Carlos Acosta, world famous Cuban ballet prodigy is hanging up his ballet shoes and bidding farewell to the demands of Classical performance. It feels as if he’s been saying goodbye forever, with talk of him retiring stretching back over the past couple of years. But I’m not complaining – and who would – when with a little help from some friends in high places (fellow performers include Marinella Nunez, Sarah Lamb and Valentino Zuchetti to name just a few), the charismatic and much loved Acosta puts on a tour de force of ballet repertoire that includes historical as well as contemporary choreography, and showcases his strength, passion and emotional integrity as well as that of his colleagues.

The evening opens in the grandeur of The Royal Albert Hall. A spotlight illuminates a lone pianist. Then Acosta enters the stage to a welcoming, familiar round of applause. His first pas de deux of the evening is an extract from Kenneth Macmillan’s Winter Dreams – originally choreographed for The Queen Mother’s 90th Birthday and danced by Darcey Bussell and Irek Mukhamedov. Tonight – danced by Acosta and Marinella Nunez – the familiar Tchaicovsky score is heightened and complimented by the performer’s ethereal movements. They impressively fluctuate between gliding across and punctuating the melody, yet it is disappointing that the opening duet of Acosta’s showcase displays little of his own ability and mainly focuses on presenting his female partner’s technical prowess. Yet this withdrawal of male performative abilities is short lived. In subsequent extracts – specifically from Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote – the audience are treated to the soaring leaps and unbelievable elevations that have come to be associated with Acosta. However, Acosta does not rely solely on his honed physicality to deliver a successful performance, but also invests into every piece of choreography an emotional intensity and passion that is, in the main, reciprocated by his fellow performers. The ecstatic abandonment of movement in Laura Morera and Ryoichi Hirano’s performance of Kenneth Macmillan’s ‘Bedroom pas de deux’ from Manon creates an atmosphere of sexual bliss, however the Scheherazade pas de deux feels too sweet and innocently flirtatious to effectively deliver the erotic relationship of Zobeide and the Golden Slave.

Choreographically, the evening feels like a non – chronological lesson in ballet history, constructed in an episodic format that is very satisfying and engaging for the audience. There is a varied mix of artists, from ballet stalwarts such as Petipa, Balanchine, Ashton and Macmillan to newly commissioned Cuban choreographers Raul Reinoso and Miguel Altanaga. It is heartening to observe Acosta promoting fellow Cuban dancers and choreographers, and Anadromous (Reinoso) and Memoria (Altanaga) do not disappoint. The former is inspired by the concept of strength in the face of adversity, and intelligently explores partner work and lifts that divert from the traditional balletic canon of movements. The duo’s bodies ripple with a newly harnessed freedom of movement yet still manage to remain rooted in the classical discipline. Conversely, Memoria, a solo by Acosta to a soundtrack of electronica – is hardly recognisable as ballet. Though the movement is rhythmically dynamic and engagingly contemporary, with many off balance tumbles and plentiful floor work – it seems odd to conclude Acosta’s classical farewell with such a modern piece of choreography.

Stand out moments of the evening include both Balanchine excerpts, Rubies demonstrating idiosyncratic Balanchine details (such as quirky pony gallops and heel steps) and Apollo showcasing a gorgeous melange of exacting music and movement correlation and virtuosic beauty. The accompaniment from the Pegasus Chamber Choir to both Macmillan’s Gloria and Requiem is also hauntingly atmospheric.

Carlos Acosta’s Classical Farewell is an endearing celebration of beauty and grace, an evening that would have been difficult to sabotage regarding the prestige of the choreography and performers selected. After finishing his final solo, Acosta sits informally onstage, packs up his bag, and after a long, contemplative stare, leaves without his trusty ballet shoes. I can’t decide whether it’s corny or poignant. But I’m not sure I really care. As the spotlight fades on the metaphorical footwear, I can’t help but feel emotional, realising I have just witnessed a man who is destined for the history books, performing for the last time…we think.

Carlos Acosta: The Classical Farewell runs until October 7 at the Royal Albert Hall

Photo: Johan Persson