Carlos Acosta, The Classical Farewell, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews
Carlos Acosta, The Classical Farewell, Royal Albert Hall
Carlos Acosta, The Classical Farewell, Royal Albert Hall
Serious quality in ballet star's last goodbye
This is it. This is absolutely, definitely, finally Carlos Acosta's farewell to classical ballet. He has managed to spin out his retirement celebrations for almost a year: he gave his last performance on the Royal Opera House main stage last November, and there have already been two versions of the gala show which opened at the Royal Albert Hall last night, one at the Coliseum last autumn and a touring one during the spring and early summer of this year. But this – we believe – really is the last chance to see Acosta on stage in classical roles.
It's some way to go out. The previous version of this farewell show was a well-curated gala, marked by Acosta's obvious affection for his art form's sunny and romantic side: they ranged between daft and splendid showstoppers like the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux, comic business with Edith Piaf, and genre classics like the Dying Swan and La Sylphide. A couple of the same pieces crop up in the Albert Hall programme, but this is really a show on another level, in which Acosta reveals his appetite for serious drama and classic choreography by presenting no less than five MacMillan excerpts, alongside bits of Balanchine (Apollo and Rubies), Ashton (Rhapsody) and Fokine (Dying Swan and a pas de deux from Scheherezade). Much of it is, aptly, inflected with a sense of leave-taking, from the Winter Dreams farewell pas de deux to the Dying Swan (beautifully danced by Sarah Lamb), and the extracts from Gloria and Requiem: the overall impression is of a much more emotional farewell to Acosta, who indeed was visibly overcome at the curtain call.
Acosta and Morera hold us spellbound That he can mount a programme as ambitious as this is due to the willingness of his former Royal Ballet colleagues to perform (and, presumably, the company's willingness to let them). With four Principals (Marianela Nuñez, Laura Morera, Sarah Lamb and Ryoichi Hirano) and two very fine First Soloists (Yuhui Choe and Valentino Zucchetti) of a world-class company as backing dancers, no wonder Acosta felt he could programme such repertoire cherries as the Terpsichore/Apollo pas de deux, the Manon bedroom pas de deux, and – most astonishingly – the final scene from Mayerling, which, with its drug abuse and suicide/murder, has to be one of the least conventionally gala-worthy pieces imaginable.
In fact, it's one of the night's standout moments: Acosta as Prince Rudolf and Laura Morera as Mary Vetsera manage to hold us spellbound, despite the sudden and contextless immersion in the final stages of a complex plot. But there's no missing the worldweariness and despair of Acosta's prince, or the doom-bright hunger of Morera as his teenage mistress (showing off her acting versatility after an equally convincing Manon in the first half); it has to count now among my greatest ballet regrets that I never saw this couple do the whole ballet.
Close on Mayerling's heels follow two more splendid and unexpected choices from MacMillan's back catalogue: the Domine Deus pas de deux from Gloria and the Offertory and Pie Jesu from Requiem. Hirano and Lamb are textbook in the former, and Acosta (pictured above) deeply moving in the latter, though his partner Choe is perhaps a little too girlish in a role which for me is defined by Leanne Benjamin's contemplative approach.
Both pieces are accompanied by sensitive playing and singing from the Pegasus Choir and a nameless orchestra under Paul Murphy. Murphy, Principal Conductor of Birmingham Royal Ballet, conducted the band for Acosta's regional tour as well, and is on the way to being my favourite ballet conductor after Koen Kessels: he has a lovely feel for texture and dynamics, heard to especially good effect last night in the all too easily overblown bedroom scene from Manon. I only wish I could say the same for Robert Clark, the Royal Ballet's ubiquitous pianist, who always seemed to be striking the keys just a little bit harder than good taste would demand.
There might have been an artistic argument for finishing the show after the Requiem extract, but Acosta knows that a gala audience, especially one containing (presumably) a fair number of first-time ballet-goers, wants to go out on a more upbeat note. So the programme gradually transitions towards the contemporary, via Balanchine.
An extract from Rubies feels too academic – either in its isolation or in the hands of Lamb and Zucchetti – and the pas de deux from Apollo feels too short and too decontextualised. Much though I rejoice at any opportunity to see Balanchine's early masterpiece, in this setting it's too brief, and after watching Acosta and Nuñez give it the full diamanté with megawatt smiles, dozens of fouettés and extra fish dives in the Don Quixote wedding pas de deux in the first half, the cool and mysterious love between Apollo and his muse seems to be overlaid by the warm and palpable affection between these two old ballet partners. Still, who can blame Acosta and Nuñez (pictured below, in Apollo) for showing a little sentiment; both are beloved performers in no small part because of their emotional generosity on stage, and it's deeply touching to see them enjoying their last few outings together so much.
It's hard to escape sentiment in watching Acosta's final piece, though one of my sentiments was straight-up admiration that after a challenging evening's dancing, Acosta could execute Miguel Altunaga's dynamic contemporary solo with such energy. The piece is called Memoria, but it might also seem to be signalling the future: Acosta is carefully labelling all these farewells classical, leaving the door open for further contemporary performances. If he brings the same curatorial insight to future contemporary collaborations that he has brought to his gala designs, we may even have grounds to hope that he will join the Sylvie Guillem school of post-ballet greatness, rather than the execrable Osipova/Vishneva one.
He may not have much time for dancing, of course, with his grand plans for rejuvenating Cuban dance. It was characteristic of Acosta that two of the young dancers who have been performing on his farewell tour in the provinces got a chance to shine at the Albert Hall last night. Luis Valle was one of my top picks from the tour, a talented lad with more than a whiff of a young Acosta about him. His big jumps were a lovely sight last night, even if his facial acting seemed a little overwhelmed by the size of the Albert Hall – although that could well have been the result of having to play the Golden Slave in the Scheherezade pas de deux, a daft bit of orientalism further marred by hideous harem pants on both Valle and his partner Gabriela Lugo.
Lugo is a showy, flexible young thing, with legs and backbends up to here, but not quite enough experience (yet) to harness her dancing to her acting. But under Acosta's tutorship they have come on tremendously even since I saw them in Birmingham in May, and I do hope they and their Acosta Danza compatriots have a bright future ahead of them. As for Acosta himself, I wouldn't quite bet on this being his last goodbye to the stage, but it was certainly a heartfelt au revoir to a glorious classical career.
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