Review: Carlos Acosta - Cubania - Royal Opera House

Performance: 27 July - 2 August, 2015
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Tuesday 28 July 2015

Cubania - 'Sight Unseen', Royal Opera House. Photo: ©ROH / Bill Cooper

Performance reviewed: 27 July

The end is almost nigh for Carlos Acosta’s classical ballet career – he says he’ll finish next year – but the Royal Ballet’s Cuban dynamo has no intention of giving up dance. Cubanía, which premiered last year at the Royal Opera House, is another of the curated evenings he’s been assembling for some time now, with mixed results. And mixed is the best way to describe this night, comprised of four short, rather disjointed pieces in the first half and Acosta’s own Tocororo Suite in the second.

Acosta has championed Cuban dancer turned choreographer Miguel Altunaga before: commissioned piece Derrumbe (meaning ‘collapse’) unites Acosta with former Rambert star Pieter Symonds for a bitter tussle of a dance, which charts a disintegrating relationship, full of pulls, pushes, shoves, grappling, sharp edges and abruptly curtailed movement to a screeching atonal score. There are also a lot of clothes being flung about, ripped off and dropped on to the stage, which works only fitfully as a pointer to domestic disarray. But Acosta and Symonds have enough charisma to build up a convincing toxic energy, as his attempts at reconciliation are once, twice, three times rebuffed, until he’s finally felled by grief (and a mountain of clothes falling suddenly on to the stage).

Flux is a work made on Cuban dancer Alexander Varona by Russell Maliphant. Here, for some reason, it doesn’t seem to catch fire. Maybe it’s the imposing, velvet-swathed ROH main stage that does for it, as there is an insistent intimacy to this minimalist solo. Varona finds a languorous pace through the driving rhythms of the music, skilfully describing gyroscopic circles within a single spotlight. But in previous mixed bills, Acosta has delivered a devastatingly good take on Maliphant’s Two, and I couldn’t help thinking wistfully of that.

Ecuación, a signature work by Danza Contemporánea de Cuba’s George Céspedes, was included in Acosta’s Carlos in Cuba evening back in 2008. Four DCC dancers (three women and one man) perform something akin to a choreographic equation within a metal frame – each first presents a series of moves singly and in silence, then with thrusting athleticism they add and subtract themselves from the now brightly lit cube, laying claim to the space with strong, clear lines, and coming together in tight, fluid geometries, with nods to South Asian dance flecked across the surface of the piece. It would have been nice if it had built up through a definite trajectory but this is a robust enjoyment of the possibilities in group dynamics.

Edwaard Liang’s Sight Unseen is also a retread: it was part of Acosta’s Premieres night in 2010. It’s not entirely clear what the Cuban link is with this piece, apart from the fact that the exquisite violin playing comes from Omar Puente. But it’s always a pleasure to see Acosta and Zenaida Yanowsky dance together, and Sight Unseen’s yearning second-half duet reminds you that Acosta’s retirement is going to come as quite a blow to a few of the Royal’s principal ballerinas. Liang’s work is really rather flightily insubstantial, but Acosta’s tender partnering lets Yanowsky unfurl the full length of her extraordinary limbs in glorious, gasp-inducing extensions.

Tocororo is Acosta’s baby; his first original choreography, created back in 2003, with a semi-autobiographical storyline and lashings of Cuban spirit. He reconfigured it as a ‘suite’ for Carlos in Cuba and it’s in this form that it appears here again, adapted further for the Covent Garden stage. Despite being shorter, the narrative throughline seems even more sparse, as country-boy Carlos, who can only dance classical ballet, arrives in Havana and is jeered at by the crowd who follow El Moro (Varona, reprising his role), but learns to shake his thang thanks to the love of a good woman (Verónica Corveas). It desperately needs a dramaturg to smooth out an abundance of rough edges and whisk away awkward, obvious time-filling. But it’s a good-natured piece that really celebrates Cuban culture, in a way that maybe only someone in voluntary exile could. The high-energy ensemble pieces, which the DCC dancers throw themselves into with gusto, blend contemporary skills with popular dance moves and a touch of humour, and the live on-stage band lifts the mood with some enthusiastically loud accompaniment. Acosta and Corveas bring a real sweetness to their duets. And Varona’s swaggering kingpin is like a glorious incarnation of Chango, the santería orisha linked to revelry, womanising, drumming and dance. Which may explain the somewhat saccharine ending: Acosta may thrash El Moro in the climactic dance-off, thanks to his faint-inducing fouettes (which, at 42, he still pulls off like a dream), but it doesn’t do to infuriate an orisha, hence the camaraderie between them and good cheer all round as the curtain falls.

Cubania continues at Royal Opera House until Sunday 2 August



Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily

Photos: ©ROH / Bill Cooper

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