Carlos Acosta is a generous host. Classical Selection, a programme celebrating the ballet star’s 40th birthday, is much more substantial than most galas. Looking back over his own career, Acosta also makes the most of his colleagues from The Royal Ballet. It’s a lavish but surprisingly intimate evening, with superb dancing, live music and a friendly sense of scale.
Born in Cuba, Acosta was sent to ballet training by his father, who thought he needed discipline. With powerful technique and a warm, open stage presence, he went on to international stardom, including regular appearances with The Royal Ballet.
Acosta recently warned of a shortage of ballerinas, suggesting Britain should import more female dancers. As he knows, it already does: his co-stars include Argentinian Marianela Nuñez and Australian Leanne Benjamin, who recently retired from The Royal Ballet. In Acosta’s thoughtful programming, the evening is an extra farewell for Benjamin. She dances a gorgeous Manon pas de deux with Nehemiah Kish, before joining Acosta for excerpts from Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling and Requiem.
In Mayerling, they dance a double suicide, with Acosta’s Prince Rudolf destroyed by drugs, sex and despair. He shows new darkness and dramatic depth, with Benjamin’s besotted, driven Mary eager to join him in everything, even death. In Requiem, Benjamin is glowingly serene. Acosta’s dancing is both sumptuous and austere: his plush phrasing is so focused that it seems to move beyond itself. These are remarkable performances.
With Nuñez, Acosta dances a rip-roaring account of the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. At 40, his dancing is less rocket-powered than at the start of his career. His jumps are smooth and strong, rather than explosive – but then he’ll suddenly throw in an extra-high leap, challenging your expectations.
Fokine’s Scheherazade is Orientalist hokum, usually an excuse for silent movie vamping, with lots of narcissistic poses. Nuñez looks as if she’s actually enjoying her orgy, delighting in Acosta and her own body. She’ll flow into a voluptuous pose, then race out of it, teasing her partner. He matches her, bounding through the jumps. It’s a fresh reading of an old warhorse, and much more fun.
Acosta also shows off his younger colleagues. There’s a sparkling Rhapsody from Yuhui Choe and Ricardo Cervera, while rising star Melissa Hamilton dances The Dying Swan with gleaming clarity.
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