Culture critic Lucy Mounfield, writing for RedBrick.me, enjoys a poignant farewell to Carlos Acosta at Birmingham Hippodrome.
Carlos Acosta: A classical farewell heralded the beginning of the end for Carlos Acosta’s dance career. It is a showcase of Acosta’s favourite classical ballet parts to dance, from the Prince in Swan Lake to Carmen. Born in Havana, he trained at the National Ballet School of Cuba and has since danced with the world’s most prestigious ballet companies. He joined The Royal Ballet as a Principal in 1998 and retired in 2015 after seventeen years with the company. What makes this performance so poignant is not that this will be the last time Acosta will take to the stage to dance prior to the launch of his own company, Acosta Danza but that he is showcasing the roles that he himself made famous.
‘He has heralded in the new age of the male dancer and the male character-both strong and sensitive- what a character actor to theatre is to ballet.’
The male parts before Acosta were mere footnotes to the Principal Ballerina’s, Swan, Giselle, Carmen etc. Acosta has produced the first strong, exciting male presence; he has encouraged more young dancers to make their part their own-striking out from their romantic companion persona that dictated the male roles in ballet. Both as dancer and choreographer, Acosta has produced roles that have a back story, that stand apart from the female ballerina-choreography that matches this strength of character. He was not only the first to produces strong roles but strong characters that had intrigue and immense choreography to master. He has heralded in the new age of the male dancer and the male character-both strong and sensitive – what a character actor to theatre is to ballet. So I was really looking forward to being treated to an evening that showcased Acosta’s technical and emotional range-the technical powerhouse we can come to love and the one I will sorely miss.
Looking at the ballets included, there was a great mix of classical and contemporary ballet. Though I was a little puzzled by the lack of Don Quixote and the grand impressive pieces that made Acosta a star.
‘…the fun was conveyed right from the start…’
For his farewell tour, Acosta is joined by a cast of Cuban dancers, who throughout show their love for ballet. At the beginning the ensemble cast walk onstage as if walking into a dance studio ready for a warm up which created an atmosphere of an exploration of dance-the fun was conveyed right from the start. The first act features excerpts from five of ballet’s greatest classical works: Petipa’s Swan Lake, Bournonville’s La Sylphide, MacMillan’s Winter Dreams (based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters), Fokine’s The Dying Swan, Massenet and Agrippina Vaganova’s Diana & Acteon’s pas de deux. The second act features several contemporary pieces, including Ben Stevenson’s End of Time pas de deux, Raúl Reinoso’s Anadromous, a moving piece to Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien and a pas de deux from Acosta’s Carmen, which recently premiered at The Royal Opera House.
It is clear from the start that Acosta is comfortable and thriving with his compatriots on stage-enjoying every move. The first half dazzles us with the romantic beauty of Swan Lake and the pas de deux in Diana and Acteon which suits Acosta particularly- showcasing his dexterity and flowing movements. Acosta’s Acteon is sensational-marrying a precision and fluidity with force of movement. He was a pure joy to watch and he looked like he knew it. His pirouette’s twinkled and sparkled with panache. A favourite of mine was La Sylphide-act two pas de deux where Javier Rojas was charming and playful with his kicks giving a cheeky romanticism. MacMillan’s Winter Dreams highlights the emotional versatility of the cast-the searing tension and strain felt by those characters is made visible beautifully. The excellent character acting lifts the first half from a showcase in technical ability to a build up of layers upon layers of dramatic tension, wild abandon and hopeless passion.
The second half moved up a gear with a passionate energy that was electrifying to watch. End of Time pas de deux by Ben Stevenson was wonderful. Deborah Sanchez and Enrique Corrales were light and flexible-using each other’s bodies to transform their love into movement. Sanchez’s leg extensions were exquisite.
‘He is surely preparing us for the future – new Cuban talent paired with his intense choreography. Carmen introduced us to Laura Rodríguez and Luis Valle who danced impeccably and with great zeal.’
The dancers coped well with the varied styles and roles – matching the Manchester Camerata who soared magically with each pirouette. Je ne regrette rien was an interesting take on Edith Piaf’s famous song, the intricate staccato foot turns and hand twists melded with Piaf’s powerful and honest voice. Les Bourgeois saw Acosta dance a solo as a drunk Parisian. This displayed his fantastic acting capabilities, constantly in character. His flicks and leaps were magnificent- his machismo spellbinding.
He is surely preparing us for the future – new Cuban talent paired with his intense choreography. Carmen introduced us to Laura Rodríguez and Luis Valle who danced impeccably and with great zeal. The choreography oozed sexual voracity, playing out a game of cat and mouse-pulling and pushing against each others bodies-tugging out the sexual tension. Both dancers physicality was excellent-their bodies intertwined with one another – almost creating electric sparks of erotic desire.
The second half is a showcase of Acosta’s legacy, new talent particularly Cuban talent-which couldn’t have been so strong without Acosta pushing it forward. It is fantastic to watch the future of ballet in such good hands that by the end I completely forgot that I had not seen that much of Acosta during the performance. This second section proves Acosta’s passion for ballet and belief in the new wave of dancers to take up his roles-we may not have physically seen him throughout but we certainly saw him in the ensemble dancers, Valle’s strength and versatility reminiscent of Acosta.
Overall, this was a celebratory evening, for Acosta’s dancer career, though in the end the audience came to love and celebrate the new Cuban talent that Acosta sought to showcase throughout. The program highlighted Acosta’s rise from humble beginnings to ballet stardom and ultimately influencing the next generation of dancers.