The Tale of the Sisters Grimm
“We did always have plans to take over the world,” laughs Ella Spira, one half of the theatre production duo Sisters Grimm, along with Pietra Mello-Pittman. “But we never could have possibly imagined the amount we’ve done, a Grammy nomination and now MBEs – that is completely unexpected.” At the end of 2020, the duo was honoured with MBEs for services to International Trade and the Creative Industry in the 2021 New Year Honours list.
Spira and Mello-Pittman are two smart, ambitious women who from the off were determined to do things their own way. Back in the late 2000s, Mello-Pittman was a dancer with the Royal Ballet who had begun creating her own productions; Spira, a composer who started out writing production music at the BBC. And they bonded over their interest in collaborating with arts beyond their own particular worlds, in club culture, film and world music.
In 2009 they created a theatre company that broke all the rules and Sisters Grimm was born. Founded to produce shows that celebrate different cultures and are accessible whilst produced to the highest artistic standards, Sisters Grimm shows would offer a unique and vibrant immersive experience, powered by an explosive fusion of live music, song, and dance.
Looking back on their journey Mello-Pittman says, “For me the highlights have outweighed the challenges. As entrepreneurs we are quite impatient, and it has been a challenge when things have taken longer than we have wanted them to. But we have persevered and it’s an incredible feeling to be rewarded with MBEs”.
The recognition comes after an extraordinary eleven years for the dynamic and creative partnership which has seen their dance musical productions of Inala and Voices of the Amazon play in the UK as well as around the world. The score for the South African Dance-Musical sensation Inala, written by Spira with the late Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was subsequently Grammy nominated. Premiered in 2014, marking 20 years of democracy in South Africa,Inala has set Sisters Grimm on a path to international success. The show has played to sold-out audiences across the UK and enjoyed a Royal Variety Performance, an international debut in Moscow, a West End debut at the Peacock Theatre and a performance at HRH Prince Harry’s Sentable concert at Hampton Court Palace and also at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s played in six countries including Singaporeans well as China where it reached over 1.7 million people and led to the announcement in May 2020 of a partnership with the digital platform Tencent, making Inala available to their 100 million subscribers.
Sisters Grimm’s ambition to create a new genre of theatre has seen them travelling the world and working with collaborators from Soweto Gospel Choir in South Africa, world-renowned percussionists Olodum in Brazil to Samurai warriors in Japan to tell new culturally themed and socially relevant stories which promote understanding and dialogue between communities.