Carlos Acosta: A Classical Farewell, The Lowry; May 13, 2016

One of the most striking things about this performance on Carlos Acosta’s farewell tour is how little of it he spent on-stage. Not that I’m complaining, the evening was ably filled by the company of Cuban dancers touring with Acosta, and every one of the pieces danced was a delight. The evening started with a celebration of classical ballet, easing us in with relatively familiar material. There were pas de deux from Swan Lake, La Slyphide, and Winter Dreams, followed by The Dying Swan, performed by Gabriella Lugo with all the grace and length one could hope for in that role. Between scenes the backdrop lifted and the dancers were revealed relaxing on sofas, getting changed, or warming up on a barre, performing for glimpses into their offstage world. The final piece before the interval at last brought on Carlos Acosta, wearing a sash, a belt, and a very short (p)leather skirt, for Agrippina Vaganova’s Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. His dancing was amazing even ignoring the skimpiness of his costume and how distracting it tried to be. He held shapes in the air with ease, as though that is just the way one jumps, and as though he is not a man on the verge of retirement. He could strike a pose while also barely stopping, and hang in the air for what felt like an age.

The first half of the evening gave a beautiful overview of classical ballet, with a focus on the pas de deux and the pieces audiences would expect or be easily impressed by. Swan Lake is one of the few ballets to be regularly performed across the UK, and The Dying Swan also has its place in the public consciousness. La Slyphide is relatively popular, and that and Winter Dreams offered drama and romance that were clear to everyone. Though Diana and Actaeon may be a less familiar piece here, Vaganova was an amazingly important choreographer and the pas de deux offered an excellent showcase for Acosta’s leaps. The first half was a crowd-pleaser, with the pieces allocated with generosity by Acosta across his company to display their talents, while also making his own spectacular skill all the more obvious.

It was the second half where things got really exciting though. It opened with Ben Stevenson’s 1984 End of Time pas de deux, which displayed all of the tenderness and sensuality that is only alluded to in the ballets sampled from earlier in the evening. I think my heart broke a little watching it, and the couple got to stay together. It was followed by A Buenos Aires, a tango-inspired dance for two that allowed for the introduction of the first real scenery of the evening – some café tables and chairs across the back of the stage. The setting for the next three dances was Paris, as was made clear by the dance to Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien. The choreography for this one was too literal for my taste, but it was performed with gusto by Ely Regina Hernández and prepared the audience for the next piece – Acosta dancing to Jacques Brel’s Les Bourgeois. Acosta came on-stage miming drunkenness and attempting to start a fight with Hernández, who was escorted off by her fellow dancers. Now that the stage was clear, Acosta could dance a piece as fluid as Vaganova’s Acataeon had been solid. This piece brought tears to my eyes, and I had to remind myself that this was my only chance to see this man in this part, and to wipe them away to see. The interplay of control and looseness, along with Acosta’s exuberant acting and willingness to take the role as far as it went, made this piece one of the most thrilling to watch of the evening.

The next piece was choreographed by Acosta, though he did not dance it, and was a pas de deux from Carmen that again alluded to Spanish influences on ballet. The strength and sensuality of the piece again came from its daring to allude to more than the classical pieces would, while also remaining just as chaste. Laura Rodriguez held on to Luis Valle’s neck and let her legs swing like a pendulum between his, all the while remaining perfectly still and controlled. None of these dances – more sensual, sexier than the earlier ones – let go of that sense of control, they were practiced seductions and partnerships more than wild new romances.

Anadromous came next, a stunning solo piece danced by Gabriella Lugo. The choreography, costume, and lighting all worked together to tell a brief story of private struggle and strength, all with grace but a final surrender. While this did not make me cry, this is a dance I want to see again, and regularly.

The final piece of the show brought all of the company except Lugo back to the stage, for a performance of a piece created for the National Ballet of Cuba called Majisimo. With a distinctly Hispanic style in both dancing and costumes, the piece allowed all of the dancers to work together in a flamboyant and joyous celebration of dance.

The evening as a whole was a celebration not just of Acosta but also of dance, and of Cuba. In addition to the dancers all being Cuban, many of the dances in the second half offered nods to Hispanic dance and dress, with layered skirts offering volume and the distinctly Spanish costumes for Majisimo. The costuming appeared simple but showed attention to detail much as the rest of the show did – a simple sequence of dances that didn’t even feature Acosta for the most part, but a carefully curated selection designed to give everyone what they want, while also giving each of the dancers a chance to shine and offering audiences a chance to see something completely new and unfamiliar to them. This generosity was a large part of what characterised the show, a willingness to share the limelight (Acosta didn’t even take a solo bow), alongside a pride in identity and heritage. It isn’t often you get to see a company of mostly non-white ballet dancers take over the stage, and that should be celebrated too. In short, Carlos Acosta is a beautiful dancer, has a beautiful body he isn’t afraid to show, and we’ll miss him on the stage. Farewell (classically).
Hazel Shaw

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