Acosta Danza Are Sensational But This Carlos Acosta Celebration Is Not A Total Success

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Carlos Acosta – A Celebration: Carlos Acosta with Acosta Danza. Royal Albert Hall, London, 2.10.2018. (JPr)

Carlos Acosta & Acosta Danza in Rooster © Tristram Kenton

Choreography – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Assistant Choreographer – Jason Kittelberger
Music by Woojae Park and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui with additional music by Erik Satie
Lighting – Fabiana Piccioli
Red dress by Hussein Chalayan

Dancers – Carlos Acosta and Marta Ortega

Alrededor no hay nada
Choreography – Goyo Montero
Assistant Choreographer – Ivan Gil Ortega
Music – Joaquin Sabina and Vinicius de Moraes
Lighting and costumes – Goyo Montero

Dancers – Mario Sergio Elías, Lilianna Menéndez, Brian González Trull, Leticia Silva, Laura Treto, Yasser Domínguez, Jayron Pérez, Gabriella Lugo, Carlos Luis Blanco and Zeleidy Crespo

Choreography – Christopher Bruce
Assistant Choreographer – Steven Brett
Songs recorded by: The Rolling Stones including Little Red Rooster, Lady Jane, Not Fade Away, Paint it Black, Ruby Tuesday, Play with Fire and Sympathy for the Devil.
Lighting design – Tina MacHugh (realised by Christina R. Giannelli)
Costume designer – Marian Bruce

Dancers – Carlos Acosta, Carlos Luis Blanco, Yanelis Godoy, Déborah Sánchez, Leticia Silva, Alejandro Silva, Raúl Reinoso, Lilianna Menéndez, Marta Ortega and Julio León

Choreography – Carlos Acosta
Music – George Bizet (arr. Shchedrin)
Orchestra conducted by Paul Murphy
Set and costumes – Tim Hatley
Lighting – Peter Mumford

Carmen – Laura Rodríguez
Don José – Javier Rojas
Escamillo – Carlos Acosta
Zuniga – Alejandro Silva
The Bull – Carlos Luis Blanco

As a dancer Carlos Acosta is one of the most revered figures in ballet history and he brings his classical-meets-contemporary Cuban homeland company, Acosta Danza, to the Royal Albert Hall for four performances. It was in 2016 at the same venue that Acosta bid farewell to ‘classical ballet’ (review click here). Unfortunately for an event that Acosta welcomed as ‘celebrating [my] 30 years in dance’ it certainly didn’t do anything like that. What this actually celebrates is his ‘transition from classical to contemporary works over the last two years’ and all he is achieving for the future of dance in Cuba, including his Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation supporting young talent.

As such it is basically critic-proof. Nevertheless, I remember the time in the mid-1980s when Rudolf Nureyev danced a Diaghilev programme in Manchester and members of the audience stormed the box office to get their money back claiming his feet never left the floor! I doubt whether anyone did this despite this Carlos Acosta ‘celebration’ having very little Carlos Acosta in it, as he is in only a fraction of the two-hour programme of dance. It is frustrating because – the unseen ravages of a thirty-year career notwithstanding – when he does get his feet off the floor he moves as well as someone half his age. Acosta writes how ‘I am delighted to be supported by my dance company Acosta Danza, who together are some of the best dancers Cuba has to offer.’ In truth he is supporting them! This is in no way meant to belittle all Acosta Danza do, but they needed a more intimate environment than the barn-like Royal Albert Hall for the event to be truly a success. They would have certainly sold-out Sadler’s Wells or a similarly-sized venue.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Mermaid sees Marta Ortega weaving and floundering ‘like a fish out of water trying to walk on dry land’. It was more like what is witnessed on trains leaving London Liverpool Street Station late most Friday evenings with a rather inebriated woman being supported by her loyal male friend who relieves her – as here – of a drink in her hand. Dancing in – and sometimes out – of pools of light on the stage, Acosta tries to keep her upright and prevent her – like the mermaid of the title – slipping from his grasp. Both Ortega and Acosta get solo moments in the spotlight but the movement it rather repetitive and Mermaid – like each of the works we see – outstayed its welcome. It was fascinating to see and hear Woojae Park accompanying his haunting part of the music playing live on the geomungo (six-stringed Korean zither) before the score concluded with some over-familiar Erik Satie.

