When Carlos Acosta retired from the Royal Ballet in 2015, he went on to form his own company, Acosta Danza. Just two short years later and the company have made their much anticipated UK debut. Comprising of dancers from both classical and contemporary backgrounds, Acosta’s vision was for a company that could work across dance styles, and their debut programme clearly has this in mind. Each of the five works is distinctly different in both style and concept and, even if the selection is questionable, the strength and versatility of the dancers is evident throughout.
From the moment the warm glow of a spotlight falls upon the supremely toned body of dancer Carlos Luis Blanco, it’s clear that this is a company of dancers at the top of their game. In excruciatingly slow motion Blanco moves downstage. The tension of each balance on demi-pointe, each carefully raised leg, shimmers in his exquisitely defined muscles. It’s like watching a sketch of the human anatomy brought to life.
The resulting image is mesmeric but somewhat overworked. Created by Marianela Boan in 1987, El cruce sobre el NiÃ¡gara is distinctly of its era. As Blanco steps into the embrace of dancer Alejandro Silva, who lies curled upon the floor, they begin a studious and considered duet, each movement precisely aligned with the discordant melody. Their moments of contact are sharp rather than fluid, the touch of one limb an aid to send the next into motion.
Visually it’s impressive; the bodies of the two dancers – one dark skinned, one pale – work as muscular mirrors of one another, but overall it’s dry and in desperate want of a change of pace. While the restaging of some works fills them with new life, this remains little more than an homage to the American modern dance techniques of the ’80s.
There’s no denying the technical aptitude of these dancers but the first three works of the evening’s programme feel out of sync with the current dance world and the athletic modernity their bodies are capable of. Justin Peck’s lyrical ballet Belles-Lettres was first created in 2014, but its tone is reminiscent of the abstract ballets of bygone eras – from the formation of the dancers to the men’s skin-tight catsuits and the ballerina’s long, flowing skirts.
Designed for four couples and a soloist, the fluent, elegant movement is pleasant to watch. A series of duets gives each couple their chance to shine and each dances as if they truly desire to make their moment count. Luis Valle is a strong soloist, his leaps sprightly and dynamic. It’s an enjoyable, dreamy work but it lacks substance – hardly the boundary pushing material that Acosta Danza proposed to pursue.
In contrast, the atmospheric opening of Goyo Montero’s Imponderable simmers with promise. To the heartfelt words of a Spanish poem, snatches of fluid weighted movement are glimpsed through the puffs of haze emitted from handheld smoke machines. Yet just as the idea takes form, the image breaks and is replaced by an upbeat group sequence. Imponderable is a reworking of a number of Montero’s previous pieces and it shows. The segmented images and ideas quickly become repetitive. With a tighter grasp on its ideas, it could hold more resonance.
It’s only in the final two works of the evening that Acosta Danza’s diverse programme finds its strength. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s subtle approach to Mermaid, a duet for Acosta and contemporary dancer Marta Ortega, is a highlight. Ortega, clothed in a long and alluring red dress, is not so much a mermaid as the crumpled figure of a woman, wine glass in hand, struggling to stand. Her legs skitter beneath her as, in the arms of Acosta, she attempts to find a way to walk. It’s a wonderful twist on the mermaid of the title.
Lights beam down like sunlight through water, while the chimes and mournful melodies of Korean musician Woojae Park create a gentle, poignant atmosphere. Ortega embraces her character. She is part alluring seductress, part reliant on Acosta’s support. The tender relationship between them speaks through the movement until, gradually, their roles become less distinct. Mermaid is an understated yet effective work and, while Cherkaoui doesn’t make his story or ideas explicit, he offers just enough to lure you in, much like the sirens of mythology.
The bill closes on a high with Jorge Crecis’ athletic Twelve. A piece built on quick fire reactions, Twelve takes the game of catch to another level. Clusters of water bottles, lit from within by bobbing glow sticks, fill the stage. They are thrown into the air in increasingly daring patterns. Interspersed by bursts of movements it’s at once playful and military – precision and timing being key. As each routine is completed, the audience applaud. Once or twice a dancer misses, but it’s no matter – it only adds to the risk of their game. You will them to catch and, because of that, there are moments where this work has you on the edge of your seat. As they test and tease one another, we finally see these supreme dancers as themselves; team members and competitors in equal measure. It’s a fun, spirited close in which the personalities behind the performers shine through.
Acosta Danza is a company with ambitious visions for the future. The strength of this programme lies in the works that present something fresh and exciting – works suited to a company making its debut. Of course, more traditional works have their place and by no means should they be left on the shelf. It’s more about selecting the ones that these dancers can breathe new life into, rather than dust off and repeat. Still, one thing is clear – Acosta has talent at his command and, with luck, we can look forward to much more from these young and versatile dancers.
Acosta Danza is on a UK tour until November 11th. For more details, click here.