Carlos Acosta / Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney, Sadler's Wells, London
Lord of the dance reclaims majesty
Monday 07 December 2009
Carlos Acosta is back on form. As one of ballet's biggest stars, his name is enough to fill theatres, but his recent solo ventures have been a very mixed bag. In this latest programme, originally created for the Manchester International Festival, he shines in strong repertory, particularly a rare performance of Jerome Robbins's lovely A Suite of Dances.
This late Robbins ballet, set to movements from Bach's cello suites, was created in 1994 as a showcase for Mikhail Baryshnikov. Acosta and the cellist Natalie Clein are both on stage, visibly responding to each other. Like Robbins's Dances at a Gathering, there's a near-improvised quality to the steps. The soloist goes from shrugs to virtuoso spins and leaps, from strolling ease to cartwheels. It's playful, musical and hugely demanding: the best kind of star vehicle, showing off personality as well as technique.
Acosta is at his sunniest. Sometimes he has looked stretched thin by all his international commitments, with jetlag creeping into the performances. Here, he's exuberantly fresh and happy, bounding into the casual shimmies and show-off leaps. He enjoys the jokes: grabbing his own collar to pull himself to his feet, ending a solo with a dive to the cellist's feet. He's less spontaneous in the slow, introspective dances, but he still gives Robbins's changes of direction and mood full value. It's an assured and lovely performance.
Adam Hougland's Young Apollo is a new work, commissioned by Acosta. Danced to Britten's score, it's a jittery duet for English National Ballet's Erina Takahashi and Junor de Oliveira Souza. Dressed in brightly coloured leotards, they wind around each other. Takahashi judders through puppet-like moves, limbs shaking. It's good that Acosta is encouraging new work, but Hougland's dance is the weak spot in this programme.
Robbins's Afternoon of a Faun is an encounter for two dancers in a studio. Dancing together, they look out at the audience: the fourth wall is the studio mirror. Acosta's faun stretches in the sunlight, lazily confident. As he slides into poses, you can see his absorption in his own body. Playing with her hair, Begoña Cao catches the mood of the piece, but she's uncomfortable with the balances Robbins casually throws in.
The evening ends with Balanchine's Apollo. Acosta is both relaxed and taut as the young god. Daria Klimentova, Cao and Takahashi are neat, crisp muses. There's a breadth and warmth to Acosta's movements, but every step is still clean and classical.
Confluence, the finale of the Svapnagata festival of Indian dance and music at Sadler's Wells, has been billed as a world premiere. In practice, it's more of a greatest-hits show.
Choreographer Akram Khan and composer Nitin Sawhney look back at their collaborations – which include Zero Degrees and Bahok – with some linking material and a fine new solo.
It makes an episodic evening, with good moments but not much momentum. Film sequences, by Nick Hillel and Yeast Culture, flash up vague philosophical statements. As Khan dances, he's mirrored by a filmed shadow, outlined in spots of light.
There's a vivid duet for a woman who clasps a man's torso, hanging upside down as she clings with arms and legs. When she first flips upside down, it's funny. As they move, both opening their arms in floating, lines, the double body becomes strangely graceful.
Other dances are inconsequential. There are more spoken interludes, often returning to ideas of identity, border controls and miscommunication. These are themes recurring in Khan's work with Sawhney, but the format of Confluence stresses repetition rather than variety. It doesn't develop much new context for these older numbers.
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