Carlos Acosta's latest show is livelier than it deserves to be. These works aren't strong, but they're put across with appealing energy.
Since becoming a star, Acosta has arranged Carlos and Friends performances alongside his more conventional appearances with ballet companies. He's always been eager to honour his roots, bringing Cuban dancers and choreographers to Britain. When he turned to choreography himself, with the show Tocororo, he used a Cuban setting, music and dances. It's a policy that works better with dancers than with choreographers. Cuba produces plenty of well-trained performers, but it is harder to find good work for them to dance.
Carlos in Cuba opens with the Don Quixote pas de deux, a balletic sweetener that gives the audience a sight of Acosta in firework jumps and turns. Then we get the Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, a modern dance ensemble, in two works by George Céspedes.
La Ecuación (The Equation) was created for Acosta's programme at the Manchester International Festival. One by one, four dancers set into a metal cube framework dance a few steps and retreat. Céspedes's choreography is full of conventional bends and stretches, but his dancers are eager and forceful. One stands out, snapping into stark poses, mooching gently out of them.
El peso de una isla (The Weight of an Island) is harder to forgive. Céspedes means to explore Cuban identity, setting the stereotype against the reality. It's hard to see any contrast in the work. Men and women stand in spotlights or plunge into aggressive dancing. Vladimir Cucenca's costumes suggest street clothes: sneakers, layers of ragged or untucked shirts for men and women. Groups of people gang together, looking wary.
Much of the dancing is in unison. Individuals step out for a few bursts of dancing, but Céspedes doesn't single out soloists – not even Acosta. But you notice he is a little more equal than the others; he's let off most of the ensembles.
For the Don Q pas de deux, he was joined by Yolanda Correa of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Correa strains for some of her effects but still presents the dance with a sparkle. Acosta seemed to be saving himself for his solos.
The evening ended with the Tocororo Suite. The dancers make an exuberant job of Acosta's limited dances, with Alexander Varona gleeful in his shimmying numbers.
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