Carlos Acosta and Guests @ Coliseum, London

cast list
Carlos Acosta, Miguel Altunaga, Begona Cao, Florencia Chinellato, Veronica Corveas, Amilcar Moret, Roberta Marquez, Pieter Symonds, Steven McRae, Arionel VargasAnyone thinking the ‘…and Guests’ title suggests a glitzy show full of pot boilers from major ballets should think again.

This is because Carlos Acosta and Guests, which enjoys five performances at the Coliseum this week, includes creations from choreographers whose work is seldom seen in London, some entirely new versions of pieces, and, perhaps surprisingly, not a single excerpt from Giselle or Swan Lake.

The show is very much Acosta’s, who became a Principal Guest Artist of the Royal Ballet in 2003, but not in the way one might suppose.

Acosta does not hog the limelight, but only he perhaps could have brought together such a splendid line-up of dancers who between them excel across a broad spectrum of ballet styles.

Some might claim that a show full of short pieces, where certain dances are inevitably performed out of context, can never be as strong as a full-length ballet. Here, however, the programme is so beautifully crafted that the production possesses its own ‘from studio to stage’ concept, whilst the dances performed are so disparate in nature that we experience as wide a range of textures and emotions as we might in a two-hour ballet.

As the superb Royal Ballet Sinfonia, under the baton of Paul Murphy, strikes up the Overture to Shostakovich’s Romance from the Gadfly, all the dancers are seen walking onto the bare stage and warming up for a rehearsal. This ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse is a reminder of the hard work and endeavour that saw Acosta go from rags (he was born into poverty in Havana) to riches, and the rehearsal theme is continued throughout the early dances.

The first of these, Rachmaninoff’s Three Preludes choreographed by Ben Stevenson, tells of the developing relationship between two dancers in the rehearsal studio. Begona Cao and Arionel Vargos imbue the pair with an innocent romanticism, and the couple frequently mirror each other’s actions, tentatively moving closer to each other, only to have to part again when their rehearsal piece requires it. Particularly impressive are the way in which Cao stands so light on the beam, and the ease with which Vargas lifts her so that she appears to float in mid-air, merely linked to Vargas by his arms, with no suggestion that he is actually supporting her.

This is followed by Amadeo Roldan’s Ritmicas, choreographed by Ivan Tenorio, which presents a different couple in the academic classroom. Possessing a strong Cuban rhythm, and flashy, seductive edge, it both emulates and contrasts with Preludes, with Veronica Corveas and Miguel Altunaga frequently coming together to appear almost as one body from which eight limbs protrude and writhe.

But nothing can prepare the audience for Acosta’s two highly athletic solos from Spartacus, which he performed with the Bolshoi Ballet in 2007. Cutting through air, time and space with the speed and slickness of a bullet, and yet making his shoulders stand square and large as he turns, he presents an unmissable turn. I never saw Nureyev in the flesh, but I imagine that, in terms of experience, this is as close as I might ever come.

In the second half, Acosta is equally impressive in The Dying Swan. He is on stage for several minutes before the music begins, his arms swaying so ethereally in the wind that their presence transcends that of the body they are attached to, whilst in the dance itself he curls up tight in a millisecond to roll over.

Elsewhere, Florencia Chinellato and Amilcar Moret perform Act One’s Pas de deux from Othello, and it is interesting to see such a slow piece also being such a physical one, requiring many twists and turns of the body as Desdemona unravels a silk scarf from around Othello’s waist. The evening also presents some more modern works, such as a serenely glittering take on Gershwin’s Summertime with the lyrics sung by Hannah Richmond from the Maida Vale Singers. Chinellato is also captivating in Over There, taken from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, whilst Altunaga’s performance of Memoria, which he created especially for the evening, is just one further highlight.

And yet, despite all of the performances being so strong, Acosta’s own stand out from amongst them. Of course, he has two opportunities to shine in his solos, but even in the strong ensemble pieces, Canto Vital and Majisimo, he leaves his mark. Saying this is not intended as a criticism of the other truly remarkable dancers who all contribute so superlatively to the evening, but rather as a way of illustrating just how great this man really is. If you have ever claimed that Acosta is ‘good, but not that good’, a trip to the Coliseum this week might make you change your mind.

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