Posts Tagged ‘Carlos Acosta is God’

Review – Swan Lake – Ballet Nacional de Cuba w/Carlos Acosta, London Coliseum

March 31, 2010

Last night was the long-anticipated start of Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s run at the Coliseum, an event I’d been waiting for breathlessly since I first saw it mentioned last fall in a Sadler’s Wells program. I’d especially booked to see Carlos Acosta, who was fortunately performing on opening night. The combination was magic (of the box office sort, at least), as the giant barn of a theater was filled to the rafters with wittering ballet fans. How exciting, to see so many people all together to enjoy ballet! The atmosphere was positively electric.

I’d actually not bought the program beforehand (in part because I showed up about two minutes before curtain up), so I didn’t know if we had a 3 or 4 act (answer: 3) or which ending we were going to get (tragic, sad, or inappropriately happy), though I was told in the cast sheet that the curtain would drop at 10 PM (actual: 10:15). The lack of program left me with a few moments of confusion during act one (what was up with the people in the animal masks coming out from behind the screen – and were those ravens or swans with very thin beaks?) and an utter shock at the very end (I was not expecting the ending they chose). However, in most ways, it’s not as if there was going to be a different story up there than Swan Lake: the difference was going to be in the dancing.

And the dancing: so, so very good! One of the things I’ve come to believe about BNC (based on having seen them twice before) is that theirs is a very pure dance tradition, one I think hews closely to the earliest interpretations of these dances. Thus, in these performances for which composers especially made music to be danced to, in BNC we see dancing that hews tightly to the music, where so many of the movements enhanced the music played with them, so that it seemed the dance served the music. I noticed this first during the first act, when the leaps of Yanela Pinera, Amaya Rodriguez and Alejandro Virelles, in their pas de trois, appeared to have organically developed from the efforts of the brass section. Then, in the third act, the fouettes of Odile (Viengsay Valdes, rather adorably credited with this role as if we did not know she was also Odette) seemed, for once, not a prima ballerina foot-twirling death march, but rather a musical illustration of the martial music underneath it. Each dip of her toe matched up with a blare of horns, and, for the first time I ever, I saw this bit of choreography as something to do with Tchaikovsky and not just with showing off technique. So many times I have felt like dances are being done by people counting beats in their head; but with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, it really seems the dancers are listening to the music, and the difference is truly remarkable. It just all feels so very right, this marriage of music and movement, and I found myself getting goosebumps over and over again, seeing this best of ballet scores come to life. It was great.

I also enjoyed the differences in this version from many of the ones I have seen. All of the first act takes place in the court, and the dances seem to be done spontaneously by the staff to cheer up Prince Siegfried (Carlos Acosta). There were additions I’d never expected – a maypole, a jester (who is a big player), a strange bit in which the jester becomes a crossbow, the animal masquerade (mentioned above), and this whole “mystical experience” thing where Siegfried seems to suddenly be struck by the idea of looking for a swan. As it turns out, when he finally meets Odette, he just kind of steps onto the stage from the wings and grabs her from the waist, which is utterly anticlimactic. However, prior to this we have the most glorious dance of the swan corps ever, whom, despite their smallish numbers (twenty, when I think some company brags of having forty or so), utterly mesmerized me with their movements across the stage, forming and reforming shapes just like real birds do in the sky, only instead of just Vs and teardrop shapes we got circles and a gorgeous set of lines with offset dancers in the middle. I … I mean, I’m sure it was just standard stagecraft, but it was just … goosebumps again. Lovely.

Then we were barelling on to Act Three and Siegfried’s betrayal, and of this act I have to say RED AND BLACK ODILE! This isn’t what most people would have noticed, but it was a novel costuming decision, and I’m a bit obsessed with the color combination. And Valdes’ transformation – it made it impossible to see how Siegfried could have possibly mistaken the one for the other, she had so utterly changed her self presentation on stage. Her seduction of Siegfried seemed ever so much more cold and calculating than in other versions of this show, though, truth be told, the vision of Odette that appeared behind the scrim was so poorly lit that it almost seemed a metaphor for Siegfried’s poor memory. The ending, well, just in case you like surprises, I’ll say a bit of it was clunky and horrid and some of it was magical. Odette’s inability to resist Von Rothbart seemed like it was physically manifested, though, and Valdes did some powerful dancing in this act – but what can I say, being evil always makes a performer more interesting, and it was her Odile I loved best.

Costumes have been a bit of a problem with BNC for me before, because, though the dance preserves well over time, the costumes go stale. I enjoyed them, though – the court was very medieval a la Disney’s Cinderella meets traditional Russian clothing, and the costumes for the dancers in act three were great. Best was the third act’s black and white theme for the jester and the prince, which showed clearly the tug between Odette and Odile that was to come. Foreshadowing via costuming: nice! And the sets were simple but servicable, Gothic and eerie and easy to pack into a shipping container.

