With all the goodwill in the world provided by a weekend's worth of packed houses, this latest edition of the Carlos Acosta celebrity sweepstakes is not the most distinguished of showcases. Despite the fact that Acosta, one of the ballet world's superstars, has once again surrounded himself with some exceptionally adept artists, it adds up to little more than a hit and miss hodgepodge.
As he has done on previous occasions, Acosta utilises a "backstage" device that first finds the dancers limbering up on an empty stage. This "all in a day's work" glimpse is probably meant to humanise the dancers before they launch into their dazzling displays of athletic magic.
A dreamy encounter from Frederick Ashton's Rhapsody is chief amongst the duets in the first half. Here, Roberta Marquez, partnered by Steven McRae, the Royal Ballet's newest principal, turns her placid approach to performance to advantage.
A last minute cancellation by Bolshoi ballerina Nina Kaptsova left Acosta without a partner for Spartacus, so he had to stitch together a couple of powerhouse solos. The exciting outcome was straightforward guts and thunder stuff. Another solo for Acosta proved far more problematic. French-born Michel Descombey has blatantly cannibalised Anna Pavlova's iconic Dying Swan (1907). Were it not for Acosta's obvious sincerity, it would be difficult not to look at this as some kind of intentional travesty.
The nadir of the evening is an out-of-context pas de deux lifted from the first act of John Neumeier's Othello. Performed by Florencia Chinellato and Amilcar Moret, who are both members of Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet, it dates from 1985 and is not aided by the fact that its score, Arvo Part's Spiegel im Spiegel ("Mirror in a Mirror") has now become one of the most overplayed tunes from the easy listening branch of classical muzak.
She's in an unflattering floor-length nightgown of see-through white muslin. He's nude except for a diaper artfully wrapped around his waist. About the only event in this turgid excuse for passion comes when he removes one end of this loincloth and hands it to her. Then, as the programme note tells us, "Desdemona unravels the thing closest to Othello's heart, a silk scarf." Hard not to snigger.
The first half closes with Canto Vital ("Song of Nature") a male quartet punch-drunk on testosterone. Devised in 1973 by Soviet choreographer Azari Plisetski, and set to the finale of Mahler's Fifth Symphony, this is portentous, show-off stuff. Near the end, as the other three men cluster in a tight-knit group, Acosta runs up their backs as if they were the north face of the Eiger. He poses there in victorious triumph as if he were a piece of heroic sculpture.
The second half kicks off with two contrasting duets by London-based choreographers: Kim Brandstrup's DK60 and Derek Deane's Summertime. Both are mood pieces, but the first is slippery and subtle whereas the other is silken and suave. Brandstrup intrigues, Deane entertains.
DK60 features Pieter Symonds and Miguel Altunaga, both members of Rambert Dance Company. She's originally from New Zealand, he is a Cuban. Their atmospheric music is a pair of sultry tracks from tango kingpin Astor Piazzolla specifically arranged for the Kronos Quartet. The dancers in the Deane duet, excerpted from his 2008 Royal Albert Hall success Strictly Gershwin, are the limpid Begona Cao and Arionel Vargas, both stars of English National Ballet. They are joined from the side of the stage by soprano Hannah Richmond.
The evening's finale is a vibrant jaunt for four couples. Majisimo is a Spanish-inflected divertissement created back in 1964 by Cuban choreographer Georges Garcia and is performed to music from Massenet's opera Le Cid. Buoyant and flashy, this finds everyone – dancers, orchestra and audience – conspiring to leave the theatre high on a spree of celebratory fun.
Jenny Gilbert is away