Review: Carlos Acosta in Premieres at London Coliseum

Performance: 28 July - 7 August 2010
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 30 July 2010

Carlos Acosta Premieres
London Coliseum 28 July - 7 August 2010

Reviewed: 29 July

Carlos Acosta is the only current ballet dancer remotely close to being a household name in the UK. It’s a celebrity that has been hard won over 20 years of dedication to his art and – in recent years – by loosening the balletic leash to create feel-good shows that owe much to his Cuban roots. With this new production, Acosta gambles with his fame to explore dance in an entirely new way and for the best of all reasons – in memory of his mother. It’s an admirable and worthwhile risk but one that was always going to incite the potential for becoming the victim of his own celebrity.

Another risk was to fill the largest theatre in London with essentially a two-person show as Acosta and Royal Ballet Principal Zenaida Yanowsky, were the only dancers in the programme. They were joined on stage – for a part of the second Act – by the Pegasus Choir, whose heavenly voices, backlit within a mist of dry ice for maximum impact, made the singing of Morten Lauridsen’s *O Magnum Mysterium* a significant – and very moving – conclusion; and also by effective 3D digital animation and a film *Falling Deep Inside*, shot at 800 frames per second, which captured the naked Olympian muscularity of these two athletic bodies as well as their slow-motion, morphed facial gurnings while water splashed into them at speeds so slow that every droplet was a crystal stone. Having recently enjoyed David Michalek’s_ Slow Dancing_ (shot at 1,000 frames per second) screened outside in Trafalgar Square, it’s clear that we are beginning to experience the tip of an iceberg for the potential of fast film and dance.

The danced content was provided by two book-ends of work by George Céspedes, the young resident choreographer of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, in which Acosta himself was credited as co-creator of the end piece. These were wrapped around three pre-existing works that have been re-cast for this show: Russell Maliphant’s Two, made over a decade ago and subsequently remodelled on different dancers, including Sylvie Guillem; a reprise of Kim Brandstrup’s solo for Yanowsky – *Footnote to Ashton* – from 2005 and Edwaard Liang’s *Sight Unseen*, originally made for Hubbard Street 2 in Chicago.

Each of the revivals was a welcome return, performed beautifully, but the let-down of the evening lay in the work by Céspedes (and Acosta). The beginning was essentially two back-to-back solos for Acosta (*Finding Himself*), dressed in white t-shirt and jeans and Yanowsky in a short summer dress and the sort of shoes that my mum used to call “pumps” (*Ghost of The Memory*). The choreography was diverse – including some simple breaking and locking – and concentrated on sequences of isolated moving body parts. It was easy to appreciate the intent of these works, effectively linked back to the dreamlike quality of the preceding 3D imagery with first Acosta, isolated within a crowd at the bar of the King’s Head, and then both players separately dwarfed in their loneliness within a huge kitchen; the “ghost” of Acosta etched within Yanowsky’s memory as an image of his face covering the ceiling. Clear indications of loss within both solos were moving but the whole remained somehow incomplete and gave an insubstantial feel to the first half that not even a powerful performance, by Acosta, within Michael Hulls‘ magical lighting for Two could dispel.

The second act was where it all dramatically improved, first with the melancholic beauty of Brandstrup’s work (which, if I recall, was vilely interrupted by a fire alarm the last time I saw it at The Place!) in an arresting solo for Yanowsky, performing within an area marked by a 100+ candles. Inspired by the musicality of Sir Frederic Ashton’s choreography, this brief and fluid 8-minute piece contains a diverse range of emotion and simple, lyrical movement such that it’s easy to see why the critics nominated it for a national dance award, five years ago. Liang’s Sight Unseen is unfamiliar to British audiences and was perhaps the most substantial of these short works and certainly the piece most likely to satisfy Acosta’s legion of ballet fans. A simple neoclassical duet, replete with angst and yearning and the only live partnering of the evening, with an emotional resonance that was further emphasised in the striking musical coupling of the Tsinandali Choir and Michael Convertino’s *The Hanging Man*.

It was brave of Acosta to sail his directorial experience into such uncharted, melancholic waters. His evening succeeded in many ways, not least in bringing Yanowsky back to the fore (after a lengthy period of maternity absence), but more profoundly in achieving a significant emotional depth from a well-structured multi-media collaboration. It started with a whimper and some rather muted applause but ended with yet more evidence that Acosta is going to be one of ballet’s most versatile artistic directors in due course. Anyone can stick to what they do best and continue with the same old, same old but it takes real courage to push the envelope in such an unfamiliar direction. In so doing, Acosta may have risked an insignificant papercut or two, but he continues to show a diversity of artistic spirit that greatly enriches the bigger picture.

Premieres continues to 31 July & 4 – 7 August
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