Acosta Danza Up Close: El cruce sobre el Niágara / Impronta / Soledad / Mundo Interpretado / Two

Choreography Marianela Boán, Maria Rovira, Rafael Bonachela, Juliano Nunes, Russell Maliphant
Acosta Danza
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House
to

Carlos Acosta, a man of many talents (formerly principal of the Royal Ballet), responsibilities (head of Birmingham Royal Ballet just one of them), and charm—when does he find the time to fit it all in, and still give the occasional performance?

He stints at nothing. Next month, his Cuban company, Acosta Danza, is starting its ten-venue tour of Evolution (seen at Sadler’s Wells last November), yet he manages to slip in over a week in February—Up Close at the Linbury—to showcase eight of his dancers in five varied numbers.

El Cruce Sobre El Niágara (The Crossing Over Niagara) by Marianela Boán was part of his 2017 Debut programme, but seeing it again in such closeness just blows you away. It’s an anatomy lesson if nothing else. Two naked (flesh-coloured jockstraps), beautiful, strong, muscular bodies (such definition) show their strength, elegance, poise, power and close partnering work. Stoic, tender, shadow and mirror, they bear each other’s weight effortlessly.

I hold my breath for twenty-four minutes in wonder at the physicality, the definition of each tiny shift of movement in Boán’s refined choreography. A man lies curled up in a spot—a Bacon portrait—another man moves deliberately towards him, negotiating balance and the pitfalls of a tightrope walk so realistically one can almost see the rope.

Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time adds to the airy suspense. “In homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse”, it’s now wonder I see Jacob Epstein’s monumental alabaster sculpture Jacob and the Angel animating before my eyes, as Carlos Luis Blanco takes the weight of the rescued Alejandro Silva. Strength and ballast, two are stronger than one. Cool, calm and collected, but the amount of work that must go into achieving that…

Another astonishing, tall, body takes over in Impronta—Zeleidy Crespo. Seven minutes of contortionist twists, bends, knots, and fluidity. Her blue dress, designed by Crespo, swirls to the moves under ten spotlights raining dappled light on this magical creature.

Rafael Bonachela’s seventeen-minute Soledad is a relationship narrative. A chair, a standard lamp, and a couple argue passionately through the night, running through a gamut of moods. Not without moments of humour: she carries him on her shoulder then lightly shrugs him off.

To Chavela Vargas singing two emotive Mexican songs (La Llorona—the Weeping Woman used by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's in her Frida Kahlo ballet Broken Wings) and Gideon Kramer’s Hommage à Piazzolla, a couple dressed in black batter each other with fierce emotions. Mario Elías and Laura Rodríguez each give as good as they get.

The world première of Mundo Interpretado (Interpreted World), a new twenty-five-minute work by Juliano Nunes, inspired by Glenda Leon’s work (set and costume design) Every Flower is a shape of time, is possibly too long if powerful and sincere.

Six sturdy dancers, three male, three female, in unisex black long-sleeved leotards, seem to symbolize the compact petals of the flower heads suspended over the stage, now lit white, now red. The dancers are amazing, giving it their all.

Tightly knit, part of a bigger organism than themselves, “eternal and ephemeral”, again the human form is celebrated. In phalanx, they dance as one, heartbeats synchronised, rhythmic, shoulders shrug, pliés deep, bodies flexible.

The sound of the sea, and they are the surging waves. Two men lift a girl, is she a mermaid? She dives off a man’s back. They split and reform, organic, evanescent. Battles and reunions, chest bumps, and jazzy duets. Why one of the women returns on pointes is not clear.

I can’t wait for the final number: Acosta (up close) in Russell Maliphant’s Two, created for his wife Dana Fouras in 1997/8. I’ve seen Fouras and Sylvie Guillem and Carys Stanton perform it, but not a male body. Guillem’s performance was unforgettable, and that is the benchmark for me. Will the great man measure up to it? Well, it’s different…

Martial arts inflected moves, meditative t’ai chi, Acosta looks very much the warrior in his austere black, but the quicksilver flicks I remember are not there yet. Beautiful arms, long fingers, but his powerfully built body resists the fluidity Guillem found in the work. Too cautious perhaps, too controlled. It’s all there but I sense tension (must be all the balls he’s juggling in his life) where there should be serenity. All the same, it brings the house down, as it should. What a man!

Eighty minutes of superlative dancing, uplifting music, an interesting programme and Carlos dancing himself… what more could we want. I go home very happy.

Reviewer: Vera Liber