Carlos Acosta: A Classical Farewell – Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Reviewer: Laura Bateman

Carlos Acosta is one of the greatest ballet dancers of his generation. Born in Havana, he trained at the National Ballet School of Cuba and has since danced with the world’s most prestigious ballet companies. He joined The Royal Ballet as a Principal in 1998 and retired in 2015 after seventeen years with the company. This tour marks his farewell to ballet prior to the launch of his own company, Acosta Danza, and it is a celebratory, if slightly underwhelming, final chapter in the star’s classical career.

The show is a mixed bill of classical and contemporary works, featuring ten Cuban rising stars alongside Acosta. The first act features excerpts from five of ballet’s greatest classical works: Petipa’s Swan Lake, Bournonville’s La Sylphide, MacMillan’s Winter Dreams (based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters), Fokine’s The Dying Swan and Vaganova’s La Esmeralda, and the sumptuous scores are rousingly performed by the Manchester Camerata. The second act features several contemporary pieces, including Ben Stevenson’s End of Time pas de deux, Raúl Reinoso’s Anadromous, and a pas de deux from Acosta’s own Carmen, which recently premiered at The Royal Opera House.

It is a varied and well-constructed programme but surprisingly lacking in spark and grandeur; that Acosta himself appears in only three of the twelve vignettes makes him seem like a guest in his own production. However, the dancers cope well with the demands of the different styles and there is strong emerging talent on display. In the first act, Gabriela Lugo is particularly moving as Odette in the Swan Lake pas de deux and as The Dying Swan, while Déborah Sánchez and Javier Rojas charm in La Sylphide. There is a little too much posturing in the Winter Dreams pas de deux, but Acosta delights alongside partner Sánchez in the virtuous Diana and Actaeon pas de deux from La Esmeralda.

The dancers seem surer of themselves in the second act; Sánchez and Enrique Corrales furl and unfurl with ease in the End of Time pas de deux, while Laura Rodríguez and Luis Valle (the strongest of the young men) give a masterclass in acting through dance in the Carmen excerpt. There is a peculiar Parisian section which doesn’t quite hit the mark, but Lugo returns to impress in ethereal, abstract solo Anadromous. The entire company unites for the final vignette, the Majisimo from Le Cid (choreographed by Georges Garcia), and Acosta remains as dynamic and precise as his younger supporting artists. There are some peculiar costume choices (particularly the dappled unitards for End of Time), but there is excellent lighting design from Chris Davey, notably in End of Time and Anadromous.

The evening has a celebratory atmosphere, and it is clear that Acosta still has plenty to give in the next stages of his career. His farewell tour is an unselfish showcase for emerging Cuban talent, all of whom have the potential to follow in his celebrated footsteps, but Acosta’s absence from the stage for three-quarters of the production means the evening lacks the dynamism to make this a truly memorable farewell.

Runs until 4 May 2016 and on tour | Image: Johan Persson

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