This was indeed a case of Up Close and personal with five intimate pieces variously dosed with Cuban fire and flair, served up in the chummy environment of the Linbury Theatre. Two were duets, two were solos and even the larger group piece was essentially a sequence of small-scale dances.
Carlos Acosta formed the company that bears his name around the time of his retirement from The Royal Ballet, in 2016, and this tour comes hot on the heels of the great dancer entering a new career phase as he takes up the role of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s artistic director. There’s a statement of intent in this varied programme making it clear that Acosta Danza is here to stay. Anyone who has seen Yuli, the docu-film of Acosta’s life, will know that he has always harboured a desire to rehabilitate Havana’s long-abandoned National School of Arts and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he achieves this ambition as a future home for Acosta Danza.
In the meantime, the company made do with this temporary residency at the Linbury, prior to a Dance Consortium tour of the UK in March and April. The choice of work showcased the dynamic athleticism of these extraordinary dancers, none more so than in the opening male duet, El Cruce Sobre El Niàgara (Crossing the Niagara) by Marienella Boán in which Carlos Luis Blanco and Alejandro Silva traverse a thin corridor of light, initially in back-to-back solos and then together, each wearing nothing but a flimsy skin-coloured thong and an expression of intense concentration. This focus represented a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls in movement that was necessarily slow, deliberate and requiring immense strength and balance. Although Boán wrenched as much diversity as possible from approximating dance on a tightrope, the work was rather longer than the material merited.
By contrast, next came an explosion of pure, happy dance, performed by Zeleidy Crespo – who just radiates an enticing energy – in a seven minute solo that left me wanting much more. With Impronta, Catalan choreographer, María Rovira, has captured a folk-infused dynamism that Crespo articulates with warmth, continuing her entertaining performance through the curtain call.
After the interval, there was a rare opportunity to see the work of Rafael Bonachela, much missed here since moving to Australia. His relationship duet was set partly to the ranchera songs of Chavela Vargas (her La Llorona featured in Broken Wings and three of them are in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s full length follow-up, Frida). The Spanish word for a weeping woman (llorona) features strongly in the lyrics and by proving that there is no such thing as a new move in choreography, I realised that the striking image of a woman taking her partner onto her shoulder and then with a shrug, depositing him on the floor had been seen before. Soledad (Loneliness) was made in 2006 but this move returned in the contemporary duet choreographed by Bonachela for Drew McOnie and Hayley Newton to Lady Gaga’s Speechless back in Season 1 of So You Think You Can Dance (2010). If it works make it count again! It must have worked because I remember it clearly a decade after the TV programme in which it featured.
The group piece was Mundo Interpretado by young Brazilian Choreographer, Juliano Nunes. It possesses a fluid choreographic structure, jumbling the five dancers into every kind of configuration, through this joyous work to the music of José Gavilondo and with a light structure that rose and fell, cutting the vertical space and adding to the intimacy of the event. The dancers were amazing (Crespo again to the fore) and although some of the dances were poetically crafted, there were duller moments within a 25-minute piece that might have been better tightened to twenty.
Just as in the transition between the first two pieces, this longer work was followed by one that was over far too quickly but since it was Russell Maliphant’s Two, which has previously served Dana Fouras and Sylvie Guillem so well, we knew what we were getting and for how long! It is a perfect piece for Acosta to perform at this stage in his career; trapped in Michael Hulls’ box of light, driven along by Andy Cowton’s accelerating score to repeat simple actions with an increasing intensity.
Two serves Acosta as it did Guillem, a vehicle that enables him to maximise the excitement within a confined arena and without any significant travel. He may be alone for these seven minutes but here is a Gladiator and we are all the better for having this one more chance to catch him in action.
Lab/ Taked from Cubasi