Inspirational Women: Ella Spira & Pietra Mello-Pittman | Producers, Sisters Grimm Ltd

Ella SpiraElla Spira is a London-based composer and pianist working predominantly with classical music, whilst having an intimate knowledge of, and regular engagement with, projects across the spectrum of contemporary popular culture.

She has worked with companies as diverse as The Royal Ballet, BAFTA, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Ministry of Sound and on pop chart remixes with Steve Smart & Westfunk. With a few notable exceptions, she has concentrated on writing specifically for film, including adverts, animations and narrative shorts across a range of genres from horror to romantic drama.

In 2008 Ella was one of the UK delegates to a European arts project sponsored by the British Council, where she co-wrote the score for an international music theatre production called Roots & Routes, and staged in Cologne. Also in 2008 she was nominated for the Channel 4 Talented Newcomers Award for Production Music.

That same year, she began writing music for dance and working with Pietra Mello-Pittman and members of The Royal Ballet, and Reves Au Chemin was performed as part of ‘Draft Works’ in the Clore Studio Upstairs at the Royal Opera House in December 2008. Subsequently her association with Pietra Mello-Pittman has continued with the forming of the company Sisters Grimm, and its completion of the ballet film Rapunzel – The Final Chapter – a project part funded by the Royal Opera House.

This short film, based on the well-known folk story, was created for screening, with live ensemble accompaniment.

During 2009, Ella worked as composer on a film project, Uncut, the first British feature to be shot as a single, continuous take. As BAFTA/Rocliffe New Writers Forum regional composer Ella has composed for the International Screenwriters’ Festival (2009) and the ScreenLit Festival (2010). Also in 2010 she began her continuing association with Steve Smart & West Funk, working on remixes of tracks including Bruno Mars’ ‘Just The Way You Are’, McFly’s ‘Shine A Light’, Jay Sean’s (ft Nicki Minag) ‘2012’, Alicia Dixon’s (ft Jay Sean) ‘Every Little Part Of Me’ and Nelly’s ‘Just A Dream’, on labels including Universal. All five of these reached the top 20 in the UK charts.

Ella has received support and encouragement from Nik Powell, co-founder of Virgin Records, Palace Pictures and Producer of films such as Calendar Girls; Barry Wordsworth, Music Director of The Royal Ballet; Adrian Rhodes (Sound Designer on Wallace & Gromit, The Full Monty).

In 2017 Sisters Grimm premiered Voices of the Amazon in Russia, London and Singapore. The production for which Ella wrote the score in collaboration with Brazilian song writers, won Brazilian international Press Award. In 2018 Ella also worked in Japan and Bali on separate Sisters Grimm productions in development.

Pietra Mello-PittmanPietra Mello-Pittman A.R.A.D is co-founder and director of Sisters Grimm Ltd the London based production company behind INALA – a Zulu ballet featuring Soweto Gospel Choir and Voices of the Amazon narrated by the inimitable Jeremy Irons.

Pietra was born in Rio de Janeiro to a Brazilian mother and English father. Growing up in England she trained in both Ice skating and Ballet to the point at which Pietra had to chose her path. She was one of the rare few to win a place with the Royal Ballet Company, at the Royal Opera House, after entering full time ballet training, with the Royal Ballet School, at the latest possible stage at 16 years old.

A First Artist ballerina for 13 years she performed all the classics including ‘Swan Lake’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘Giselle’ and she has also created roles in new productions such as Christopher Wheeldon’s, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and also ‘A Winter’s Tale’. Pietra travelled the world with the Royal Ballet performing all over Europe, the USA, the Far East, Cuba and also performing at The Mariinsky and Bolshoi Theatres in Russia.

After winning the Ursula Morton Choreography Competition in 2001, while at the Royal Ballet School in London, Pietra started on the path to becoming a producer through her subsequent choreographies and in 2009 she co-founded Sisters Grimm with composer Ella Spira while still at the Royal Ballet

Passionate about cross-cultural, multi disciplinary collaborations and carrying with her, the high standards she is accustomed to from her professional life as a ballerina, Pietra retired from the Royal Ballet in 2015 to focus on producing for Sisters Grimm.

