Carlos Acosta

Premieres Plus

Birmingham Hippodrome

***

EVENTUALLY there comes a time in the life of a professional footballer when it takes that bit longer for joints and muscles to start working again in the mornings, when a yard of speed has gone missing and the final whistle seems to take that much longer to blow.

That’s when experience comes in, still appearing to look good with less effort, letting the ball do the work and pacing yourself to last the full 90 minutes.

You couldn’t help wondering whether Mr Acosta, who is 38 remember, has reached the same point in his ballet career, the point where he lets the ball do the work in his 90 minute show.

ENTHUSIASTIC

Not that the audience minded. There was enthusiastic applause at the end with even a few on their feet but there was just a nagging feeling this was as much a tribute to a glorious career than to the performance they had just seen.

Would there have been the same appreciation had this been some unknown star from the National Ballet of Uzbekistan for instance?

Since he first burst on to the scene from the Cuban National Ballet School in the early 90s Acosta has been one of the finest male ballet dancers of his generation yet you would hardly know it from Premieres Plus.

Admittedly this is not a ballet or even a ballet inspired production but a show described as performance art or as contemporary dance and Acosta says in the programme notes that  it  “continues the path I have begun in recent years to explore new territory as a dancer and as an artist”.

What Acosta did he did superbly, lithe, sleek and elegant as a gazelle in slow motion, but much of the performance was just that, slow motion. It was all a bit one paced and repetitive showing how many shapes and contortions ballet dancers can make their bodies achieve that the rest of us can only dream – painfully - about.

There is no real zip and although Acosta is no doubt still superbly fit there is no athleticism, no signs of the amazing power and grace that have made him such an influential figure in dance. This was all low gear stuff.

In Premeries Plus Acosta,  a principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet is joined by the French-born ballerina Zenaida  Yanowsky (right) who is a principal dancer with the same company and to be honest she steals the show particularly in Sarin, a piece choreographed by her brother Yuri.

She manages to send rhythmic waves rippling through her arms that are just amazing to watch while her body flows like some computer generated graphic. No one surely can be that fluid but there are no tricks, mirrors, smoke, magicians with capes and rabbits in a hat, she just takes the limits of human anatomy to the limit. Both beautiful and fascinating to watch.

Acosta’s highlight came in Russell Maliphant's Two when, fixed in the gloom in the centre of a cylinder of light he sends his arms and feet arcing through the air breaking into the fence of light surrounding him making it look almost as if they are on fire – a clever and stunning effect.

IMAGINATIVE LIGHTING

Indeed most of the effects were created by imaginative lighting, all designed by Chris Davey, with cones of light, squares, shafts, circles and every geometric shape you can think of all in stark, harsh, clear white apart from a Close Encounters golden backlight at the end.

The only real props or scenery came with a host of candles in Kim Brandstrup’s Footnote to Ashton, which was another beautifully danced piece by Miss Yanowsky. In fact the solos worked better than the duets but it was all a bit one paced and gloomy even down to the West Midlands own The Godiva Awakes Choir.

They wandered on and off at various points of the performance like mourners on their way to or coming from a funeral or glum refugees from some disaster or other. They ended the show with Morten Lauridsen’s piece O Magnum Mysterium, a responsorial chant from the Matins of Christmas.

It is the sort of piece you hear in cathedrals as background music to fill out a full house with a particularly long communion. Beautifully sung but hardly a show stopper or sprit lifter.

Much the same could be said of the the whole show. It was all beautifully danced, lit and performed and at times was mesmerising to watch, including a sensuous slow motion film Falling Deep Inside in the second half, but there was no spark, no emotion, nor feeling for what was going on, no romance, despair, love, hate – nothing to engage the audience or touch the soul - just technical brilliance.

What was needed was passion, some raw emotion. Without it the performance just comes over as arty, worthy, if a little pretentious, but ultimately, empty.

Roger Clarke

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