Cubanía, Royal Opera House, London – review

A mixed programme from Carlos Acosta showcasing the contemporary dance of his homeland

A house favourite since joining the Royal Ballet in 1998, Carlos Acosta has had no problem packing Covent Garden for Cubanía, a mixed programme showcasing the contemporary dance of his homeland while test-marketing his own post-ballet persona. Acosta’s earliest ventures into the “and friends” format pioneered by Nureyev in the 1970s were blighted by penny-pinching production values and dismal choreography. Last year’s Classical Selection with live orchestra and nine Royal Ballet names looked like a breakthrough but Cubanía sees a return to previous form.

Acosta himself danced two duets and the semi-autobiographical Tocororo Suite. His stamina remains formidable but leaps are more carefully rationed, and there is greater focus on his seamless partnering and drill-bit pirouettes. Derrumbe by Miguel Altunaga is a bad-tempered duet for Acosta and Rambert’s excellent Pieter Symonds. The thriftily bare stage was enlivened by intermittent squares of light (what, again?), a clothes rail and a few chairs. Acosta twirled his partner like a majorette’s baton and both dancers changed jackets with irritating frequency, giving the whole predictable exchange the look of a domestic argument at a jumble sale.

La Ecuación by George Céspedes is a colourful foursome set to stuck-record percussion from X Alfonso. It was athletically performed by Danza Contemporánea de Cuba but the repetitive vocabulary and restricted performance space – most of the action took place in an 8ft skeletal cube – would have looked more at home in hotel cabaret than an international opera house. Flux is a typically crepuscular Russell Maliphant solo accompanied by a drum machine trapped on a U-boat. Alexander Varona’s gyroscopic grace will look terrific in close-up on DVD but the piece is far too miniaturist for the long Covent Garden sightlines.

Tocororo’s rambling, sentimental scenario has been stripped back to the dance duel between the classical Acosta and the vulpine Varona’s louche-limbed gang boss. There is some fine Latin percussion from the onstage band but this is swamped by Miguel Núñez’s cheesy melodies and abysmal orchestration which degenerates into an all-out fight between hi-hat and grand piano. The lively cast frisk about the stage rhubarbing Hispanically, girls fanny-fanning a great deal with their frilly little skirts. Acosta is to stage a new version of Carmen for the Royal Ballet next season. One can only hope he’s got all the clichés out of his system.

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