Sisters Grimm is now part of UK Governments GREAT campaign representing the best of the UK’s Creative industry.  In 2015, Pietra and Ella were nominated for the Women of the Future Awards for Arts and Culture, the music from their show INALA – a Zulu ballet, composed by Ella was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award, and Inala was nominated for Best Special Entertainment Award at the Manchester Theatre Awards and also featured on the Royal Variety performance.  In 2017 Voices Of The Amazon, won the Brazilian International Press Award for Best Show and Pietra was nominated for Best Director.

This year the Sisters Grimm were nominated Export Champions and have a total of 7 different culturally themed shows in development with international tours planned starting this year.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

We are Pietra Mello-Pittman and Ella Spira. Pietra was born in Rio but moved to the UK when she was 5 and is an only child. Ella is from Gloucester and the eldest of 6. Pietra was in the Royal Ballet for 13 years as a ballerina, during which time she met Ella and they started working together whilst she was still at the Royal Ballet. Ella is a composer.

We met in 2008 to work on a project for the Royal Ballet, they recorded Ella’s score at Abbey Road and the piece was performed at the Royal Opera House. In 2009 we established Sisters Grimm to produce major, multidisciplinary productions which challenge certain boundaries that can exist within certain platforms in shows that unite, entertain and give a voice to different global cultures. Together we (Pietra and Ella) are the Directors of the business, and within each production Pietra is the creative producer, bringing their joint ideas to reality and Ella is the composer co-writing with major national treasures from each territory. They have a small but brilliant core team that work with them year round and employ hundreds of people across their slate of works on a contract basis, making each show unique.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, both individually and together we have and continue to plan and literally put pen to paper to envisage what we want to happen, where we want to be and a lot of details around this.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

There have been a lot of challenges, and unfortunately this is nature of the beast particularly with finance, legal matters, and people trying to take advantage – often the catalyst for some of these issues – but each challenge and obstacle makes us stronger and it’s the best way to learn. Luckily we have found a way to keep laughing through pretty much everything and try to keep perspective, which helps a lot.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

This is a hard question because we are proud of everything we do as a company and are proud of the achievements of all the people involved too. But conceiving a show, INALA, A Zulu Ballet, that is critically acclaimed, Grammy nominated, had sell out tours, played Edinburgh International Festival, Russia, UK and most recently a major West End run and, most important to us, has had standing ovations every night globally is right up there with achievements we are incredibly proud of.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

There isn’t any one thing but the three things we think have contributed are:

  • We believe whole heartedly in the mission and purpose of the business; it’s clear and specific so everything is underpinned by this.
  • Perseverance; having the strength to see beyond the norm and not being put off when others have been negative.
  • Another big factor for us is having each other, we are extremely well balanced and complement each other’s skill set. We have total trust and are both equally as committed and wedded to the business, our team and making all of it a success for everyone.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

This is very important to us.  We have always invited people to join us for work experiences and internships and some of these people we have gone on to employ hugely successfully.

For the West End performances of INALA we partnered with Mosaic the Prince’s Trust initiative to add an amazing enrichment for the students who took part on the Mosaic Programme.  Working with the Mosaic Initiative’s Secondary School Programme saw over 1,000 young people and their families attend a performance of the show, participate in a pre-show experience and learn about the career opportunities within the theatre industry.

The Partnership offered the opportunity for young people from a range of communities across London to experience INALA, at no cost. Our Schools Programmes aim to engage with and inspire young people, offering insight into the creative process, introducing new career paths and raising aspirations. We are passionate about developing future audiences and making our work accessible to all.

The positive feed back from the teachers and mentors of the students been astounding and we are looking for someone to partner with us to continue this when we take INALA to Singapore next month.

For ourselves, we have been very lucky to have mentors and supporters who have inspired us and given invaluable guidance that has changed the course of our business.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Finding a way to enable VC’s and PE firms to invest more in female led businesses without positive discrimination. We believe that has to be a big shift in mentality not solely setting up funds that are only available to female businesses.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

We would both show our younger selves that we aren’t just artists, that we are businesswomen. I (Ella) knew I wanted to be a composer from the age of 12/13 and Pietra knew she wanted to be a ballerina and creative from 15. But we didn’t identify as the entrepreneurs that we are until we reached the age of 20 (Ella) and 25 (Pietra). In looking back, the traits and approach to our creative roles were that of entrepreneurs but it just wasn’t something either of us was fully aware of till we met.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Our next challenge is securing more finance to enable us to underwrite longer runs of our shows and produce multiple shows simultaneously, rather than on a project by project basis.

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