REVIEW: Carlos Acosta in Brighton

Carlos Acosta – On Before, on tour with Zenaida Yanowsky and Jam Tarts amateur choir at The Dome, Brighton

Pieces and choreographers – Part 1: On Before by Will Tuckett*; Memoria by Miguel Atunaga; Sirin by Yuri Yanovsky; Two by Russel Maliphant. Part 2: Footnote to Ashton by Kim Brandstrup; Falling Deep Inside by Simon Elliott*; Sight Unseen Edwaard Liang*; Hand Duets by Carlos Acosta & George Céspedes*; O Magnum Mysterium by Carlos Acosta & Zenaida Yanowsky*. Solos unless duets*.

VERSATILITY is one defining quality of the most exceptional ballet dancers. We already know it’s among what makes Cuba’s Carlos Acosta one of the greatest emerging artistes of our time. He is a novelist of acclaimed potential, an autobiographer of proven quality, a choreographer in the making, a father, and a role model not only to black dancers and young men in his own country but to any colour or gender worldwide.

Turned 42 in June, like all the best male ballet megastars before him whose injuries did not force them offstage before such an age, he is now creating and bringing his own shows and new works to worldwide demand. Brighton is one of the regional centres of British dance performance and this night the city rose to Acosta and his choice of collaborating and partnering dancer from The Royal Ballet, Zenaida Yanowsky. It was the second of their two sell-out scheduled evenings at The Dome, with an added third to come a night later.

Versatility is surely Yanowsky’s second name. French-born, Spanish and North East European-parented, her brother among the chosen choreographers, arguably her most popularly-noted artistic triumph was not in any of her numerous classical repertoire roles but the one she created with Christopher Wheeldon for probably The Royal’s biggest triumphant so far this century, Alice’s Adventures on Wonderland. In this she became everyone’s nightmare Queen of Hearts, not only in the Royal Opera House but in cinemas across the country.

Acosta’s watchwords are these: “I’m all about fusion. A mixture of something people haven’t seen.” Like when music genres meet and blend excitingly, you get something near the best of both, or even several, worlds. Unlike Nureyev or Barishnikov, ballet greats before him who have later explored dance beyond the classical, the Cuban in Acosta gives him the extra edge of Latin American dimension with its colour and rhythm.

We felt a new power from precisely this, added to his own astonishing stage presence – physical, musical and artistic − in his solo Memoria by his younger compatriot, Miguel Altunaga, which included break dancing. However strapping and athletic his top predecessors may have become, Acosta is a stage even closer to a powerlifter, and in Memoria, he encapsulated for the rest of the evening what it means to be the most imposingly complete all-round dancer you could hope to see anywhere in 2015.

The previous and opening piece, the duet On Before, had been the linguistic starting point for the journey Costa planned for us, with Will Tuckett’s seamless flow of movement to the music of John Adamas but also his choreography to the repeated emphases and accents of a musically edited, questioning evangelical sermon about Jesus healing the man with a withered hand. And to get us further thinking, a moving crowd, peopled by what proved to be the local choir, Jam Tarts, who re-appeared twice in the evening − the final time to clinch it with the American, Morten Lauridsen’s time-halting O Magnum Mysterium.

Chris Davey’s lighting made immediate, repeated and sustained dramatic impact. The show was a musical melting pot of styles and types, including electronic rumbles through the stomachs of the audience, something far flung from the yuletide lyricism of O Magnum Mysterium, though less distant from Handel’s arrestingly dramatic and dark soprano aria, Per te lasciai la Luce (For you I left the light) from his Italian cantata Amoroso Delirium. This Handel was veteran choreographer Kim Brandstrup’s Footnote To Ashton, in 2005 homage to Sir Frederick Ashton’s florid English 20th Century classical style with Yanowsky’s bleak solo depiction of a woman betrayed.

In Sirin, Yanowsky moved her arms and hands like a fish and her fingers like a bird. In Two, Russell Maliphant and Michael Hull’s lighting at times made Acosta appear to defy human form. This was a celebrated male interpreting a ballet created for the French dance goddess Sylvie Guillème.

Yanowsky’s temperament meant she was hand-picked for this programme of almost entirely controlled and sustained intensity. It was presented entirely in monochrome, including the slow-motion film Falling Deep Inside, which puts under a watery microscope a loving couple’s physical responses to each other in juxtaposed ecstasy and conflict.

It was also devoid of scenery other than numerous candles on the floor in Footnote To Ashton, but more than compensatory and riveting interest came from the lighting, particularly inventive when constantly repositioned downlighting took over Sight Unseen.

Although it accompanied no actual dancing, only some simply symbolic tableau building by a troubled couple, the Lauridsen choral work casts its own spell anytime, anywhere, and so it created a palpable sense of conclusion, consolation and final relief.

And from the start, I barely saw a smile from either dancer until the prolonged final curtain applause and cheering. And well might Acosta and Yanowsky finally have smiled. But the two dancers had communicated with and stimulated a knowledgeable Brighton audience ripe and receptive not merely for hero worship.

You can be sure Acosta will be back. He’s far from ready to rest on any laurels.

Richard Amey

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