Carlos Acosta’s new company culminated its debut UK tour with two performances at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre this weekend. Having retired from ballet after seventeen years at the Royal Ballet, Acosta has returned home to Cuba, and his roots as a street dancer, to form a contemporary dance company focusing on diversity and variety in dance.
This intention is nicely showcased in this production made up of five different dances of drastically contrasting moods and styles. El cruce sobre el Niagra, is an electric opener. It was originally choreographed in 1987 by Marianela Boán and is inspired by a play of the same name by a Peruvian playwright, Alonso Alegría about a tightrope walker crossing the Niagra falls. It is a remarkable display of the athleticism of the male dancer and an equally remarkable, if somewhat, voyeuristic display of the male dancer’s body – both dancers wear only a jock strap. The dance is made up of controlled, elongated movements that evoke the subject matter nicely, and it makes use of the dancers’ immense lower body strength in leaps and lifts.
Mermaid is the evening’s crowning glory. Acosta himself is partnered with Marta Ortega, in a beautiful piece of narrative choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Ortega, a contemporary dancer, wears a striking red dress designed by Hussein Chalayan and dances in point shoes for the first section of the piece. The point shoes are a metaphor, limiting her movements as the mermaid’s tale might, but the wine glass in her hand and her wobbly reliance on her partner suggests that the metaphor might have a second meaning, relating to the enfeebling effects of alcohol. Both Ortega and Acosta are very moving to watch and moments of solo dancing from them both adds to the poignancy of the piece. Frustratingly, the use of a stream of water pouring onto the stage at the end accompanied by unconvincing sound effects is just another example of unnecessary devices distracting from the dance.
It is not a show without its weaknesses. The two strongest pieces: El cruce sobre el Niagra and Mermaid, were let down by their scores; the former is a jarringly dissonant work by Olivier Messiaen, composed in the late 1980s when the dance was originally choreographed. The score of Mermaid starts promisingly, combining traditional Korean sea songs with Woojae Park’s composition, but disintegrates into cliché with the use of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1 at the end of the piece. There is a heavy over reliance on props in both Imponderable and Twelve. In Imponderable the use of handheld torches and haze create the sense of an atmospheric dystopia but their effectiveness is diminished by their use throughout the entire piece. It is a shame because the dance itself, exciting energetic street-style set to Cuban folk music, is the best display of the group’s collective abilities of the whole evening. Twelve made use of water bottles filled with fluorescent tubing in a bizarre circus-style melee that felt somewhat like watching a team building exercise. It was not so much an unsuccessful piece, as it was unfitting and unnecessary; perhaps the intention was to ingratiate the company with its future audience. This is certainly a company with exciting things in its future, even if this production does not fully show this quite yet.
Guest Reviewer: Sophie McAlpine