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'Tocororo -- A Cuban Tale'

Acosta takes flight but not much more

by Lyndsey Winship

June 30, 2004 -- Sadler’s Wells, London

Carlos Acosta is a show stopping dancer, a crowd pleaser, a dazzling virtuoso – not to mention a pretty face – but his presence alone is not enough to make “Tocororo” shine. The ballet dancer-turned-choreographer attempts to bring some of his own life experiences to the stage, along with the vibrancy and spontaneity of Cuban street life and music. It’s an exciting move for ballet, slipping from classical poses into latin moves, but as a piece of theatre, the show which takes its name from Cuba’s national bird, fails to fly.

The problem is not with the dancing. Acosta lives up to expectations, effortlessly spiralling through the air, he can clear half the stage in a single leap and make jaws drop with a furious flurry of pirouettes. His 14-year-old nephew, Yonah, is impressively assured as the young Tocororo, and the supporting cast from the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba are full of verve.

But the show lacks coherence. The sketchy plot is essentially a series of impressions – young boy heads to the city in search of opportunity, struggles to fit in, finds love, sees the darker side of urban life, loses his father, and comes good in the end. But there’s no thread to tie them together. Dialogue could do this – as it is, actress Mireya Chapman has the only real speaking role as the Santera, seeking guidance from the African gods. Even better, a complete score could impose some structure, shape and motif, and avoid the big empty silences that cut into the action between band numbers. If someone would pen some songs, then Acosta could be headed for the West End – there’s more than a whiff of “West Side Story” in the confrontational street scenes and sensual latin clinches.

The story deals with some big emotions but the lack of articulate drama means that we only watch them, rather than experience them. There’s no build up of tension or expectation, and therefore no satisfaction or resolution. And there’s little character development beyond the leading role. Fairy tale ballet can get away with this sort of artifice, but something this rooted in reality just seems stifled.

Nevertheless, there are some great moments – the band bursting into life, the high energy company numbers, the thoughtful pas de deux between our hero and his love, Veronica Corveas, and of course every appearance from Acosta himself – but this show could be so much more.

Edited by Jeff.

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