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'Carlos in Cuba'

by Stuart Sweeney

April 9, 2008 -- Coliseum, London

Cuban dancers make an impact around the world with their exemplary technique, expressive qualities and passion, and Carlos Acosta has captivated audiences in the UK and around the world for a decade or more.  However, while many of his fellow countrymen and women who have joined U.S. companies focus on the undeniable human rights shortcomings of their birthplace, Acosta emphasizes the fact that, as a poor boy from the streets, Cuba may have been the only place where he would have had the chance to become a professional ballet dancer, and acknowledges the debt he owes the system that made this possible.  Thus “Carlos in Cuba”, a celebration of the talents and energy of the island's artists, is a natural step for him.

While the majority of the show is a synthesis of contemporary dance and Latin rhythms, Acosta chose to open with the “Don Q” grand pas de deux, perhaps to soften the blow for die-hard ballet fans.  While grands pas, ripped out of context on a bare stage, can prove indigestible fare, Acosta and his partner, Yolanda Correa, brought the beautiful steps to life through the chemistry of their partnership and the resulting warmth flowing out from the stage.  Acosta executed the complex, high jumps and whirlwind fast spins that we expect from him, but his partner proved a revelation; Correa, a Principal from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, quickly established a rapport with the audience and produced a highly accomplished and expressive performance with perfect balances and climaxing with double turns in her fouettés.

The next two works, both choreographed by George Céspedes, showcased Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in a distinctive modern style incorporating the Afro-Hispanic character of the Caribbean island.  “La Ecuación” featured four dancers performing in and around a metal cube of rods, combined with an enigmatic equation in the programme, and suggested a dry mathematical exploration.  However, the series of sensuous solos, duets, and larger groupings provided a strong electric charge.  Each performer had their own steps defining the cubic space and while the solos worked best for me, some of the combinations were also satisfying.  Each time Wuislleys Estachoili stepped up to the plate, the energy level threatened to leap off the end of the scale; sometimes moving from his knees to his feet in a single, sharp move, or executing a high, toe-touching jump worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records and all with a glorious movement quality.

“The Weight of an Island”, a larger scale piece, promised an exploration of “the concept of Cuban identity and the contrast between the stereotype and the reality.”  The reality was an overextended rumble with combinations of 13 men and women in simulated conflict and confrontation.  The men had the best of this format and were very impressive, overcoming the repetitive nature of the choreography.  Another point of interest was Acosta’s role as one of the ensemble dancers,  sharing the stage on equal terms with the others.  But this is typical of Acosta's style: he always gives his fellow performers every opportunity to shine, without hogging the limelight himself.

“Tocororo Suite” is a selection from Acosta's popular full-length show, which had overlong sections and some that just didn't work.  In the “Suite”, Carlos has wielded the knife effectively, leaving the energy of Cuban dance styles, in a contest between country ballet boy, Acosta, and a street-wise gang leader, danced by Alexander Varona.  While Acosta's triumphant adoption of popular dance styles, eventual leadership of the gang, and the stereotypical, simplistic view of Cuban life, are  predictable, this is here transformed into a fine entertainment, which received applause equal to the opening “Don Q”.

Overall, Acosta has now added two successful collaborations with Danza Contemporánea de Cuba to his classical repertoire, and perhaps has pointed up a future direction when he eventually hangs up his ballet shoes.  But on the evidence of his continuing virtuosity in “Don Q”, I suspect and hope that's still a long way off.


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