First Night: Carlos Acosta, Sadler's Wells, London

Plenty of whizz-bang and twirls in a strong, crisp performance
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Carlos Acosta is all over London this summer. An international ballet star, Acosta is aiming firmly for wider fame. He's been profiled on television and he guests with ballet companies across the world.

He's an even bigger hero in his native Cuba - where Fidel Castro came to the premiere of Acosta's crossover show, Tocororo. That show will be revived at the Coliseum next month; before that, Acosta has set up a Carlos and Friends show at Sadler's Wells.

He certainly picks his friends well. The other nine dancers, all from the Royal Ballet, are stylish, charismatic, technically strong.

As a judge of repertory, Acosta is a lot shakier. Starting with the fierce complexities of George Balanchine, this evening plunges on through jolly party pieces to feeble recent works.

There's no doubt which is the most popular. The first half ends with Acosta, in bronze lamé microkilt, bounding through the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux with Marianela Nuñez.

He adds extra twirls to already whizz-bang steps, swizzling his legs in the barrel turns. Nuñez matches him, sailing blithely through fouetté turns and hops on pointe.

Acosta looks less at home in the duet from Balanchine's Agon. This clear, athletic performance misses the ballet's electric energy, its musical bite. Zenaida Yanowsky comes closer, moving boldly into the extreme positions.

The other highlight was the duet from La Sylphide. Sarah Lamb is a light, lucid Sylph, each step buoyant and clean. Partnering her, Rupert Pennefather soars eagerly through Bournonville's beaten steps. Mara Galeazzi and Thiago Soares give a melodramatic account of Kenneth MacMillan's Winter Dreams pas de deux, though there's an ardent edge to Soares's dancing.

Things got stickier with the second half. Acosta is laudably eager to show off new choreography, but it's hard to admire the results. Ben Stevenson's End of Time pas de deux has José Martín, Caroline Duprot and a lot of meaningful moping. He glares into the void, she waits droopingly until he's ready to tie her in knots again.

A pair of solos by Ben Van Cauwenbergh set Lamb and then Acosta emoting to French cabaret numbers: fouettés for Edith Piaf, big jumps for Jacques Brel. Terrific techniques, naff choreography. In Liam Scarlett's Margot and Rudy, Galeazzi and Pennefather face the awful task of evoking Fonteyn and Nureyev through drippy steps and Rachmaninoff. Paul Murphy conducted a brisk performance by the London Ballet Sinfonia.

Two recent works, less pretentious, were more fun. Gustavo Mollajolli's A Buenos Aires is a tango number, with Soares and Nunez sharp-footed and cheerful in a mix of couple dancing and academic steps. The final Majismo, by Georges Garcia, uses all the clichés of balletic Spanishry, the men tugging at their matador jackets while the women snap open their fans. Throughout this evening, the dancing is crisp and strong.

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