Artistic Director: Carlos Acosta
Choreography: Marianela Boàn, Justin Peck, Goyo Montero, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Jorge Crecis
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Carlos Acosta created Acosta Danza in 2015 to harness and showcase young Cuban dancers with skills in both classical and contemporary dance and to create a diverse repertoire that reflects at its core choreographers from the Spanish-speaking world.
Acosta’s immense star power has given his nascent company an immediate high profile and access toresources. The company performed for the first time in Cuba in April 2016 and autumn 2017 marks the company’s UK debut – in the form of Debut.
The programme contains five works designed to showcase Acosta’s eight male and six female Cuban dancers. The show commences with a vintage piece of Cuban choreography from legendary choreographer and founder of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Marianela Boàn. El Cruce Sobre el Niàgara (The Crossing Over Niagara) is a 1987 work based on an award-winning Peruvian play about 19th century aerialist Blondin crossing Niagara with a young man named Carlo on his shoulders. This duet by Carlos Luis Blanco and Alejandro Silva is an impressive display of masculine strength, control and balance: two people learning to work as one body, one mind. Slow-moving and somewhat ponderous, it’s not helped by the alternately lugubriously mournful or messily modern Olivier Messiaen score. Boldly (and barely) costumed in flesh-toned thongs, this is a daring start but as the pair make their way slowly towards the setting sun it’s enough.
Belles-Lettres by Justin Peck, resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, is a 2014 short modern ballet for nine dancers set to music by César Franck. The classical dance skills on display are rather lovely and there is a pleasing series of pas de deux punctuating the circular formation of the group sections, however this appears to be dance for its own artistic sake and very much in the American ballet style, which can look rather dated to European eyes.
The second half of the programme opens with Imponderable by Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero. Exploring the nature of the incomprehensible, the unmeasurable, the indescribable, this expansive group work is a much more exciting prospect. With its exploratory, questioning nature and intelligent score by Owen Belton utilising the music of Cuban folk musician Silvio Rodriguez, Imponderable gives the dancers their own individual choreographies which are then pulled into thrilling group formations making full use of the space. Some of the men look less comfortable with this deconstructed style of dance but the piece gives soloist Julio León the opportunity to shine with his animalistic, broken and fearless style. He’s not afraid to get messy and it’s beautiful.
The piece is strongly lit by Goyo Montero and Olaf Lundt, with banks of floor lights and great use made of darkness, shadow and extravagant clouds of haze, including handheld haze machines which make individual dancers transform and de- and re-materialize. The piece ends lit entirely with high lumen handheld torches, which creates a powerful visual spectacle full of danger and intensity.
Mermaid by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is his first new work for the company after his Faun was brought into the repertoire. Mermaid is a duet created on Marta Ortega and Carlos Acosta himself. Considering the origins and meaning of a(nother) mythical creature, the mermaid is made a fish out of water by the addition of pointe shoes. Ortega is outstanding with her languid, fluid body struggling to stand and falling endlessly through immaculate lifts supported by Acosta, who is protecting someone helpless from harm. The clear indication that the mermaid is drunk however is slightly problematic – and she stumbles off and returns barefoot but still helpless. But Ortega is wonderful and Cherkaoui’s use of modern Korean music by Woojae Park is inspired: although the insertion of some over-familiar Erik Satie spoils the mood a little.
Closer, Twelve, by Jorge Crecis, another Spaniard, reworked from his own 36, is a sport-themed piece for twelve dancers: a mathematical puzzle, a display of skill and risk and probability. Twelve is a thrill-ride that features a lot of throwing of internally-lit plastic bottles with sometimes pleasing abandon. At its most interesting when creating patterns and redefining the space, endless throwing and juggling of bottles soon becomes wearing, although the dropping of the odd bottle blurs the display of skill pleasingly, despite the audience’s groans. The work is also reminiscent of Wim Vandekeybus’s What The Body Does Not Remember, where they more dangerously and thrillingly hurl breeze blocks at one another.
The audience generally loved this exciting piece of physical showmanship, which was admirably complex and breakneck: but the moments where it threatened to evolve into not throwing bottles were the most interesting. Vincenzo Lamagna’s score is powerful but it’s arguably an empty crowd-pleaser – the kind that works well after a heavy programme of serious dance.
Acosta Danza: some amazing dancers, not all entirely comfortable with classical and contemporary. An odd programme of new and older works. Debut manages to combine looking cutting edge with looking slightly dated. The skills and breadth of work on display is admirable but the programme would benefit from some greater consideration. Carlos Acosta’s farewell tours suffered from the same tendency to stuff too much in: to showcase everything. The company has a strong conceptual grounding in intention and place, but it is yet to establish any artistic style or direction. But early days.
Runs until 14 October | Image: Contributed