The stunning new video from revolutionary British composer Fabio D’Andrea stars Versailles actor George Blagden in a tale that mashes Italian commedia dell’arte and the magic of live theatre with ground-breaking choreography and Fabio’s award-winning piano music.
‘Masquerade’ is the latest release from the composer and neo-classical pianist’s “24” album – the first ever classical video album – which consists of 24 original piano pieces by Fabio (one in every key), each accompanied by a video starring a Hollywood actor, including Douglas Booth, Ellie Bamber, Russell Tovey and Emma Rigby. With Fabio’s aim of revolutionising classical music in the 21st century, the videos so far released have amassed an astonishing 4.5 million views and rising.
A short-film director in addition to acclaimed musician, Fabio directed these innovative and visually striking videos which shed new light on stars who we’ve not previously seen in dance-oriented works, while thrillingly bringing classical art forms into the modern sphere. Set to Fabio’s beautifully evocative and fluid piano music, in the ornate Salvatore Cicero theatre in Cefalu, Sicily, ‘Masquerade’ features characters wearing the masks of the early form of professional theatre, commedia dell’arte, as it explores the art form and its enduring importance in transporting the audience. George performs the witty role of the Harlequin while Ellie Turner plays a curious girl who disappears into a shop painting and finds herself in a parallel theatrical world.
George has starred in Hollywood film Les Misérables and television series Versailles and Vikings, but he started his career at the National Youth Theatre, and most recently appeared in 2018 West End shows Company (Gielgud) and Tartuffe (Theatre Royal Haymarket). When invited by Fabio to do the video, he instantly recalled the speech that helped secure his place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and launched his journey towards becoming a professional actor: a commedia dell’arte monologue which he played in none other than the Harlequin role.
“It’s about the power of the imagination and storytelling, and where that can transport you,” says George of what drew him to Fabio’s film. “It just rang true with me and why I do what I do.”
As depicted in the video, theatre has always provided beneficial escapism, and its absence is keenly felt in this time of global unease. At a time when the coronavirus has thrown theatre into an uncertain future, with theatres shut and many West End shows postponed until 2021, the video shines a light on an art form at stake.
“The point of theatre is to collect as many people in the same room as possible to enjoy communally something that’s happening live in front of you, and with the coronavirus, that obviously is very difficult to do,” says George. “The great thing about the theatre community is that we are very good at improvising. And people are finding ways in which to stay connected to the arts in an adaptive form, which gives me a lot of hope.”
While we see Ellie transported into this theatrical fantasy world, we don’t actually ever see an audience; the performers, it appears, are doing it just for themselves. “We see artists enjoying their art for the sake of it,” says George. “I know that we all need to pay bills, but if we can somehow remind ourselves that what we do is valuable, even if it is one person like Ellie’s character who wafts into our imaginative world for a second. It is really important what we do, even if it’s been for ourselves recently.”
Theatrical venues have played a part in facilitating Fabio’s remarkable career. Since the 2012 release of his debut album “Reflections”, which was made Classic FM’s Album of the Week, the classically-trained Fabio has performed, conducted and produced music around the world. He performed for stars from Leonardo DiCaprio to Sharon Stone at the Cannes Film Festival, while his compositions received premieres at London’s Royal Festival Hall and St-Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Paris Opera House. He was the first to score a show for Ballet Black (an associate company of the Royal Ballet) making him the youngest composer to be commissioned for a ballet production at the Royal Opera House.
Fabio says, “These concert halls and theatres have given me amazing opportunities for my new compositions to be heard. The theatre has had a profound effect on my career.”
It’s how he met the choreographers with whom he’s collaborated, such as Christopher Marney and Dane Hurst, the esteemed ex-principal dancer of Rambert Dance Company who choreographed his video ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. That film won more than 20 international awards including the Los Angeles Shorts International Film Festival (LA Shorts) – an Oscar contender.
Originating from Italy, commedia dell’arte is known as a forerunner of modern day theatre and comedy; its popularity in Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries made a huge impact on stage performance as we know it. It’s close to the composer’s heart as his father is Italian, and he used to attend the Venice Carnival which sparked his interest in commedia dell’arte. “I wanted to do a video based on all the characters from it, but introducing them in the modern world,” Fabio says.
With all the dancers wearing masks, the exquisite video nods to the history of stage performance, including the simultaneous rise of theatre in Japan, the geishas, whose tradition of painting their faces was their own version of putting on a mask. This theme of mask-wearing occurs across Fabio’s series. He may have performed at and attended some of the glitziest events, but Fabio says the Venice Carnival parties were the best – because everyone wears a mask.
“It felt like stepping back in time,” he recalls. “You arrived by boat, and just walking inside made me feel like I was stepping into a different world. It was an amazing experience. I think it’s the fact that everybody is masked so you don’t know who you’re talking to. Putting on a mask really does put everybody on the same social level; there’s no longer this hierarchy of somebody being more important. When you’re dressed all up and you have a mask on, you can be anybody you want to be.”
As we all currently find ourselves wearing masks to protect each other from the coronavirus, ironically we are experiencing this very leveller right now. “You can be the most powerful person on the planet and you’ve still got to do it,” says Fabio, who we see in the video at the piano, in disguise with his mask, the music-making puppeteer in control.
Masks are also symbolic for actors, whose very job is to leave themselves behind and become someone else while they’re in character for a role – an aspect of performance that George has loved since his youth.
“As a teenager, getting to leave myself at the door and become the characters was a huge part of why I wanted to get into acting. I’ve been offered quite transformational roles that involve heavy costume design or hair and makeup design that makes me look as far away from George as possible. I think it’s a massive part of the escapism aspect of why people like to do what we do. We get to play dress up, and I think it’s why people like engaging with the arts as an audience, because you get to escape into a world that is sometimes far away from your own. And the art form of masque is a very direct way to do that.”
Fabio’s bold and thrilling vision has drawn support from around the globe, attracting famous actors, dancers and choreographers to produce his award-winning videos on a shoestring budget. The unprecedented project connects various art forms, and is part of Fabio’s visionary long-term goal of establishing a label to support other forward-thinking artists whose creative output stretches beyond the confines of the current music-industry model.
‘Masquerade’ combines theatre, film, classical music, comedy and dance. Here, traditional ballet collides beautifully with contemporary dance including one hip hop dancer’s breathtaking backflip off the grand piano. A raft of choreographers and performers were involved, including former Billy Elliot star and alumnus of the Central School of Ballet, Lee Jay Hoy, as well as a Sicilian ballet troupe, and the Japanese artist Satoko Fukuda, as the video meshes different forms and eras in an impressive collaborative performance.