Carlos Acosta and Guests, London Coliseum, London

Acosta makes a rare misstep
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The Independent Culture

Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta has a name that can fill theatres, the clout to gather starry guest casts, and a horribly erratic sense of programming. For the Manchester International Festival, he recently put together a solid evening of ballets. But his latest show ranges from the slick to the excruciating.

Acosta returns to a format he's used before: a gala programme, framed with twee rehearsal sequences. Dancers warm up, arrange practice clothes and costumes, pretend to chat between numbers. Acosta's guests include plenty of colleagues: some from the Royal Ballet, some with shared Cuban training. He also presents unusual repertory, works not often seen in London. It's a nice thought, sunk by peculiar choices.

That's not always his fault. The Bolshoi's Nina Kaptsova, due to join Acosta for a duet from Spartacus, was missing due to "unforeseen circumstances". Instead, we got two solos from Grigorovich's ballet, strung awkwardly together. Acosta leaps and suffers on a big scale, but the numbers make little sense in this context.

Acosta is also keen to showcase choreography created in his native Cuba, with two badly dated numbers. Ivan Tenorio's "Ritmicas" is a classroom ballet drawing on popular Cuban dances. Cuban guests Verónica Corveas and Miguel Altunaga swagger and grapple, but lack fluidity.

The low point is Azari Plisetsky's Canto Vital, a male quartet. Designed to show off the dancers' virility, it's a cheesy beefcake extravaganza. Acosta and fellow stars Steven McRae, Amilcar Moret and Arionel Vargas, dressed in tiny trunks, strike allegorical poses in a forest setting. Fanfares from Mahler's Fifth ring out as they clamber up rocks, or each other, in vague heroic struggle. Plisetsky's choreography is flashy and painfully naive.

The pas de deux from John Neumeier's Othello was bravely danced by the Hamburg Ballet's Florencia Chinellato and Amilcar Moret. Neumeier's Othello wears Desdemona's handkerchief as a loincloth; after some dry, tick-tock posing, she gradually unwinds it.

Even better choreography was poorly chosen. McRae and Roberta Marquez danced a duet from Ashton's Rhapsody – but why choose the one bit of Rhapsody that doesn't show off McRae's firecracker technique? Kim Brandstrup's "DK60", a contemporary duet danced by Pieter Symonds and Altunaga, has more grit.

The most conventional numbers were often the most successful. Derek Deane's "Summertime" is a bland party-piece, but Begoña Cao and Arionel Vargas look fluid and elegant in its lifts and embraces. Majisimo, Georges Garcia's Spanish suite, allows this talented cast to show off its tricks, and ends the evening with some energy.