According to the man himself, the challenge facing any new contemporary dance company is how to carve a niche, how to set itself apart from well-established competition, such as the Rambert. The approach chosen here, is to make the most of the Cuban sense of rhythm and the ability to express a range of emotions through movement. It is also to find / train dancers who can handle both ballet and contemporary dance technique.
For all this, however, there is no escaping the fact that the success of a company rests on the ability of the artistic director to select the right blend of dancers, and to put together programmes which both showcase their diverse talents and have wide audience appeal. On tonight’s evidence, the reputation of Carlos Acosta the artistic director may one day rival the enduring reputation of the man as dancer.
Debut is a collection of five outstanding pieces of choreography combining for a memorable night in the Lyric theatre at the Lowry.
As the curtain rises on Marianela Boán’s “El Cruce Sobre El Niágara”, a combination of a gasp and a nervous giggle escapes the mouth of a woman seated to my right (not my plus one, I must make clear). More of this, later.
The piece is beautiful and compelling, performed at a measured, considered pace. Two men, sparsely clad—one standing upstage left, the other, his back to the audience, lying foetally, downstage right. The standing dancer, Carlos Luis Blanco, has the most imposingly developed calf, thigh and gluteal muscles I can recall seeing on a male dancer (hence the suppressed gasp-giggle). He moves, cautiously yet with purpose, traversing the stage towards the prone figure. It is as though he is warily, yet determinedly, walking a tightrope.
This is the motif of the piece; deliberate, considered movement—sometimes solo, sometimes pas de deux—always strong and graceful. Once or twice, they wobble, almost fall (it is part of the choreography). The lasting image is of masculine strength used to aid and lift and catch and carry, each the other, in that perilous trek across the crashing void. An opener to savour aesthetically (and clearly, for some, erotically).
Justin Peck’s “Belles-Lettres” has nine dancers (four couples and a catalytic solo) bursting joyously onto the stage like spring flowers (Mary Katrantzou’s costumes are so delicious—you can almost smell the blossoms). Such is the energy that there are a couple of minor collisions early on, but the piece is performed with such exuberance, we hardly notice. This short ballet is all about release and love, giving a lift to the spirits of the entire auditorium. By the finale, the female dancers have literally let their hair down in a celebration of the joy of living. The difficult emotions stirred in the opener now find release in a delighted cheer from the crowd. Interval.
“We’re hoping for more bottoms. We’re not used to bottoms like that,” enthuses the woman to my right, just prior to curtain up on part two. This ranks among the more unusual interval exchanges in the experience of this reviewer. From mutterings in the bar, it must be acknowledged, she was not alone in this sentiment.
Goyo Montero’s “Imponderable” opens the second half of the show; a fascinating ensemble piece with dancers and set draped in black. Lighting and sound are an integral part of this choreography. Folk music and spoken word by Silvio Rodriguez ("Cuba’s John Lennon" as described by Acosta) features, and is then transformed by more menacing synthesised inspirations by Canadian composer Owen Belton. While diffuse white light falls from above onto the backdrop, stage level beams from the wings and, ultimately, hand-held torches complete the illumination. The synchronisation of movement is excellent. Programme notes suggest Montero’s intent to capture "the incomprehensible, the indescribable" and indeed, the piece carries a blend of the ominous and the hopeful to good effect.
The Salford audience could not be happier when “Mermaid” (choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) opens, for it features the much-loved Acosta himself, in a tender and moving pas de deux with Marta Ortega. In red dress and pointe shoes instead of a tail, Ortega’s mermaid is truly out of her element. She clasps an empty wine glass and, whenever Acosta steps away, she totters and shakes. Water falls, drop by drop, but though as he attempts to gather it in the glass, this never looks nearly enough to comfort her. She is all neediness and vulnerability. Ortega rolls and shudders with elegance and Acosta, generously takes the supporting role. There is a lasting sadness and futility doled out here. A fish out of water, or a woman who cannot stand on her own two feet?
The evening closes with the tremendously fun “Twelve” (Jorge Crecio’s concept, developed with Fernando Babera). It’s a bit of a party piece for the young company. Twelve dancers lob plastic bottles of liquid to each other, (mostly) catch them and lob them back or at someone else. That’s the essence of it. The programme describes it as "an exclusive recreation", which more or less captures it. It’s highly playful, but includes a good deal of complex patterns of motion being woven by the dancers. That is to say, it goes beyond just kids having fun, whilst still being kids having fun.
It is possible that, should the company ever get through this piece without dropping a single bottle, a chain of events will be set in motion leading to the premature end of the entire universe—but I wouldn’t lose sleep over that possibility, because it’s never going to happen (catching all the bottles, that is).
As a dance piece, “Twelve” is the company shouting to its audience, "haven’t we had a ball tonight?" To which we can only shout back, "yes!"
Acosta Danza are here to stay and Salford is very, very happy to know it.
Reviewer: Martin Thomasson