We’ve had the farewell to Covent Garden; last November it was goodbye to the Coliseum – now ballet superstar Carlos Acosta finally, really, honestly finishes his classical career. This grandly conceived Royal Albert Hall celebration, as always with his “with friends” shows, offers snippets from ballets that Acosta has danced and loved – Ashton, Balanchine, lots of MacMillan – plus a nod to his own biggest choreography project to date and, to close, a taste of things to come, contemporary pieces by Cuban dancemakers. As always, it’s a bit of a bumpy collection, but there’s lots to enjoy.
Gravity has finally caught up with the 43-year-old Acosta – that breathtaking elevation is a thing of the past. He’s heavier, slower, lower to the ground. But his warm stage presence remains undimmed, his accuracy is still flawless, he still infuses every role he takes with genuine emotion and his generous partnering skills haven’t wavered. He dances with his long-time Royal Ballet partner Marianela Nuñez for three pas de deux – from Winter Dreams, Apollo and his own take on Don Quixote – and the respect and affection between the two former colleagues shines from the stage. They still drive each other to dance better; when Nuñez pulls off a dazzling series of fouettes at the end of her Don Q solo, Acosta, with perfect Spanish-style swagger, immediately guns his own set and suddenly seems 20 years younger.
It’s asking a bit too much of the final pas de deux from Mayerling to wrench it out of its context, and although Acosta hurls Laura Morera around with consummate skill, they can’t really plumb that duet’s dark and twisted depths from a standing start. He does, however, find the haunting sense of loss in the Offertoire and Pie Jesu from MacMillan’s Requiem.
Sarah Lamb and Ryoichi Hirano’s luminous interpretation of the Domine Deus from Gloria precedes that – both pieces, impressively, have a full choir joining the orchestra arrayed above the stage. Hirano is also on tremendous form in his Manon bedroom pas de deux with Morera; Lamb gives us (once again) a beautiful Dying Swan. Yuhui Choe and Valentino Zucchetti show great rapport and a sweet, delicate precision in the Rhapsody pas de deux.
The closing piece is, fittingly, a solo for Acosta, created for him by the Rambert dancer and fellow Cuban Miguel Altunaga. Memoria, performed in and around a single spotlight, combines martial arts and street dance with strong contemporary moves. It points the way to Acosta’s dancing future – but this week of shows is about his dazzling classical past. “Thank you, Carlos,” boomed one audience member as Acosta ended his performance by changing out of his dance gear, sitting meditatively on stage, then leaving his ballet shoes on his chair. He broke down at the huge standing ovation he received; contemplating a ballet landscape without him, you couldn’t help shedding a tear, too.