Carlos Acosta

August 1, 2011

“Premieres Plus: The Heart of Carlos”

London Coliseum

London, England

July 28, 2011


Photo by Johan Persson.

Carlos Acosta’s status as a ballet superstar was put to the test by this streamlined and decidedly mixed bill of nine short, sombre works. A revision of last summer’s “Premieres,” the evening seems to have been conceived partly as an early bid for the dashing Cuban (age 38) to reinvent himself as a contemporary dancer à la Baryshnikov and Guillem.

Both halves of the episodic program were presented as a seamless string of mainly po-faced solos and duets for Acosta and his statuesque Royal Ballet colleague, Zenaida Yanowsky. A lapidary mover with a fine, clear sense of dramatic expressivity, she produced much of what glory the night contained. Despite this, it was only Acosta whose name appeared above the title.

Events kicked off—but softly—with William Tuckett’s On Before.  Set to John Adams’ strange, prayerful Christian Zeal and Activity, this measured duet was marked by gently stretchy, looping motion and Rorshach-like mirror imagery. Bare-chested in baggy, high-waisted trousers, Acosta subsequently tried raising the temperature via fellow Cuban Miguel Altunaga’s Memoria. With its floor-bound, stop-on-a dime acrobatics, this vaguely metaphysical solo adequately showcased the dancer’s muscular presence.

It was Yanowsky’s turn next, thanks to her brother Yuri’s Sirin. Clad in a thinly Etch-a-Sketched unitard, and ensnared in casement-style lighting, she exuded a convincingly disturbed air even minus any easily perceived cause. Afterwards Acosta made a good account of Russell Maliphant’s signature piece, Two. Situated inside a double square of overhead light, his sharp limbs licked through its outer rim to the gradually accelerating pace of a soundtrack of sonar blips and drum and bass.

The second act continued in a tone more portentous than potent. Surrounded by candles, and now wearing a gossamer black shift, Yanowsky was the anxious, muse-like centerpiece of Kim Brandstrup’s lyrical Footnote to Ashton. This was followed by Simon Elliott’s evocative digital film Falling Deep Inside, in which the dancers’ feet, legs, torsos, and faces were seen in gigantic slow-motion as they plunged into or under pools and trickles of water. Acosta and Yanowsky rematerialized in the flesh for Edwaard Liang’s Sight Unseen and George Céspedes’ Hands Duet. In the first he facilitated her floating, leggy journeys across the stage, while in the second she slowly, gorgeously collapsed several times into a crescent shape as the recipient of his stylized abuse.

The program culminated with Morten Lauridsen’s choral O Magnum Mysterium, delivered as a balm by the Pegasus Choir, whose members had several times earlier criss-crossed the stage as the collective embodiment of ordinary mortals. Coupled with radiant, tunnel-like lighting, the sublime music was used to symbolically transport Yanowsky’s spirit to heaven. It was lovely, but it couldn’t offset a nagging feeling that there was something hollow at the heart of Acosta’s sometimes artful but overly earnest production.