Premieres, Coliseum, London
Eonnagata, Sadler's Wells, London
Giselle, Royal Opera House, London
Overstretched Acosta is the Richard Branson of ballet
Sunday 01 August 2010
Economic cutbacks have not yet affected dance programming and audiences have evidently thrown caution to the wind, dancing their money away while the world collapses.
They have been packing the Royal Opera House's Bolshoi season, despite outrageous prices, and Eonnagata at Sadler's Wells played to near-full houses. But the empty seats around us at the Coliseum for Carlos Acosta, all-conquering wonderboy of ballet, were a puzzle. Did the absentees, somehow, know something we didn't?
We all love – well, I do – Carlos Acosta, for his Cuban rags-to-riches story and brilliance as a human comet, scorching the world's best ballet stages. He's now also the author of a well-received autobiography, a film actor and is at risk of becoming the Richard Branson of artistic endeavour. With Premieres, his latest London show, he is director, choreographer and performer, dancing opposite the Royal Ballet principal Zenaida Yanowsky.
It was admirable to want to showcase the work of lesser known choreographers, such as his Cuban compatriot George Céspedes. It was enterprising to incorporate the visual projections of Simon Elliott and his digital and video artists, and a live choir. It was interesting to try to transform this mix into a seamless spectacle, one number segueing into the next, but less satisfying when you're wondering which part you are actually watching because everything looks the same.
From an overture of digital imagery showing dripping liquid, you enter a wet, gloomy world, linked by the uncertain thread of a fraught relationship embodied by Acosta and Yan-owsky. (What water has to do with this remains a mystery.) They dance over-extended solos and duets within small planes of light surrounded by darkness, their vocabulary a uniform blend of modern, classical and gestural. For all the means employed and energy expended, the evening feels short of material and long on weirdly obscure titles such as Finding Himself & Ghost of the Memory and unpleasantly distorted video images of Yanowsky and Acosta (with more water) that might have been fun to create but contribute little of overt relevance. You feel you are living through a long deep slump, hoping for an upbeat ending. And then you find that in fact you are heading for a pothole, with the drearily mournful finale O Magnum Mysterium, a fusion of singing (the Pegasus Choir) and movement (Acosta and Yanowsky).
The high point is Russell Maliphant's mesmerising Two, a solo originally made for Sylvie Guillem, and slightly reworked for Acosta who brings a weightier, Michelangelesque quality. The stage remains darkened, with just a square of light, but here the lighting is by Michael Hulls, master sculptor of chiaroscuro. Acosta's flowing, repeated motifs, punctuated by sudden emphases, gradually accelerate until his limbs blur stroboscopically, the effect heightened by Andy Cowton's score.
Russell Maliphant ... now there's a choreographer. In Eonnagata, briefly back at Sadler's Wells after an international tour, he was part of a team of big hitters: the theatre artist Robert Lepage and ballerina Sylvie Guillem, with Hulls's lighting and costumes by the late Alexander McQueen. Based on the true story of an 18th-century cross-dressing fencer and spy, Eonnagata was always interesting, even if it didn't achieve its stated aim of going deeper than anecdote. An honourable failure, with exquisite performances.
Over at the Bolshoi, London's favourite summer ballerina, Natalia Osipova, took on the definitive role of the romantic ballet, Giselle, the peasant girl who dies on discovering her suitor's deception. As the living Giselle, she cast a powerful spell with her charm and fragility, before heart-wrenchingly losing her reason; as Giselle's ghost, her extraordinary jump, freezing in impossible airborne positions, not only gave her a spectral ethereality, but a jolting, inhuman strangeness. Giselle was generously and excitingly twinned with Balanchine's Serenade. The dancers swept across the stage in billowing waves, the Bolshoi orchestra refreshed Tchaikovsky's music by playing of a sublime vividness. After evenings like that, other companies fade into mediocrity.
Carlos Acosta ( 0871 911 0200), to 7 Aug; Bolshoi (020-7304 4000), to 8 Aug
Nadine Meisner hotfoots it to Sadler's Wells for Argentina's Tanguera
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