Going for thirty six days without any ballet is quite a challenge for a balletomane, therefore I could not pass up the opportunity of seeing Carlos Acosta & Guests Artists, a mixed ballet bag of short pieces featuring from modern Brandstrup to chic & classical Ashton’s Rhapsody, and ranging from the overdone (a “male” Dying Swan) to the rarely seen (Azary Plisetsky’s Canto Vital & John Neumeier’s Othello).
Given the variety of flavors, it’s a good show for those wishing to sample ballet before committing to full length traditional or modern works. I took my visiting 11 year old niece who had not seen much dance before, she left impressed and willing to return. Acosta makes the right call as he opts for an informal atmosphere. The show opens with the dancers arriving in their leg warmers and changing into performance gear at the deep end of the stage revealing to us what goes on behind the scenes. While “The Ballet Boyz” did the same thing more effectively by streaming a live video from the dressing rooms in their gala a few years ago, this is a budget friendly way to strike the same chord. The evening kicks off just as informally with a barre at centre stage and Stevenson’s Three Preludes segueing into Cuban choreographer Ivan Tenorio’s Ritmicas, a great way to show the contrast in dance classwork, one with soft adagio moves (danced by English National Ballet‘s Principals Begoña Cao and Arionel Vargas) and the other much jazzier, with plenty of speedy turns and modern extensions.
Acosta steps in to show off his Spartacus best in two solos, replacing the well known pas de deux, given Bolshoi’s Nina Kaptsova‘s withdrawal a few weeks ago. The crowd roars but blink and you will miss those jetés and tours à la seconde, which are gone in 60 seconds. Although I understand Acosta’s motives for including a hint of Spartacus in the programme (a crowd-pleaser & also his favorite role) I doubt those in the audience not familiar with this ballet will care to find out more just from seeing a short extract in a vacuum, but in addition to its “wow factor”, Spartacus is certainly an effective gauge to the evening’s high testosterone levels: after Ashton’s lovely Rhapsody Pas de Deux (sadly minus the variations!) we had an Othello (Hamburg Ballet’s Amilcar Moret) wearing nothing but well defined muscles and a scarf, soon unravelled by his Desdemona so that we catch a glimpse of a dance belt (instructive for those who wonder what male dancers wear underneath tights!), followed by “Canto Vital” which I nicknamed “Spartacus x 4“. This particular piece, choreographed to show off Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s best virtuoso dancers, pretends to be about three forces of nature – beast, fish and bird – struggling to survive but in reality it’s like the Neolithic version of Les Lutins without the comedy & the clothes, with plenty of opportunity for the men (Acosta plus Royal Ballet’s Steven McRae, Amilcar Moret and Arionel Vargas) to wear very little and impress us while trying to outdo each other, McRae in particular showing off some seriously juicy double “rondes de jambe en l’air” and leaping 2 storys higher than all the other men combined (Canto Vital can be found on YouTube: here are parts 1 and 2).
The Dying Swan is never going to feature in my personal ballet gala wishlist, it is a piece I dislike in any shape or form (with possibly one exception: this version danced by Igor Kolb) and I was not converted by this particular Michel Descombey version picked by Acosta, to me it seemed more like yoga’s Swan dive than ballet’s Swan death. “Over There” choreographed by Ramon Gomes Reis over Dido’s lament (taped music) reminded me that we had recently seen it better sung and more originally choreographed a few blocks down the road. A few other breezy and fun pieces such as Derek Deane’s Summertime were served until the grand finale (and Cuba’s answer to Don Quixote) with Georges Garcia’s “Majisimo”, which I presumed from the programme note to be a staple at every Acosta & Guests. Majisimo gives the ensemble an opportunity to shine and to end on a high, especially Acosta and his leading lady for the occasion Royal Ballet principal Roberta Marquez. My niece was very impressed by Roberta’s speedy turns (lovely Italian fouettées followed by piqué turns) and I liked how she added flirty Brazilian spice to Acosta’s Cuban charm, a good match. I left the theatre wishing I could see Roberta and Acosta dancing together more often. And even if not every item on the bill was my cup of tea, seeing Acosta & Marquez & McRae in great shape definitely cured my ballet blues!