Review: Carlos Acosta – A Classical Selection, The Coliseum

This week Cuban ballet giant Carlos Acosta celebrates the end of his 26-year ballet career in a retrospective, Carlos Acosta – A Classical Selection, looking back at some of his favourite pieces of repertoire. He is leaving his career as a professional dancer behind to pursue an arts centre aimed to give all talented children in his native Cuba an equal and free opportunity for dance training. Before bidding goodbye to his life on stage, he visits London’s Coliseum for the last time to perform with guest artists from the Royal Ballet. With the grand setting of the Coliseum, paired with a career that spans stints in both the English National Ballet and Royal Ballet, this evening promises to be a treat for both ballet enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

The first act begins with the stage set so that we can see the backstage area, unhidden as it usually is from the audience, complete with propped-up scenery and furniture. The dancers enter the stage informally and unconventionally, including Acosta, dressed in slouchy dance gear and chatting away to one another as though we are witnessing a rehearsal. Could this signify the first act as a warm up for what to expect over the course of the evening?

The dancers retreat ‘backstage’ to get ready and we are launched straight into a series of classical repertoire, from George Balanchine’s Agon pas de deux performed by Acosta and Zenaida Yanowsky, to more well-known classics such as The Dying Swan, also performed exquisitely by Yanowsky. This is certainly a highlight of the first act, with her delicate arms replicating that of a bird in flight until, eventually, she withers away. It’s a tough piece to follow, but Acosta and dancer Marianela Núñez close the first act with triumphant duet Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. The piece showcases both a pas de deux (duet) and the dancers as soloists, something that is a welcome change, especially in enabling us to witness Acosta soar across the stage. The male dancer is not showcased as often as the female in classical ballet, so to see this burst of solo energy from Acosta is a real treat before the interval.

The second half opens with more modern style duet – End of Time by British choreographer Ben Stevenson, performed by Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Nehemiah Kish – signifying the tone of this act. Far more contemporary than the previous half, although still showcasing classical styles, this part of the evening displays some newer pieces as well as classic choreography reimagined by Acosta himself, such as Bizet’s Carmen. This light-hearted section, which involves the stage set up as a café, brought laughter to the audience through a series of solos, including one by Acosta himself in which he staggers around the stage drunk, in and out of impressive technical movement with ease. This is a great choice to bring out a more humorous side of ballet that is not often on display.

It’s clear that for his final performances at London’s Coliseum, a venue Acosta has frequented across his career, he wants the audience to experience all sides of the professional ballet career he has led. From rehearsals and camaraderie with fellow dancers, to more contemporary forays and his own choreographic ventures. It is an impressive showcase of a career that has done so much for the male side of the ballet world.

Acosta still has his worldwide farewell tour ahead of him, but as he bows out of the Coliseum for the last time it is clear that the world of British ballet will sorely miss – and Cuba will be glad to have back – a rare talent like him.

Carlos Acosta – A Classical Selection is playing at the London Coliseum until 13 December. For more information and tickets, see the ENO website. Photo: ENO.