Black Sabbath – The Ballet Review

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The photographer is Johan Persson

Review by Atanas Tanchovski

Black Sabbath are without a doubt the fathers of metal music. The creation that they brought forth into the world over half a century ago came with a bang so loud it resonates across the world to this day. Their iconic sound which consists of heavy, evil, groovy and melodic riffs was revolutionary for its time, yet it captured the love of millions all over the world. Not only that, but their music remains one of the strongest references, even today, as to how a heavy band should inspire to sound.

Bands like Metallica already proved that thrashing electric guitars and a symphonic orchestra can not only co-exist but complement each other to create something otherworldly. But how does all that rugged beauty fit in with the gentle and contrasting art form that is ballet? Director Carlos Acosta has the answer to this question: a question nobody would have ever thought to ask, but one we are glad he did.

The genre of the show fit the audience, or perhaps the audience fit the show, as a buzzing Sadler’s Wells theatre welcomed a colourful bunch of all ages: some dressed for a gig, others for a black-tie event; but all with the common goal to celebrate art.

As the cleverly matching purple curtains revealed the gothic-themed stage, Act One commenced with audible anticipation from the audience, and sensory delights came from all directions in a snappy manner. Lightboxes displaying key elements and moments from Black Sabbath’s career descended from above, as the all-black-wearing dancers gracefully occupied the stage with their provocative contemporary moves, designed to thrill. And echoing throughout the arena with full might were parts of the perfectly renditioned Black Sabbath classics: “War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Solitude” and “Paranoid”, performed by the orchestra. The stand-out element of the act was guitarist Marc Hayward’s part in the show; which saw him emerge solo onto the stage and open with his performance of “War Pigs”; with an enigmatic mist surrounding him and hooded figures lurking in the dark.

The second act saw a change in atmosphere, as a more upbeat and colourful mise-en-scène took over the stage. The black singlets and hooded cloaks were now replaced by 70s-inspired denim outfits to represent the times Black Sabbath gained their popularity in, as well as their “hippie” themed tracks such as “Planet Caravan”. The act focused on the key events of Black Sabbath’s career, and we heard engaging stories played on tape from Tony Iommi, Ozzy and Sharon. From the hard-hitting accident which took two of Tony Iommi’s fingertips, to the ever-so entertaining, and barely audible, ludicrous stories from Ozzy about his substance abuse. All that, over the gallant performance of a single dancer to keep the audience visually engaged. The act closed off with an explosive performance of the menacing “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” riff.

The third and final act was dedicated to the legacy of Black Sabbath and opened with audio comments from fans and what the band means to them and to the world. The stage revealed a life-sized prop of a flipped car with a statue of Henry: Black Sabbath’s mascot, standing on it with his full demonic charm. The dancers had once again undergone a wardrobe change and were now sporting t-shirts of various Black Sabbath albums and rolling over haystack-sized vinyl props. The show intended to go out with a bang, and it pulled out all the stops. A flash mob of all the performers took on stage in a chilling tandem effort to sing the opening of “War Pigs”. And just when we thought it was all coming to an end, out came the mastermind Tony Iommi as a one-off surprise for the opening night, and the place erupted. He took centre stage, accompanied by Marc Hayward and the full cast, to close off the show with an unforgettable performance of “Paranoid”.

Just like Black Sabbath’s music in 1970, in 2023 Carlos Acosta along with a whole hard-working team brought forth to the world a crossover performance that is truly innovative and stands not only as a worthy tribute, but as an individual art form, which I can only hope kicks off a series of similar efforts from other bands that will rock the theatre world.

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