Carlos Acosta and Marta Ortega in Mermaid from Acosta Danza: Debut at Sadler's Wells, London. Picture: Tristram Kenton


Acosta Danza

Birmingham Hippodrome


Carlos Acosta was, until his retirement last year, one of the finest male dancers of his generation, a ballet superstar.

Retirement is a relative term though and Acosta not only set up his own dance company to nurture the young emerging talent in his native Cuba, but puts in a guest appearance as a dancer.

The company had its first performance just 18 months ago in Havana and Debut, the clue being in the name, is its first tour in Britain with an evening of five very different pieces from an impressive list of internationally known choreographers.

As with most contemporary dance the programme is your friend. Read it first and at least you might have a clue, or you can read it after for that “so that’s what it was about” moment, no more so than the first piece, El cruce sobre el Niágara (The Crossing Over Niagara).

Two male dancers with thighs any front row forward would be proud of, move slowly and deliberately backwards and forwards along a diagonal path of light, sometimes in unison, sometimes so close as to be almost one, sometimes on each others shoulders, and all virtually naked.

If Leander Soto was paid £100 a square foot for the costumes, the bill would come to about £7.50. These are budgie smugglers for very small budgies, thongs certainly aren’t what they used to be, and a bit more costume and a bit less flesh might have been a bit more comfortable for the audience and, certainly around the nether regions, for dancers Carlos Luis Blanco and Alejandro Silva who, incidentally, showed remarkable balance and strength – slow motion being much more demanding than normal speed when it comes to dance.

The piece, choreographed by Marianela Boán, is based on Peruvian writer Alonso Alegría’s award winning play about French tightrope walker Charles Blondin, who carried his manager on his back over the Niagara Falls in the 1850s. If you could guess that without the programme notes you should think about cutting back on the pharmaceuticals.


Northern lights: the spectacular mix of dance, juggling and circus with Twelve

Tightrope might be a circus act but the real big top stuff came at the end with the remarkable Twelve from Jorge Cresis, a piece that combines sport and dance. Twelve dancers and a countless supply of water filled 2 litre plastic drink bottles, each containing a yellow glow stick.

It starts by one dancer throwing all the bottles one by one over his head to be caught by the other 11, then ever more complex throws between dancers to an electronic score from Vincenzo Lamagna.

It is totally mesmerising demanding great skill, timing and complete reliance of both thrower and receiver and typifies Acosta’s vision that there are no stars, no principles in his Danza, just dancers. This is the ensemble relying heavily on each other to make this work, hundreds of throws, some almost a challenge, even a contest, with a partner, and, amid it all with bottles flying everywhere, only a couple of drops. Rehearsal time must have run into days– it’s worth the price of the ticket alone.

The second piece, Belles-Lettres, from New York City Ballet choreographer Justin Peck, set to music by César Franck, is a more traditional piece with some fine pas de deux from four couples dancing to Franck’s lyrical, romantic score. With the cast in bright turquoise and white this is a bright, cheery piece quickly offset by the much darker Imponderable from Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero all set the music and words of Cuba’s legendary folk musician Silvio Rodriguez, widely regarded as one of Latin America’s greatest singer-songwriters, spoken and sung by Owen Belton.

It’s all in Spanish so for most it is the feeling rather than the words as nine dancers sometimes move as one, sometimes as pairs, sometimes alone, sometimes puffing smoke at each other, sometimes just torches on a blackened stage. The title perhaps sums it up.

And, back to Costa’s retirement. There is something about people at the top of athletic pursuits whether it is dancing, running, football, even cricket. The best not only make it look easy, they also seem to have more time than anyone else and in the fourth piece, Mermaid, from Sadler’s Wells associate artist Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who is now also artistic director of The Royal Ballet of Flanders, he brings that calm assurance back to the stage.

The piece envisages a mermaid, Marta Ortega, trying to walk, unsteadily, on dry land, being helped by a stranger, Carlos Acosta, with music based on traditional Korean songs of the sea. That’s what it says in the programme at any rate. It could also be a stranger helping a young lady who is the worse the wear for drink. Whatever, it is a bittersweet and very tender duet, beautifully danced with Acosta showing a couple of flashes to prove his retirement is far from complete.

It is good to see him back and with a young talented company that has come a long way in 18 months. Debut is an interesting and at times exciting opener heralding a promising future. To 21-10-17

Roger Clarke


The production is funded through The Movement, a new producing pertnerhip set up between Birmingham Hippodrome, Saddler's Wells and The Lowry in Manchester to nurture creative talent and to bring large scale dance to a wider audience. 

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