Ballet and dance

Carlos Acosta: A Classical Farewell

Date: June 30 & July 2, 2016
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Petipa – Swan Lake White Swan Pas de deux
Bournonville – La Sylphide Act 2 Pas de deux
MacMillan – Winter Dreams Pas de deux
Fokine – Dying Swan
Vaganova – Diana & Actaeon Pas de deux
Stevenson – End of Time
Mollajolli – A Buenos Aires
Van Cauwenbergh – Je ne regrette rien
Van Cauwenbergh – Les Bourgeois
Acosta – Carmen
Reinoso – Anadromous
Garcia – Majisimo

A Classical Farewell is Carlos Acosta’s farewell from the classical dance stage. The production, which Acosta takes across the world before he closes his illustrious dance career, features his handpicked selection of young Cuban dancers. While Acosta is the main bill, in reality he only appears in three of twelve pieces, leaving the bulk of the hard work to his compatriots. The overall effect could not be considered underwhelming, however, as the male corps effused Acosta’s dancing shadows and female corps gave us glimpses of Marianela Nuñez and Tamara Rojo, both of whom were Acosta’s frequent and favorite partners in Covent Garden.

At 43, Acosta could no longer hang as high and as long as he could in the past. His sauté fouetté, in particular, found such a short hang time that his landing was at times found ahead of the beat. But that was not to say Acosta lost one of his prized virtues in dancing – his crisply perfect timing, as he would quickly find the necessary adjustments to re-synchronize with the taped music. In the only classical piece he performed – the Diana & Actaeon divertissement – his movements were liquid, and his stance was always picture perfect. He used his extended and still-extremely flexible limps to shape beautiful contours. When his body lines were carefully positioned at rest, one could see great sculptures of body art, as if Acosta was not only performing as a dancer on stage but exhibiting as a sculptor in a museum. Laura Rodriguez, benefiting from Acosta’s enormous hands and rock-solid lifts, danced the Diana part with an expressive, carefree abandon. Her greatest liability, as was the case with the other female soloists though no fault of their own doing, was that her limb extension was not far enough to produce the most elegant lines that we came to expect at major houses; but they surely worked hard to make up for the deficiency with good effort and focus. In Acosta’s other solo piece, Van Cauwenbergh’s “Les Bourgeois”, Acosta danced to the eponymous Jacques Brel song in the style of Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof”, or Falstaff. In this instance, Acosta showcased not so much his dancing prowess as his talent for drama and comedy, and revealed what could possibly be a viable career of dramatic choreography and feature production ahead.

Dancing closest to the shadows of Acosta was Luis Valle, who moved his body with great rhythmic precision and exceptionally powerful legs in “Carmen”, where he danced with Rodriguez. The pair moved seamlessly, and well reminded the audience of Acosta and Rojo of the yesteryear. Acosta’s choreography was sensual, intense and dreamy, quite in the same stylistic vein as Martha Clarke’s “Chéri”. The rest of the dancing was fine, but Ely Regina Hernández’s rendition of Van Cauwenbergh’s “Je ne regrette rien”, to Edith Piaf’s music, stood out, not merely because of her rhythmic acumen but because her body strength allowed her to execute some extremely memorable body lines full of charisma and style, as if Sylvie Guillem did Pina Bausch.

José Garcia’s “Majisimo” rounded out the evening. Created in 1965 for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, this divertissement combines classical techniques with Hispanic flair. Here, the corps seemed genuinely most comfortable. While Acosta had the leading role, the star potential of Enrique Corrales, Javier Rojas and Luis Valle really shone through. Corrales might have been a weak and unsteady Siegfried, but he was brimming with smile and confidence in this particular endeavor. The three could be seen occasionally out-hanging Acosta in mid-air. They seemed to relish their stage presence, even next to the dancing giant that was Acosta. This evening, as it turned out, might be better remembered for the bright potential future of Castro-era (or post- Castro-era?) Cuban ballet than as Acosta’s farewell from stage. The audience might not have expected this, but it might just be exactly what Acosta has planned all along.

Acosta in Hong Kong

Acosta in Hong Kong.

Ballet and dance

Romanian National Ballet: La Sylphide

Date: March 30, 2014
Company: Romanian National Ballet
Choreography: Johan Kobborg, after August Bournonville
Location: Bucharest National Opera House, Bucharest.

Choreography by Johan Kobborg, after August Bournonville

Romanian National Ballet

Romanian National Opera (orchestra)
Ciprian Teodoraşcu (conductor)

When Romanian ballerina Alina Cojocaru signed on to be director of Romanian National Ballet, there was little doubt that the talents of Johan Kobborg would soon follow. The pair has enlivened the stage of Covent Garden for many years, before they controversially “retired” together from the Royal Ballet last year. The move allowed the pair more freedom to experiment and pursue guest gigs elsewhere. It was therefore soon after Cojocaru decided to offer her services to her homeland’s top company, Kobborg would follow. The Dane’s first project in the Romanian capital was a revival of La Sylphide, one of the oldest surviving romantic ballets in the entire repertoire and one that the pair was famously known for. The project was based on the 19th century work of Kobborg’s compatriot, balletmaster August Bournonville for the Royal Danish Ballet. Kobborg left the work untouched but added an Act I pas de deux for James and Effie which, by placing more dramatic importance on James and his psyche, seemed to suggest that the whole concept of the sylph was merely his own dreamy concoction. When this project premiered last December, Cojocaru caused a sensation in Bucharest by guest-starring. Kobborg also made news when it was announced after the prima that he agreed to sign on as co-director of the company. In this spring evening, company dancers took the stage, with principal Dawid Trzensimiech as James and Rin Okuno, in her role debut, as the sylph. Trzensimiech, solid the entire evening, showed why the Royal Ballet’s loss was the Romanian company’s gain. (Trzensimiech too defected from Covent Garden late last year.) His fouetté sauté always landed with crisp acuity, while he moved about on stage with brisk fluidity. Okuno demonstrated high arches and danced like an airy origami wind mill. Her point foot felt at times overly pushed forward, but if her intention was to be faithful to the point development of the 19th century, she was indeed a performing genius. The production, set appropriately in the Scottish highlands, had everything one would expect from La Sylphide: a chimney in Act 1 where the sylph actually disappeared before James and Gurn were able to find her; some stage trickery that allowed the sylph to disappear from the chair to embarrass Gurn and reassure Effie (danced by Diana Tudor); and a sylph that actually flew across (using wires!) the stage just as James collapsed to the ground, knowing that he has lost both Effie and the sylph. The orchestra was not what one would consider world-class, but they did their duties by going through Herman Severin Løvenskiold’s music from start to finish with no serious objection.

La Sylphide in Bucharest.

La Sylphide in Bucharest.