Tocororo: A Cuban Tale, Sadler's Wells, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Love and self-belief will conquer all. Tocororo, the show choreographed by Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta, makes a brightly naive confection. Acosta drew on his own early life for this story of a country boy in the big city, but his staging is pure corn. Even the knife fight has a stage-school eagerness. Tocororo was a big hit at its premiere last year: Acosta's stardom, and the promise of Cuban rhythms, carried all before them. Acosta has tweaked this revival a little, but he hasn't toughened anything up.

Love and self-belief will conquer all. Tocororo, the show choreographed by Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta, makes a brightly naive confection. Acosta drew on his own early life for this story of a country boy in the big city, but his staging is pure corn. Even the knife fight has a stage-school eagerness. Tocororo was a big hit at its premiere last year: Acosta's stardom, and the promise of Cuban rhythms, carried all before them. Acosta has tweaked this revival a little, but he hasn't toughened anything up.

The show is a celebration of Acosta's roots, and it wears its Cuban identity on its sleeve. The fuzzy photographs of Salvatore Forino's set show a countryside shack, back alleys and Havana avenues. There's a rounded 1950s Chevrolet onstage, and the leader of the city kids smokes a big cigar. Miguel Nuñez's music is the stickiest West End schmaltz, but it's played by a Cuban band.

Tocororo, the naive young hero, sets off for the city to make his fortune. When he gets there, he's mocked for his dancing - this untrained boy has somehow grown up with a clean classical style, and can't adapt his arabesques and pirouettes to fit in with breakdancing. One of the young women, danced by Veronica Corveas, takes pity on him, and takes him off to consult a wise woman, a speaking role played by Mireya Chapman. After consulting "the African gods", she tells him that "the only person who can help you is you." Thus strengthened, he works on his dancing, and wows the city folk by mixing salsa and ballet fireworks.

The fireworks are certainly there. Acosta throws off barrel turns and multiple turns with sunny ease. His energy carries the evening, but he barely challenges himself as a dancer. These are academic steps, strongly danced. Acosta the choreographer can't make them expressive.

As star choreographers go, he's remarkably unselfish. His co-stars have plenty of solo opportunities. The strutting street dances, though, are a disappointment. Alexander Varona, as the rival, teeters about with stiff hips and pigeon toes. The simplest corps dances are the best - hips sway and shoulders shake with real energy. Then we return to the plot, and to the production's earnestly optimistic message. The moral is about staying true to yourself, but this production never makes that a painful decision.

Acosta's own father sent him to ballet school to keep him away from crime and violence, but these city scenes have no hint of danger. The choreography draws on street dance, but lost its swagger somewhere on the way. The love scenes have swooping lifts and sentimental embraces, but little sexual charge. It's all clean, all jolly.

It's left to the dancers to lift the evening. The Danza Contemporanea de Cuba throw themselves into the breakdancing and the rumbas, do their best with the rest. As the young Tocororo, Carlos's 13-year-old nephew Yonah Acosta shows elegant line and an assured stage presence. Corveas swoons prettily, and Acosta is on exuberant form.

To 24 July (0870 737 7737)

Comments