There is only the merest hint of music in Goyo Montero’s Alrededor no hay nada and five couples respond to the tone of the voices of Joaquín Sabina and Vinícius de Moraes as they rhythmically recite their poetry. The title translates as Around there is nothing (though I did not find this in the programme). Often bare legged or bare chested (as appropriate) and bowler hatted, without a knowledge of Spanish it was difficult to discern if the Latin-infused movement of the dancers reflected the words we were hearing. Despite that a ‘pas de deux’ for Luis Blanco and Lilianna Menéndez caught the eye.

Christopher Bruce’s Rooster dates from as long ago as 1991, and – perhaps ashamedly – this was the first time I have seen it. It is a high-octane piece of unpretentious nonsense for another five couples celebrating the more innocent times of the 1960s and ‘70s, and indeed, its innocent music, as well as, its fashions. To a degree ‘cocking(!) a snook’ at the rampant male-chauvinism of the eight iconic tracks we hear from The Rolling Stones and, of course, Mick Jagger himself. I don’t know their music that well – I was more into glam rock myself – though I suspect sometimes what we saw physically matched the lyrics and at other times it was just all high jinks with Acosta leading the strutting, posing, preening flock of roosters. If called upon the girls’ movement could be equally inviting and there was some twerking amongst the go-go dancing during ‘Paint it Black’. It was equally clear who in this ‘battle of the sexes’ had the upper hand, and it wasn’t the boys! Much fun was had by all and the enthusiasm of Acosta and his company was a delight to see.

To close the programme there was a new version of Carmen, choreographed by Acosta himself, which was first performed by The Royal Ballet in 2015 (review click here). This was considered at the time as rather a ‘dance dis-ah-ster’ (as Craig Revel Horwood would put it). It has supposedly been reworked but there is little substantial improvement. The story-telling is muddled, and it veers too schizophrenically from the Chippendales moment for the boys when they whip their trousers off near the start, to the dramatic denouement as Don José stabs Carmen at the end. Along the way there is a great deal of flamenco (naturally) and deeply respectful – yet somewhat interminable – homages to Kenneth MacMillan in classical pas de deux for Carmen with Don José, as well as, Escamillo. Rodion Shchedrin’s arrangement of Bizet’s original music is intriguing though it sounded rather percussive from the small orchestra playing live under Paul Murphy, yet still sounding like a recording that it might just as well have been

There are hints along the way of the story’s love triangle of passion, jealousy and revenge, but it still needs to lose about 15 of its 60 minutes. It is played out – in Tim Hatley’s eclectic costumes – on a virtually bare stage dominated by a backdrop with a huge red circle (a bullring?) frequently occupied by the ominous figure of Carlos Luis Blanco’s Bull (fate?) who eventually takes the dead Carmen away. There is a strong beginning with Carmen dancing alluringly within a semi-circle of men, who slowly strip off their clothes, followed by a duet for the captured Carmen and Don José, when it is he who is more the prisoner behind the bars of the cell with see than she is.

Acosta Danza can be proud of their company achievement with this Carmen. Laura Rodríguez was the captivating – in more senses than one – Carmen with Javier Rojas doing his best impression of a young Carlos Acosta as Don José (the role he danced himself when he first staged it at Covent Garden). The great man was the toreador Escamillo who did not appear until 40 minutes into the ballet and then Acosta virtually danced everyone off the stage in the brief moments he was there. This ‘celebration’ needed much more of him and that sort of visceral excitement.

Jim Pritchard

For more about Carlos Acosta – A Celebration click here.

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