It is a joy unbeaten to watch two dancers at the very top of their game, lending every ounce of muscle and blood in their bodies over to the audience for an hour and a half. While Carlos Acosta may be the big name here – the posters have been up since 2012 – On Before is very much a partnership, its brilliance owed to the charisma Acosta shares with his extraordinary dance partner Zenaida Yanowsky.
Whether they are engaged in harmonious binaries, moving one another like objects, lovers or sometimes warriors, or soloing, each with the same magnetism as a whole company, they are matched dynamism for dynamism, muscle for stretched muscle, in a show of nine component pieces, all characterised by liquid changes in tempo, lighting designed to capture every twitch of flesh, and a celebration of the human form.
In On Before, a yin-and-yang, black-and-white-clothed duet, Acosta and Yanowsky strike tableaux freezes that melt into puzzles of arms and soaring lifts. Sirin by Yuri Yanowsky brings Zenaida Yanowsky’s feverish charisma alive; in a white bodystocking with faint geometric lines, she is as beguiling as a mathematical equation, flitting into triangles, contorting into knots, sometimes letting a stray limb quiver like a tadpole’s tail. The score, drawn from Alberto Iglesias, is a perfect foil for her animation, although if we are tempted to fix in her this alien androgynous quality it is quickly transformed in the haunting solo Footnote to Ashton. Surrounded by hundreds of candles and the celestial voices of Handel’s Amoroso Delirium, she becomes a woman trapped between graceful abandon and self-consciousness, holding her body tightly or forcing her wrist back into submission when it tries to float away from her.
Russell Maliphant’s Two is no less of a showstopper, and although originally choreographed for another dancer, seems made for the flow of Acosta’s muscular lines – the tiny sand dune ripples that run along his shoulderblades, or the cascade of his arms, rendered magic by Michael Hulls’s spectacular lighting design. He dips like a boxer, bends like a wrestler and pivots like a well oiled machine, as the beat of Andy Cowton’s rock score growls through the tension of his arms.
It’s a power that re-emerges in darker form in the austere and sometimes brutal finale, O Magnum Mysterium. In cold slices of spotlight Acosta’s blink-quick touch has Yanowsky falling into aching slow motion backbends, until she finishes curled at his feet in a pieta, a chorus of singers – who have been wandering the stage mysteriously throughout sections of the show – now ablaze behind them, singing for all they are worth.
Although melodramatic, this final religious quality chimes with the essence of the show; if the body is a temple, here is the place to come and worship.