On 18th July, Carlos Acosta presented a mixed programme at Sadler’s Wells that featured him with some of his colleagues from the Royal Ballet in solos and pas de deux from the company’s repertoire as well as from other sources, of mainly Latin influence.
The programme opened with Jules Massenet’s “Angelus”, a piece of music that presented the dancers entering the stage in classroom clothing. There were barres at the back of the stage, where the dancers warmed up. A curtain came down on this scene as Acosta and Zenaida Yanowsky danced “Agon” pas de deux. As an opening it was a strong statement and both Acosta and Yanowsky seemed to enjoy the challenges of Balanchine’s choreography, though I felt that this pas de deux needs of its context in order to make its full impact. True, most pas de deux do need their contexts in order to make choreographic sense, but in the case of “Agon”, and especially as an opening item, the dry intensity of the choreography does not seem to come across.
Next came Bournonville’s “La Sylphide” pas de deux, danced by Sarah Lamb and Rupert Pennefather. Lamb was exquisite in her performance of the Sylph. She has the right allegro technique to showcase the choreographer’s work. Her batterie was clear and her technique was always understated in her focus on the character. As a result of this, Pennefather gave the best performance I have ever seen with him. He seemed more relaxed and responding to his partner than usual and therefore he managed to give meaning to his steps as well as transmiting a real sense of enjoyment.
MacMillan’s “Winter Dreams – Farewell pas de deux” came next and, up to that point it was the best item of the evening, mainly because the pas de deux was created in isolation for a gala performance (the whole ballet was added around this pas de deux later on). Mara Galeazzi and Thiago Soares gave outstanding performances as the doomed lovers.
After some more Massenet’s interlude music and an interpretation of Fokine’s “The Dying Swan”, Marianela Núñez and Carlos Acosta performed the "Diana and Actaeon" pas de deux choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova. This was the highlight of the first act with both Núñez and Acosta outdoing each other in technical, stylistic and, pure brilliant performances, especially in Núñez’s case. She has become such a beautiful, stylish and technically brilliant ballerina that her dancing always comes as a joy to watch.
After the interval, the format changed to more solo variations as well as not so well known pieces from repertoires from more Latin roots. I especially enjoyed Acosta’s interpretation of Ben Van Cauwenbergh’s “Les Bourgeois”. In fact I never thought of Acosta as a dancer who could be so good at comedy and I wish somebody from the Royal Ballet’s artistic team actually saw his solo and decides to cast him as Lescaut in “Manon”.
All dancers came together for Georges García’s “Majísimo”, with music from Massenet’s “Le Cid” –which actually explained the use of his music as a link throughout the programme.-. The piece was a pastiche of Spanish dance that, taken seriously, could present difficulties to review. However, the sense of fun the dancers transmitted from the stage was such that the overall performance was really enjoyable.
Acosta’s idea for the programme could definitely be improved. The links between the different sections showing the dancers in the background warming up for their performances was not a bad idea, but some of the appearances of the stage technicians to action changes of scenery that were totally unnecessary caused some giggles from the audience.
However, one aspect of the programme that I found curious is how much the dancers seemed to enjoy the possibility to dance outside the Royal Opera House boundaries. Some of the dancers were unrecognisable in their total drive and sense of joy, aspects of their performances that are at times absent in their ROH’s appearances.
It was a good programme. The dancers enjoyed themselves and passed that sense of joy to the audience. Moreover, the dancing was at times excellent. Not a programme to watch over and over again, but definitely worth watching if only to appreciate the potential of some of these dancers… potential that sadly at times seems to go unnoticed within their home company.