Actor Russell Tovey stars in a powerful video exploring the breakdown of mental health for British pianist and composer Fabio D’Andrea, who has created the first-ever piano-video album that aims to revolutionise classical music in the 21st century.
It’s the latest release from the award-winning 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 Natalie Dormer and Emma Rigby, in dance-oriented performances.
A short-film director in addition to an acclaimed musician, Fabio directed these surprising and visually stunning technical works which shed new light on stars who we’ve not previously seen dancing. Tovey performs a deeply personal choreographed piece that examines the profound effects of fame, a glimpse behind the red carpet masquerade, and the breakdown of mental health. In an age of rampant insecurities flamed by social media, and following the tragic death of Caroline Flack, the theme of mental health is more pertinent than ever.
Russell Tovey says, “It’s like compare and despair. Everyone does it. You look at Instagram and you don’t realise why but you suddenly feel a bit low. And you scroll back and you’re like, oh, ok, that’s tapped into one of my anxieties. And this film shows the story of this celebrity being photographed and you think, ‘Wow, he’s obviously living the dream. He must be loving all this attention’, but the reality is on the inside he’s struggling so much, with just being alive.”
In preparation for the video, Russell learnt dance at Covent Garden’s famed Pineapple Studios, under Fabio’s long-term collaborator, choreographer Jerry Reeve. The emotionally powerful and technically impressive result showcases Russell’s expressive acting through the medium of contemporary dance, as he grapples with his inner demons before reconnecting with himself as a child, and finding a new positive way forward.
“As you become an adult, you can sometimes lose touch. And especially if you’re in the public eye you can potentially lose touch of a sense of reality and self; you see yourself only projected through other people’s opinions of you and are judged by how you look. This is the storyline for this character, this hyper version of where I’m at in my career. There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with being a performer. But at the same time, it’s about how going back to when you’re were a child where you have all these ambitions, hopes and dreams and then when they become reality, they can get blurred, and you lose sight of what it was you went into it for, which was the fun and adventure. This film embodies is about trying to hold on to that.”
Although the film focuses on the experience of celebrities in the spotlight, it explores the mental health struggles of every person, at a time when anxiety levels are at their peak in the face of the global pandemic.
“The message overall is don’t be afraid to talk about it,” says Russell. “I’ve always found that when I’ve had anxiety or sadness, by talking about it and sharing it with someone else, I can recognise the qualities I’m feeling in someone else. If you connect with someone, it helps because you don’t feel alone and you don’t feel like it’s abnormal. I think that’s what mental health is: the more people talk, the more it normalises it, and the less scary it becomes. Because when you’re in your head, and you’re consumed by certain thoughts, it becomes a very scary place to live,. Whereas if you’re able to articulate them, in my opinion, it really takes the power out of away from the mental illness.”
Fabio’s bold and thrilling vision has drawn support from around the globe, attracting a raft of 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. Set to an emotive soundtrack of Fabio’s cascading piano music, the video combines the three art forms – film, contemporary classical music and dance – to pack an even more efective punch.
At a time when the world is united by coronavirus and facing the challenging isolation of lockdown, the arts play an ever-more important role in helping people to find solace and connection. There’s nothing more powerful in raising people’s awareness of mental health.
“Culture at a time like this is going to help you because you’re watching other people’s stories and you can see how we’re all connected. Every single person on this planet is now connected by one thing,” says Russell. “Watching this short film, I hope moves you, as it’s a beautiful piece of art, it’s beautiful music, but it’s also very hopeful. You go into the pain of this character, and what he’s coping with, and then he sees himself as a kid and he’s like, ‘I can face the world again. I just needed to get in touch with my own feelings
and give myself permission to be sad or scared.’ That’s what this story is about: trying to control the stuf that goes on your head, and telling yourself this is normal, this is ok. However you feel, there is always a way out.”
Great artistic output and creative movements are often born out of periods of change and turmoil; looking through history and the quality of its art and intellectual output can inform you about a civilisation. Yet unfortunately, it’s during these challenging times that the arts tend to be cut first because they’re seen as not essential. That could not be further from the truth.
“So much can be communicated via our arts that cannot be in other ways,” says Fabio. “A doctor can go on BBC News and say, ‘you need to look after your mental health at this time’, but that’s not going to resonate with people. That’s why I hope that this video gets seen by loads of people – this message is so relevant to everybody. There’s a real need for art and culture right now.”
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 youngest composer to be commissioned for a ballet production at the Royal Opera House.
Fabio has also performed with the BBC Concert Orchestra alongside Gregory Porter, Laura Mvula and Rebecca Ferguson at festivals and produced for the likes of Ministry of Sound, Sigala and Duke Dumont. The main goal for this diversely talented artist is to draw a new, younger audience to classical music and dance, while stripping back preconceptions of art as elitist and helping to make the arts accessible to all.
“I would love to reach a whole bunch of people who would never put on anything classical,” Fabio says. “And the same with dance. That’s my mission. I’m hoping that we’ve tapped into something so universal that it can show people that the arts are accessible. Actually, without classical music we wouldn’t have any other music, and there are so many studies about how instrumental music helps people’s brains develop.”
“I love classical music, and I love this piece of music,” adds Russell. “I want people to find Fabio’s work and look at the rest of his back catalogue, and if we can give exposure to cultural quality in the world then that’d be brilliant. I’d love that.”
Other videos in the series feature dancers from The Royal Ballet, Rambert Dance Company, The London Contemporary Dance School, as well as hip-hop dance companies. The video featuring Emma Rigby was arranged by the ex-principal dancer of Rambert, Dane Hurst, and won more than 20 international awards including the prestigious LA Short Fest.