London Coliseum, London UK; July 30, 2013.   

Jessica Wilson   

Carlos Acosta. Photo © Johan Persson

Carlos Acosta.
Photo © Johan Persson

At the London Coliseum and further afield Carlos Acosta is celebrated as a dance legend, an icon whose career has spanned numerous years and professional ballet companies. Marking his 40th birthday, Acosta’s “Classical Selection” served to present highlights from his career alongside some of his past dance partners and stars of The Royal Ballet, including principal dancers Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish, and the recently retired Leanne Benjamin.

Not all the chosen performers were leading stars, although First Soloists Ricardo Cervera, Yuhui Choe and Melissa Hamilton, and First Artist Meaghan Grace Hinkis are certainly all on their way up. Choe and Cervera were particularly watchable, in an extract from one of Frederick Ashton’s last works, the romantic “Rhapsody.” They fitted into Acosta’s company of dancers well and exuded their passion for movement in the ballet’s beautiful lyrical quality. They were equal to any of the Principals.

Each partnership of the evening worked seamlessly, be it Acosta and Nuñez, Acosta and Benjamin, or Benjamin and Kish who shone in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon”. Benjamin’s tiny frame conveyed Manon’s enjoyment for sensuality. Passion was there for all to see in the confident lifts and balances. Passion from the opposite end of the spectrum was portrayed in MacMillan’s “Mayerling”, with Acosta and Benjamin dancing their lives out in a poignant struggle at the desperate end. The pas de deux was gripping. Benjamin was completely compelling as the pair grappled through twisting lifts, struggling towards the gunfire of the final minutes.

Acosta and Nuñez’s virtuosity truly came into its own in “Diana and Actaeon.” With soaring leaps and spectacular turns, this end to the first act was a true crowd-pleaser and for all the right reasons. Nuñez was glorious as Diana, with nimble footwork and consistent pirouettes. Acosta seemed to transcend the hunter’s mortality through his spectacular ability as he joined the Goddess Diana with a triumphant look on his face. His dedication to his role and partners is clear, and is a true pleasure to watch. The power behind his muscular body is incomparable. He is so confident and comfortable partnering, yet suddenly explodes with incredible elevation and innumerable turns.

Equally powerful imagery came in MacMillan’s “Requiem”, danced by Acosta and Benjamin. The calm and graceful surface was interjected with a subtle pain, emphasised by the poignancy of the haunting Pegasus Choir. The dance seemed to very much come from inside; the display of emotion at least equal to that of earlier, and always touching a nerve. Benjamin, recently retired from The Royal Ballet, commanded the audience’s attention with her execution of supple and evocative choreography. She proved again her incredible talent and sensitivity towards her partners. She will be widely missed.

Another stunning contribution from Acosta and Nuñez in George Balanchine’s “Apollo” saw them display cool, smooth lines running parallel with a playful serenity; the epitome of Balanchine’s modern works. Following Balanchine’s “Rubies” section of “Jewels”, “Apollo” was a welcome and mood-lifting part of the second act. “Rubies” felt cold in its neo-classical approach, with long lines and strong work, but suffered from a lack of emotive quality or character. Perhaps the contrast was just too strong for this evening of “Classical Selections.” Christopher Wheeldon’s “Tryst”, however, returned us to the world of virtuosic and almost daring lifts, the dance becoming snake-like through strong, fluid lines, and assigning itself meaning among the movement for movement’s sake.

The final work, “Memoria,” was created by fellow Cuban Miguel Altunaga for Acosta in 2009. It proved to be a fantastic end. Acosta was full of intense concentration through his almost contemporary execution of tricks and tumbles with, again, strength and sheer talent to the fore.

The evening of snippets and famous pas de deux from both classical and neo-classical ballet ran the range of emotive qualities and drama. Excerpts taken out of context can feel drained of emotion and cold. Not here. All those presented much to get one’s teeth into, for both the dancers and the audience: enough to grasp attention yet not too much to lose it again. ‘Talented’ seems a word too flat to apply to Acosta’s selection of performers, each seemingly included for their genuine passion for their art and the stories that construct it. Each dancer genuinely seemed to enjoy the portrayal of works, which in turn heightened the experience for the audience. The programme would easily stand alone, but Acosta made it truly special, honoured by dancers and audience, as each work was brought to very special life.