Carlos Acosta (c) Angela Taylor
“Classical ballet is any of the traditional, formal styles of ballet that exclusively employ classical ballet technique. It is known for its aesthetics and rigorous technique (such as pointe work, turnout of the legs, and high extensions), its flowing, precise movements, and its ethereal qualities.” - Wikipedia.
What this definition fails to include is that this most codified of art forms was created in the 16th and 17th century by rich Europeans for… rich Europeans.
Looking around the audience at the Albert Hall, one could be tempted to suggest that not much has changed in 600 years (give or take).
However, this would be to ignore the reason many people have attended: Cuban phenomenon, Carlos Acosta.
For almost 20 years, Carlos Acosta has re-defined the status of ‘non-Europeans’ in the world of ballet; his mere name now synonymous with the idea of breaking down barriers and expanding the vocabulary of dance.
Having retired from The Royal Ballet in 2015 - after 17 years - Carlos bids the world of classical ballet farewell with this eclectic selection – and what a ‘swansong’ it is.
The show begins with Carlos entering the stage, dressed as a soldier preparing for war. He then performs an emotional duet (“Winter Dreams”), set to a Tchaikovsky piano solo. It is a slow, measured beginning, marked as much by Marianela Núñez ‘s beautiful partnering as Carlos’ athletic poise.
There follows an eclectic mix of classic ballet repertoire as performed by Carlos and his multi-national team of ‘special guests’.
The first half highlights included a lovely “Dying Swan” (great point work by American Sarah Lamb), a cute “Rhapsody” (Korean Yuhui Choe and Italian Valentino Zuchetti were well-matched), and a superb “Don Quixote” duet – (Carlos and Marianela once more).
This last piece allowed us to witness Carlos’ awesome power and precision, as he demonstrated his trademark leaps, fouettés, and barrel rolls (as well as Miss Núñez ‘s stunning leg extensions, pirouettes, and point work)
The second half expanded the sonic palette by introducing the wonderful Katie Trethewey (soprano), Greg Skidmore (baritone), and Pegasus Chamber Choir.
Standouts were the haunting “Gloria” – performed by Sarah Lamb and Japan’s Ryoichi Hirano in an otherworldly duet - “Requiem” (Carlos with Yuhui), and an energetic “Rubies”, featuring a wonderfully ‘leggy’ Ms. Lamb and an entertainingly camp Mister Zuchetti.
Possibly the most exciting piece – musically, at least – was “Anadromous”. Featuring Robert Clark (piano), Rowena Calvert (cello), and Gina McCormack (violin), the piece – in 5/4 - started slowly, before gradually slowly increasing in tempo. This intensity allowed the dancers (Cubans Gabriela Lugo and Luis Valle) to communicate the thirst for survival at the heart of the piece. Stunning!
The sound was excellent (not always the case in RAH), as was the orchestra – conducted by Paul Murphy – and the lighting.
But this was – and is - Carlos’ show.
For almost 20 years, he has re-defined the status of ‘non-Europeans’ in the world of ballet; his mere name now synonymous with the idea of breaking down barriers and expanding the vocabulary of dance.
Ah - but can he still do so? In a word: yes!
Carlos Acosta bids the world of classical ballet farewell with this eclectic selection – and what a ‘swansong’ it is.
For the final piece, “Memoria”, he is alone on the stage, bathed in an almost tangible spotlight. As the backing track’s syncopated rhythms mark his progress (no orchestra required for the final salvo), he moves gracefully – balletically – in and out of the light. It’s almost as if he’s reminding us that his talent – his dreams and ambitions – cannot be contained within the confines of the classical field. Indeed - as the shaft of light grows ever-more narrow – Carlos’ scope of movement become ever wider; he throws in yoga forms, street-dance freezes, rolls, turns, and capoeira moves. These are all executed with consummate grace and effortless charisma, as if to re-state that - if he is to be defined – it should be as a dancer.
By the time he puts on his boots, takes up his sack, leaves his gloves on the chair and disappears into darkness, we are left with a sense of gratitude – not just for past endeavours, but for those miracles yet to come.
Surely, this is what the great artists do: no matter the medium, the form, or the setting, they remind us of our own journey.
Bon voyage, Carlos, and don’t forget to write.
Info: Carlos Acosta – The Classical Farewell is at the Royal Albert Hall until 7 October 2016 | See listing