It will never not be a thrill to see Carlos Acosta’s name on a bill. And, well into his retirement from classical ballet, there is now always the added frisson of finding out just what and whom he’ll be bringing to a stage.
In this case, the stage in question resides in the showy expanse of the Royal Albert Hall. From there, things become somewhat nebulous because Carlos Acosta – A Celebration: Thirty Years In Dance is not a retrospective of the 45 year-old Cuban’s three decades of performing, but of the past two years of that. OK, so it’s not the biggest of surprises, since it’s not as though he’d be likely to reprise the big classical roles that he has made no bones about admitting require a constant and rigorous practice – and youth – to master. But it’s a curious concept to celebrate a full career via such a concentrated part of it, and with no reference to the heyday at that.
The charming side of this show is that Acosta is choosing to celebrate not by peacocking, and making himself the golden boy of the night, but by fanning the feathers of the young company he founded and directs, Acosta Danza, which made its début in the UK last year. There is a powerful unity among the troupe, which is comprised of vivacious dancers with distinct but harmonious personalities and it’s fun to behold the various dispositions on-stage at the same time.
We are first introduced to Acosta’s fellow Cuban Marta Ortega, with whom he duets in Mermaid by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The dynamic works well as he, assured and experienced, guides this fish out of water (and into pointe shoes), helping her to stand and move for herself. It comes across a little like a dysfunctional relationship – her reliant on and clinging to him, him agonizing as he gets her to fend for herself. Ortega’s strength is what really comes through, her powerful legs pointing and flexing whilst she holds her entire frame steady in incessant sequences of lifts.
Acosta sits out Alrededor No Hay Nada, which was restaged for the company in 2015 and is a slick, sinister piece to almost exclusively spoken word. It is evocative and robust, playing with gender dynamics and demanding synchronized lifts between four couples.
Finishing up the first half is Rooster by Christopher Bruce, bringing the aesthetics and strong lines of West Side Story into the Swinging Sixties with clucking chicken heads, swinging hips and jaunty knee angles set to The Rolling Stones’ greatest hits. Acosta leads the group with his characteristic charisma and, at this point in the evening, it is a relief – finally – to welcome back his very particular stage presence. The way he holds up the entire auditorium at the end, in dead silence, is money-can’t-buy showmanship and the entire group clearly relishes being a part of it.
The problem is that the Albert Hall is just the wrong place for it all. The plain stage looks sparse instead of atmospheric and the dancers are dwarfed by the vastness of their surroundings. It creates an amateurish quality that the production doesn’t deserve – it would be far better served by a smaller theatre with more personality and fewer distractions, leaving the Albert Hall for gala performances and larger-scale fandangos. Acosta potentially opted for the venue based on the second half: his adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen.
First performed by The Royal Ballet in 2015, we get a truncated version here, adding a thwack of drama to the night. Discombobulatingly, the cuts throw us swiftly into the centre of this passionate story, but the dancers are in their element as the fiery crowds and there are fabulous performances from Laura Rodriguez and Javier Rojas in the lead roles of Carmen and Don José, respectively. Treto, in particular, displays huge stamina whilst remaining simultaneously coquettish and fierce throughout. She thoroughly deserved her rapturous applause, Acosta making sure to push her forwards to lap up more of it.
And that’s the thing: Acosta’s ‘celebration’ of dance is not just about himself, but about this whole team of dancers who he is clearly proud of and dedicated to working with these days. So if that means a restrained but enigmatic turn as the toreador Escamillio in return, we’ll take that.
Carlos Acosta – A Celebration: Thirty Years in Dance at the Royal Albert Hall from Tuesday 2 – Friday 5 October 2018. Production images by Tristram Kenton. For more information and tickets please visit the website.