At the end of the night, we were treated to the Grande Dame herself, Alicia Alonso, coming on stage to take a bow besides the dance company that she has made, and a dancer that she helped create – Carlos Acosta. She really is a treasure and I feel lucky to have actually seen her, especially since I felt she was wholly responsible for the wonderful evening I’d just had. Who’d think in a world in which there is so much bad dance that one night could be so magical? Even though last night was sold out, there are seats available for £35 for the non-Carlos nights – and, dammit, it’s impossible for me to go back. But I really and truly wish I could. At least I’ve got their Magia de la Danza program to look forward to after Easter, and may I suggest you book for that, too, using the same £35 deal to get lovely stalls seats.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 20th, 2010. Ballet Nacional de Cuba continues with Swan Lake through Sunday April 4th; their residency at the London Coliseum continues through Sunday April 11th. Don’t miss it. Really. No matter what Ismene Brown says.)

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Review – MacMillan Triple Bill (Concerto, Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations) – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

March 26, 2010

Kenneth MacMillan and Frederic Ashton have been the two mystery choreographers of England whose style I was in complete ignorance of before moving here nearly four years ago. Thanks to Pacific Northwest Ballet, I was well versed in the work of Balanchine (and had come to expect nothing but top-notch performances of same), as well as Jerome Robbins and a wonderful assortment of modern choreographers. But the English style was a mystery to me, and when I moved here, I was surprised to see that these two men had a veritable library of ballets created of which I had seen not one. This was a gap in my balletic knowledge.

I have to say, I have not warmed up to this choreography. I saw Manon in 2005 or so (on a trip – can’t find the date anywhere so that’s when I think it was) and found it rambling, brutal, and generally unappealing, my only positive memories being a pas de trois with some truly amazing manipulation of the lead ballerina by the two men partnering her. And Mayerling, which I saw this fall despite suspecting I wouldn’t enjoy it, was a grind. But, still, I feel that I should be able, if not to enjoy Ashton’s depressing full-length ballets, to at least be able to identify his style. Nobody gets that much work in the dance world unless they have real talent, and, in this case, I fully believe that my inability to enthuse indicated a gap in my understanding. Not liking depressing full-length dance evenings, well, that makes sense to me, but I do really want to understand MacMillan’s style. And, well, I love triple bills and the opportunity they give you to see a wide variety of dance in one evening. I’d also scored some £6 amphitheater seats, so come 7:30 last night, my thought was, bring it on!

First up was “Concerto,” a piece from 1966, was an abstract ballet, with sunny orange, yellow, and red costumes. Sadly, it didn’t make too much of an impression on me. Yuhui Choe and Steve McRae looked really good and moved together nicely, but I found Hikaru Kobayashi’s forward-propelled leaps more memorable. The problem was that with “The Judas Tree” nipping on its heels and a high-powered, brilliantly costumed suite of dances to ragtime music at the end of the night, “Concerto” was just overwhelmed.

“The Judas Tree” was billed as “controversial,” and I suppose a ballet in which a dancer is raped would probably generate a lot of talk. However, I found it more ridiculous that she was forced to stand there holding her hand over her crotch afterwards as if we hadn’t understood what had happened, and that the person who’d set her up for this (in the context of the story, “The Foreman”) was so indifferent. I would expect either sympathy or brutality but instead the choreography showed cluelessness – just not a realistic response. I found the piece just painfully belabored and overdone, lacking in subtlety and clarity. “The Woman” (Leanne Benjamin), she’s a madonna (“look, she’s got a cape on”), she’s a whore (“ooh, she’s flirting with a lot of the men”), but really, all she was with her costume on was a ballerina. She didn’t look like a hooker brought in from off the streets, and if she was supposed to be The Foreman’s girlfriend, she should have been wearing something a little bit more street (hot pants and a tube top would have been perfect). This would have really cranked up the emotional drama but as it was I was unable to connect. Carlos Acosta did some nice leaps in the beginning (when he wasn’t the center of attention), Edward Watson acted his shoes off (the man is great), and it was interesting to watch Leanne “walking” on all of the construction workers hands, but the end, with murder, a suicide, and Leanne shaken to death, just didn’t work. I think part of this was because she had already appeared to have been killed once. My vote for this ballet: incoherent. A shame really, as it seemed to have so much potential with its great set and fab male cast, but it just didn’t hit it. I could about imagine going back to watch what was happening with the rest of the crew when Leanne was swanning around in the front of the stage, but it won’t take the taste of “opportunity missed” out of my mouth. The audience did not receive this piece well and I don’t think it could solely be blamed on the darkness of its ending.

