Carlos at 50

Igor Stravinsky – Apollo
Choreography – George Balanchine
Apollo – Carlos Acosta
Terpsichore – Marianela Nuñez
Polyhymnia – Céline Gittens
Calliope – Lucy Waine

Georges Bizet and Rodión Shchedrín – Carmen
Choreography – Carlos Acosta
Costume Design – Tim Hatley
Laura Rodríguez and Alejandro Silva with Acosta Danza

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake, White Swan pas de deux
Choreography – Lev Ivanov
Designs – Yolanda Sonnabend
Siegfried – Carlos Acosta
Odette – Marianela Nuñez

Riccardo Drigo – Le Corsaire pas de deux
Choreography – Marius Petipa
Yonah Acosta, Laurretta Summerscales

Sergey Rachmaninov (Sonata in G Minor, Third Movement) – End of Time pas de deux
Choreography – Ben Stevenson
Costume Designer – Ben Stevenson
Enrique Corrales, Yaoqian Shang
Antonio Novais (Cello)
Jeanette Wong (Piano)

Richard Wagner – Liebestod
Choreography – Valery Panov
Brandon Lawrence

Jules Massenet orch. Martin Yates – Manon, Bedroom pas de deux

Choreography – Kenneth MacMillan
Designer – Nicholas Georgiadis
Des Grieux – Carlos Acosta
Manon – Marianela Nuñez

Camille Saint-Saëns (Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des Animaux ) – The Dying Swans
Choreography – Carlos Acosta after Mikhail Fokine
Costume Design – Yunet Uranga
Zeleidy Crespo and Mario Sergio Elías

Antonio Novais (Cello)
Jeanette Wong (Piano)

Woojae Park, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Erik Satie – Mermaid
Choreography – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Costume Design – Hussein Chalayan
Carlos Acosta, Laura Rodríguez

Miguel Núñez – Tocoroco
Choreography – Carlos Acosta
Design – Salvatore Forino

Royal Ballet Sinfonia

2 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: G.J. Dowler

Reviewed: 27 July, 2023
Venue: Royal Opera House

Any self-respecting divo must allow himself several farewells at the end of his performing career, so it is unsurprising that, since his retirement from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Carlos Acosta has continued to appear on stages around the country.  What was missing, as he himself writes, was a chance to appear one last time on the Covent Garden stage, the location of many of his performing triumphs, hence a week now of ‘Carlos at 50’ in which he once again pulls on his ballet tights in the company of Royal Ballet star principal and old partner Marianela Nuñez, dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet where he is currently director, and his own Cuban Acosta Danza ensemble.

Magnificent dancer as he once was, Acosta has never shown an ability to create a good or coherent evening’s programme, and he persists in the belief that he is a choreographer, which made ‘Carlos at 50’ a disappointingly bitty, highly variable show.  The best element was the curtain-raiser, a performance of George Balanchine’s 1928 Apollo, albeit shorn of the wonderful birth scene.  What that meant was that the Royal Opera House’s red plush curtains opened on Acosta alone, once again centre stage, strikingly clad in white as the young god, the clocks turned back some twenty years.  He is in remarkably good physical shape – no allowances to be made there – and has lost none of his ability to dominate the stage and fill the auditorium with his personality and presence.  He was ably accompanied by a cooly elegant Nuñez as Terpsichore, Céline Gittens as a slinky, playful Polyhymnia and BRB artist Lucy Waine as an emphatic Calliope. Acosta’s upper body strength is largely gone, so high lifting was out, and his hips have, invariably, lost some flexibility, so Balanchine’s dynamic choreography for the 23-year-old Serge Lifar was subtly altered at times.  What Acosta emphasised by way of recompense was his upper body, plastique and gesture, perhaps bringing his performance a degree closer what was originally intended and has been lost over the decades as dancers have become more athletically gymnastic.  His was no young god, however, more an all-powerful presence entertained by lesser beings; not really what the ballet itself shows, but made valid nonetheless by a superb artist.  A pity then that the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Paul Murphy could not muster more than a somnolent rendition of Stravinsky’s tangy score.

Acosta’s subsequent appearances in duets from Swan Lake (Act II lakeside) and Manon (first bedroom) were less notable, as the passing of the years made itself increasingly apparent.  His heavy-lifting days are over (even with the airy Nuñez) and the almost total absence of over-the-head lifts could not be ignored in both pas de deux. Nuñez worked hard and Acosta – ever the gentlemanly and considerate partner – showed her off to her best advantage, but an impossibly slow tempo in the Swan Lake robbed it of nearly all impact.  Acosta was most at home in the effective Mermaid duet, created for him and Acosta Danza by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, in which he acts as a protector of and saviour to an alcoholic Laura Rodríguez.

In a nod to his virtuoso part and in the spirit of some real nepotism, Acosta engaged his own nephew Yonah to don the loose pants and headband of Ali in the flashy Le Corsaire pas de deux. Young Acosta is currently a principal dancer with Munich’s Bavarian State Ballet, as is his wife Laurretta Summerscales, and they both launched gleefully into the show-off demands of this famous duet which predictably brought the house down.  Brandon Lawrence, a BRB dancer through and through, is about to move to Ballett Zürich, so his appearance was all the more to regretted, given his undeniable stage presence and striking physicality.  That he transcended the ho-hum creakiness of Valery Panov’s overwrought Liebestod solo was testament to his considerable artistry, but even he could not disguise the fact that the choreography is decidedly wonky, Panov showing that while you can take the choreographer out of the Soviet Union, you can’t take the Soviet out of his choreography. The RB Sinfonia seemed to wake up for the Wagner and brought lush sonorities and appropriate swell.

Acosta seems very fond of Ben Stevenson’s End of Time pas de deux, having recently scheduled it for the newly-formed BRB2 junior company.  He owes a lot to Stevenson, the now veteran choreographer and ex-director of Houston Ballet where Acosta was given his first break outside Cuba, but surely there must be better examples of his dance-making.  This over-long, dull duet was made in 1984 but it could have been twenty years earlier, and the dancers are clad in ugly and unflattering mottled body stockings.  The movement, however, was better than Acosta’s own attempts at choreography.  He seems proud of it, which is nice for him, but it is not good.  His Carmen for The Royal Ballet in 2015 was a real turkey, so it was a source of some dismay to find some of it on this programme, a tavern scene involving tables and much posturing which is nothing more than a Caribbean cruise floor show, and a low-wattage Carmen/Don José duet.  Thank goodness that was all there was; the dancers did their best to no effect whatsoever.  The Dying Swans, his riff on Fokine’s 1907 Le Cygne for Pavlova which Acosta refashions as a duo, remains both perplexing and unconvincing, despite the appearance of the magnificent Zeleidy Crespo.

Carlos Acosta has undoubtedly made a mark on the British dance scene, firstly as a star dancer at Covent Garden and then founding and bringing his Cuban company Acosta Danza frequently to these shores.  He has continued to tour the country with contemporary work and has been Director of BRB since 2020; the Acosta Dance Centre opens at Woolwich Arsenal in September.  He has the drive and charm to open doors and chequebooks, and continues to be a force for good in the world of dance.  This programme was, therefore, something of a disappointment, a disjointed if good-natured romp through the different aspects of his dance existence – it simply did not reflect his many achievements.

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