Carlos Acosta and Acosta Danza
Carlos Acosta: A Celebration: Mermaid, Alrededor no hay nada, Rooster, Carmen
London, Royal Albert Hall
2 October 2018
The Royal Albert Hall is undoubtedly a suitably grand space in which to celebrate the remarkable dance career of Carlos Acosta. But the quartet of pieces offered by the former Royal Ballet star and his Cuban company, Acosta Danza, felt rather swamped in the vast space, performed as they were on a small stage at one end. And if you were unlucky enough to have chosen arena seats, the lack of a rake meant even just a few rows from the front, you rarely saw anything from the knees down. It’s a tribute to Acosta’s electric stage presence, and the skill of his dancers, that everyone stuck it out.
And there was a lot here to enjoy. This may have been a celebration of three decades in dance, but there was no nostalgia here – Acosta is forging ahead with contemporary dance, commissioning and choreography; this was a showcase of his work now.
It was a genuine pleasure to see the company’s opening reprise of Mermaid, a duet created by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui that paired Acosta with the gorgeously watchable Marta Ortega. It’s a work that highlights the best qualities of Acosta as a partner – strong, tender, supportive, assured. Ortega tottered, stumbled and slumped to the floor as though tipsy, a wine glass in hand. But she increasingly also had the wide-eyed unsteadiness of a foal finding its legs – or, indeed, a mermaid, trying out her new limbs. She stretched them luxuriantly, and wrapped them round and above Acosta as they worked through an intimate, intricate, liquid series of holds and lifts, creating a beautiful tableau of trust and compassion.
Goyo Montero’s Alrededor no hay nada – a physical contemplation of the poetry of the Andalucian singer/songwriter Joaquín Sabina – was not really the right piece for the place. In bowler hats (and short shorts for the women), the dancers didn’t respond so much to the Pablo Neruda-ish content of the spoken poetry (which non-Spanish speakers wouldn’t have understood anyway), rather to its rhythms and punctuation. But it felt too subdued – and it was something of a relief when a jazz beat filtered into the rendition of Porque hoy es sabado (Because Today Is Saturday).
Luckily, Rooster, created for Rambert by Christopher Bruce, is anything but subdued – and Acosta’s swaggering peacocking to the greatest hits of the Rolling Stones was a perfect pick-me-up. He and the rest of the cast swapped effortlessly between strutting their stuff and courtly grace for tracks such as Lady Jane and Sympathy for the Devil – with a sly battle of the sexes running as a thread through all the changes in the music. Playful and precise, the Cubans brought a sexy flair to the whole piece.
The second half was a second chance for Acosta’s Carmen – which he created for the Royal Ballet as a farewell gift to the company. This time round, this starkly mythical piece had been significantly reworked, and for the better – its narrative lines were cleaner and, again, the Cuban dancers were more than a match for the red-blooded steaminess of the choreography, which had men fling their clothes off at the mere sight of Laura Rodríguez’s Carmen. The cage in which she is imprisoned was broken apart and remained on the sides of the stage, pointing up how poor Don José (Javier Rojas) was trapped in this tragedy. And Acosta’s brutally sexy Escamillo had all the braggadocio you could wish for. The showman in him shone through – a delight to watch, as always.