Much like a child getting a lollipop after a trip to the dentist, we, the audience, were treated to “Elite Syncopations” after the hard work of “The Judas Tree.” My reaction to it was, of course, totally contaminated by my desire to have a good time, but I’ll pretend that wasn’t the case. I thought “Elite Syncopation” was great, right up there with “Les Patineurs” as a fab, fun ensemble piece, but even better because it had wonderful music (I love ragtime), amazing costumes (I couldn’t focus properly on the dancing because of them) and lighthearted, lovely dancing that put more recent attempts at the “dancers in a ballroom” to shame (sorry, Northern Ballet). I loved the references to the dances of the era, I thought Steve McRae was fab as a twinkle-toed high-flyer, I found the Hot House rag with the four man a treat – it was just lovely. And the whole time, at the back of the stage, a similarly manic-costumed band was burning it up. I can only imagine wanting to see this over and over again, just to get swept up in the magic.

So – a mixed bill, a mixed bag, and at the end I didn’t feel any closer to understanding what makes Kenneth MacMillans “style” anymore than I did before (other than a tendency to do complex partnerings with women). That said, it was a good night and good programming, and I’ll keep working at getting Mr. MacMillan worked out since there’s no shortage of his work to be seen now that I’m over here.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010. The MacMillan Triple Bill continues through April 15th, 2010.)

Carlos Acosta and Friends – London Coliseum

April 10, 2008

Tonight was the long-anticipated “Carlos Acosta and Friends” show at the London Coliseum I bought tickets for, er, two or more months back. Since I’ve moved here, I’ve become quite a fan of this dancer. The show I saw him in two autumns ago blew me away; I felt as if I were in the presence of a Barishnikov, of one of the true legends of dance. The way he lands his jumps, the angle his body takes in the air, his attentive partnering, his stage presence … he leaves me breathless. It’s just hard to believe dance can be this good.

The show was very equally focused on Mr. Acosta and the various members of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba. It opened with Alicia Alonzo’s staging of Petipa’s “Don Quixote Pas de Deux,” with Yolanda Correa. Whew – what a dancer she was! When he held her up on pointe – her other leg extended behind her, one arm gracefully above her, the opposite hand in his – and then let her go, it was like she was pinned to the floor, like seeing a hummingbird poised in the air in front of a flower. Acosta was also amazing – he did a leap that I thought was physiologically impossible – something about how he threw his back and his leg just made me think he couldn’t possibly do that and then land on his feet, and yet he did, and then repeated it. I can’t really even describe the jump, it didn’t seem like how a human being could move and my brain couldn’t process it. Anyway, even though I frequently find these old-time ballet duets cheesy, with two such brilliant performers it was all fireworks and left the audience roaring. And God, can Acosta spin! I’m surprised the floor didn’t catch on fire.

Next up were two contemporary pieces featuring the Cuban company. The first one, George Cespedes’ “La Ecuación,” didn’t initially seem very promising. Four dancers walked, one by one, onto a silent stage on which was a wire cube, about 10 feet high; each dancer paused in the cube and did some kind of … well, it seemed like horrible mime, and as the audience members coughed loudly I couldn’t help but feel they were passing some kind of judgment on the piece.

But then the music came on and the lights flashed to color and the cube became all their was of the stage, and suddenly we were watching what seemed to me very much like an insane Capoeira demonstration. It was all about stylized street fighting, the three women and the man bouncing off each other, in twos, in threes, dancing all four, ganging up two on one, flipping each other over their arms, while this driving Cuban drum music made me want to get up and dance. I caught that Alena Leon and Sorgalim Villarrutia were in this piece, and two other dancers whose names I’m not sure of (the program didn’t make it clear which of four possibilities were on each night), and LOVED their commitment and energy. Every second they were on stage they were completely “there,” completely engaged with each other if they were partnering, and their bodies moved like magic. It was really energizing, even in our crap seats in the second balcony. Shockingly, the dancers ended the piece as if they still had a little more in them – hard to believe, really!

The third piece, “El Peso de Una Isla” (also by Cespedes) started out with a smoke covered stage that the various members of the 14 or so strong company slithering out and then doing backflips or something on stage. I didn’t know what to think – were they zombies? Were they vampires? Was this suddenly going to turn into “Thriller?” What it did turn into was a pretty big group thing with a lot of couple work, a lot of spinning on knees, falling onto backs and then knees, men pushing women around, women catching men and yanking them … and it all just seemed to take a little too long.

The final piece, “Tocororo Suite,” had a live Cuban band and the entire Danza ensemble. It’s about Carlos discovering … I don’t know, he needs to leave ballet behind and learn the moves of his country? It didn’t really seem to have much of a plot, but there was very fine Cuban dancing, Carlos got to show off a bit, and the music was great. I fear Mr. Acosta doesn’t really have great chops as a choreographer, but … one can hope this will change over time, as at 35 the word on the street is he’s passed his peak. That said, I’m going to make it my mission to see everything he’s in in the next year so I can take advantage of him while he’s around.

Overall, it was a good evening – not brilliant like the Sadler’s Wells production I saw some 18 months ago, but fun with great dance and wonderful music. I would recommend it, though tickets are VERY steep – best to go if you love Acosta or Cuban music/dance (or, like me, both).