballet premieres short film commission: Empty Stage, dedicated to the live performance industry 

 

 

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 9 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 though 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. BRB 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.

 

Empty Stage available HERE

 

Credits

Empty Stage

A Birmingham Royal Ballet Production in association with Impermanence

Directed by Roseanna Anderson & Joshua Ben-Tovim

Concept by Carlos Acosta

‘Empty Stage’ Words and music by Benjamin Scheuer 

Choreographic Extracts David Bintley 

Cinderella Set and Costume Designs John Macfarlane

Royal Ballet Sinfonia Conductor Paul Murphy

Filmed at Birmingham Repertory Theatre

 

CAST

Cinderella Momoko Hirata 

Prince Mathias Dingman 

Orange Dress Harry Alexander

Fairy Godmother Eilis Small 

Spring Beatrice Parma

Summer Yu Kurihara 

Autumn Miki Mizutani 

Winter Alys Shee

Prince’s Friends Haoliang Feng, Callum Findlay-White, Max Maslen, Alexander Yap

Featuring: Carlos Acosta & Benjamin Scheuer

 

MUSIC:

Words & music by Benjamin Scheuer 

Vocals & Guitar: Benjamin Scheuer

Piano: Matt Rollings

Orchestra performance: Royal Ballet Sinfonia

Orchestral arrangement: Terry Davies

Orchestral engineering: Anthony Faulkner

Engineering & mixing: Robin Baynton

Mastering: Greg Calbi

Produced by Benjamin Scheuer and Robin Baynton

 

NOTES TO EDITORS:

 

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Based at Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham Royal Ballet is the United Kingdom’s leading touring ballet company performing a range of traditional, classical and heritage ballets as well as ground-breaking new works with the aim of encouraging choreographers of the future.

 

The company’s Director from January 2020 is the internationally renowned Carlos Acosta.

Birmingham Royal Ballet performs at Birmingham Hippodrome for approximately ten weeks of the year and the remainder of the year tours throughout the United Kingdom and overseas. On average, the company performs 175 shows a year nationally and internationally.

 

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia is Birmingham Royal Ballet’s permanent orchestra, it is also Britain's busiest ballet orchestra. The Sinfonia also plays frequently for The Royal Ballet and other leading ballet companies, including performances with: The Royal Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet, New York City Ballet, Australian Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the Kirov, Norwegian Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and La Scala Ballet.

 

Benjamin Scheuer

Benjamin Scheuer is an American singer/songwriter. He is the writer/performer of THE LION, about which the Los Angeles Times wrote “the vibe of casual, unrehearsed immediacy masks the narrative complexity of a novel or an opera.” (Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Solo Performance; off-West-End Award, Best New Musical.) Scheuer is the 2021 recipient of the Kleban Award for Lyric Writing.

 

His album “Songs from THE LION” was released in 2016 (Warner/ADA), along with four music videos, which won accolades including Best Commissioned Film at the Annecy Film Festival, and two consecutive Best Music Video prizes at the British Animation Awards.

 

In March 2020, Scheuer released the song “I Am Samantha,” about a transgender friend of Scheuer’s. The music-video features a cast of 27 people, all of whom are transgender. The track was the first release from a forthcoming album with Canvasback/Atlantic Records (US) & Parlophone (UK).  

 

Scheuer is the author of two songs-turned-into-children’s-books: Hibernate With Me and Hundred Feet Tall, both illustrated by his wife, Jemima Williams. (Simon & Schuster.) Hibernate With Me has been translated into German, French, and Mandarin. Hundred Feet Tall will be published in Welsh in 2021 (Much to the pleasure of Jemima, who grew up on a Welsh sheep farm.)

 

With playwright Melis Aker, Scheuer is adapting Hundred Feet Tall into a musical for children. With Rick Elice (Jersey BoysPeter and the Star Catcher) Scheuer is writing a musical about Peter Roget, who wrote the eponymous Thesaurus. Originally from New York, Scheuer lives in London with his wife and daughter.

 

Impermanence 

Roseanna Anderson and Joshua Ben-Tovim are directors, choreographers and performers, often working in partnership as Impermanence as well as individually. They set up Impermanence in 2011 with Alessandro Marzotto Levy and other graduates from the Rambert School. Its films include: The Ballet Of The Nations (Best Art Film, New Renaissance Film Festival, Amsterdam); Feral (featuring George Monbiot and a recording by the London Symphony Orchestra of an original piece by Hollie Harding); Blast(commissioned by BBC Arts); and Park Wanderings (created during lockdown with Corali Dance Company, commissioned and exhibited by Southwark Park Galleries). Its work for the stage includes: Baal (Bristol Old Vic, The Place, Jakarta Theatre Platform); Sexbox (British Council Edinburgh Showcase 2017); Da Da Darling (international tour, listed as one of The Guardian’s top 10 dance productions) and The Major Arcana (Mayfest 2020, postponed). Impermanence has been curating a programme of dance at the Bristol Old Vic since 2019. 

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To be honest I just found this incredibly melancholic and depressing. The moment where the audience is back passes quickly and - all that is left is an empty stage, as he keeps saying... 

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I've just watched Empty Stage and found it incredibly poignant.  I was moved to tears.

 

I think people in the UK need a reminder of what they are missing while the theatres are dark.  We've just got to keep the faith and hope that the lockdown is working alongside the vaccines to get us back to some sort of normality this year.

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I found it very poignant. A reminder (if one was needed) about what we had been missing, but the glimpses of ballets being danced and worked on gives us hope for the (hopefully not too distant) future. A very imaginative and worthwhile production. 

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