Many ballet fans do not find galas particularly enjoyable. We can admire our favourite dancers performing acrobatic solos, numerous fouettés and famous variations, but little space is left for the dancers to lose themselves in the roles they are playing, not to mention the limitations in terms of scenography and lighting.

Carlos Acosta in A Classical Selection © Johan Persson
Carlos Acosta in A Classical Selection
© Johan Persson
'Carlos Acosta – A Classical Selection' is a nice exception. As in Tocororo Suite (Acosta's own partly autobiographical tale presented at the Royal Opera House in July), the audience follows his trajectory as a dancer. However, his story is not here presented in the form of narrative ballet, but through pieces that illustrate the various phases of his career, as well as his versatility. Balanchine’s Agon Pas-de-Deux features Acosta and Zenaida Yanowsky dressed as ballet students in a classical and very academic piece. Acosta’s ballet slipper did not last until the end of the choreography (an elastic snapped), but what the audience will remember is the fresh, joyful and flawless interpretation of a choreographic exercise where the tiniest imperfection would have been noticed from the very last row of the gallery.

The duet from La Sylphide (Bournonville, Act 2) marks the evolution from “pure” technique towards artistic development. James’ role is played by the elegant Valeri Hristov, but Acosta’s presence can somehow be felt on stage. As if it were not enough, the audience has the pleasure to see Yuhui Choe – a winner of the prestigious Grand Prix de Lausanne, like Acosta – as a sparkling yet romantic Sylphide capable of bringing together high jumps and leg extensions while maintaining the character’s refined and delicate demeanour. The audience will have the chance to see her in a contemporary, more expressionist piece inspired by Edit Piaf’s Je ne Regrette Rien (which may well be Acosta’s motto). The first act also features Yanowsky as the Dying Swan, and Thiago Soares and Tierney Heap’s dramatic interpretation of the Farewell Pas-de Deux from MacMillan’s Winter Dreams.

Marianela Nunez and Carlos Acosta in <i>Diana and Acteon</i> © Johan Persson
Marianela Nunez and Carlos Acosta in Diana and Acteon
© Johan Persson
 The virtuoso duet Diana and Acteon (Vaganova) shows Acosta and Marianela Nuñez at their best: powerful leaps, athletic lifts, high-speed precise turns and, most important, their smiles as they perform such an explosive and exhausting piece whilst "the crowd" – well, the audience – cheers for them.

 In 'A Classical Selection' the boundaries between fantasy and reality are blurred thanks to a simple scenographic trick. Throughout the evening the crossover is exposed to the audience, who can have a glimpse at the dancers warming up, marking the choreography and recovering their breath, thereby reminding us of how much it takes to forge dancers like the ones we are watching.

The second act brings contemporary pieces such as the abstract End of Times performed by Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Nehemiah Kish, A Buenos Aires – which unfortunately seemed too rigid to highlight the qualities of Nuñez and Soares, but still was very elegant and passionate – and the expressive Nisi Dominus (Yanowsky). Acosta also dances to the scores of Jacques Brel in Les Bourgeois, created by Belgium choreographer Ben Van Cauwenbergh (Grand Prix de Lausanne gold medal, 1976).

Carlos Acosta in a Classical Selection © Johan Persson
Carlos Acosta in a Classical Selection
© Johan Persson
In this well-humoured but difficult piece usually performed by less muscular and younger dancers, the Royal Ballet principal captivates the audience with his acting skills, excellent jump and soft landings. Carmen features Heap and Hristov in a caliente duet choreographed for the Royal Ballet in 2015, thus suggesting new possibilities for Acosta to fully express himself as an artist. Majisimo, a divertissement created in 1964 by Cuban choreographer Georges Garcia reminds us of Acosta’s origins and the fact that the artistic performance we have just witnessed is a product of collective work and commitment. There could not be a better choice for the finale.

A Classical Selection is Carlos Acosta's most truthful, generous and passionate salute to his own brilliant career.