Review: Carlos Acosta in Premieres Plus at London Coliseum

Performance: 27 - 30 July 2011
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 29 July 2011

Carlos Acosta 'Premieres Plus' Photo: Johan Persson

The journey from dancer to director is a path that Carlos Acosta treads very carefully. As he recently demonstrated in front of 12,000 people at the O2, performing Romeo last month, he is still – at 38 – a powerful and expressive dancer but, since 2003, Acosta has been developing (and dancing in) his own projects: often to great acclaim but, exactly one year ago, meeting with less than positive reviews for his ‘Premieres’ show at the London Coliseum. I was one of few critics that liked the 2010 show and I love even more the fact that Acosta has returned to it, a year later, eliminating the parts that didn’t gel with the rest (the opening solos and 3D film being the main casualties of the rearrangement). His refit has turned ‘Premieres Plus’ into a more holistic work, becoming essentially one long duet with Zenaida Yanowsky – interrupted only by a well-timed interval – in which each work flows seamlessly into the next.

The outcome has a beautiful, serene, even spiritual quality that made this evening into the dance equivalent of an enchanting Evensong at Westminster Abbey: a celestial effect emphasised by the outstanding quality of music throughout, culminating in the Pegasus Choir – milling around the two dancers like an opera chorus – singing Morten Lauridsen‘s haunting O Magnum Mysterium. Although the early film of Acosta in a bar and a kitchen was jettisoned, the gorgeous black & white 800 frame-per-second piece by Simon Elliott (entitled ‘Falling Deep Inside‘), featuring Acosta and Yanowsky, as tastefully naked as possible, tenderly embracing, amusingly gurning and splashing around in crystal-clear water. The musculature of their bodies filmed in such slow motion is arresting – the effect of Yanowsky’s calf muscles bracing and releasing for plié and jump was especially vivid – and the film sits perfectly within a work that refreshes as completely as the relief from a heatwave by being doused with chilled, minty-fresh water.

Amongst the welcome revivals was Acosta’s superb timing in Russell Maliphant‘s iconic ‘Two’, fixed within a square of light, constrained by space but nonetheless moving with a distinctive feline grace. This quality of silky, slinky, slow movement, like the gentle flow of a velvet cape, was also present in his interpretation of fellow-Cuban, Miguel Altunaga‘s ‘Memoria’ (which was danced by Altunaga in Acosta’s 2009 show) and – not being anyone’s second billing – Yanowsky delivered the same arresting qualities in Kim Brandstrup‘s glorious ‘Footnote to Ashton‘ – danced solely in the uplight of 100 candles arranged around the stage – and in the only entirely new piece, ‘Sirin‘, made for her by brother, Yuri (a Principal with the Boston Ballet; and incidentally, her sister, Nadia dances with the Dutch National Ballet. Quite a family).

The ‘Plus’ that differentiates this performance from that of a year ago was the opening duet, ‘On Before‘, a reworking of a piece made on Yanowsky (and William Trevett) by her former partner, Will Tuckett, which is a poetic essay governed by the simple rigour of ballet classicism in a dance that manages both to be free and disciplined; and one which could only be performed by exceptional dancers who can command both these capabilities. Acosta and Yanowsky are perfectly attuned both to these demands and each other and thus ‘Premieres Plus’ starts with a bang and not the whimper of a year before. This synergy is reprised later, during the second half, in Edwaard Liang‘s ‘Sight Unseen‘, another excellent pas de deux repeated from the 2010 show.

A cynic might say that Acosta is merely regurgitating large tracts of his past shows but, in being the “Tinker man”, he has taken a show that didn’t quite work and made it into one that deserves a full fist of stars. Brilliant, uplifting entertainment from two of the best dancers we have. A pleasure from beginning to end.

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