If you had to sum up Acosta Danza, it would be with adjectives such as super energetic, powerful, dramatic and totally dedicated—all qualities reflected from the career of its founder and director, Carlos Acosta, one of the most acclaimed and popular male dancers in recent years.

Carlos Acosta in Bruce's Rooster
© Tristram Kenton

For three decades, Acosta has given his audiences performances of pure pleasure. As someone who had to work against the odds to reach the top, he became one of those rare classical ballet dancers whose brilliance and incredible technical achievements, wrapped up with convincing characterisation and humble charisma, have set stages alight around the world. When he finally hung up his tights and historical costuming, he returned to Cuba to help his fellow dancers there. He created Acosta Danza in 2015 and more recently has worked tirelessly to establish the Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation. But thankfully, he still dances, albeit in contemporary rather than classical style, alongside his own company of 18 vital young dancers– all Cuban born and trained. For this celebration they performed three diverse pieces by choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Goyo Montero and Christopher Bruce as well as Acosta’s own version of Carmen, which is rich in colour, style and enthusiasm—and done with that certain Cuban flair.

Mermaid by Cherkaoui, a duet danced by Acosta and Marta Ortega, is performed to music by Korean Woojae Park who played various national instruments, including the geomungo, which gave the piece an eerie watery backing. Is it part folk tale, that of a mermaid coming on land for the first time and trying to walk, or it is about an inebriated woman with a wine glass in her hand, with Acosta as the figure who tries to guide and help. Wearing a silky long red dress with slitted sides, Ortega slithers and slides about the floor like a landed fish. There are many taut upright jumps followed by slithering to the ground, all carefully handled by Acosta since the creature is unable to stand in her pointe shoes. Eventually she removes them to wiggle her toes and stand bare-footed, and he leaves her. 

Cuban choreographer Montera uses 11 dancers in his piece Alrededor No Hay Nada (Everywhere there is nothing), performed to the spoken words of Spanish poets Joaquin Sabina and Vinícius de Moraes. Five couples in large jackets and bowler hats cling to each other in dark obscurity before flinging away their hats and careening, crashing, jumping, swirling around the stage in a series of cleverly managed athletic, gymnastic feats. Springing and pouncing like cats, showing off-balances, knife sharp stops and clever manhandling, the uniformity and precision of the dancers was highly commendable.

Christopher Bruce’s Rooster may be an oldie (created in 1994) but it remains one of the most entertaining and delightful short contemporary works. To music by the Rolling Stones,  the boys, wearing velvet jackets and bright shirts, strut and show their stuff in snake-hip moves while tugging at their ties and smoothing oiled hair. Like proud cockerels parading around a barnyard, they hold their arms bent in front of them and take long sliding strides as they ‘peck’ their heads. The steps are as slick and sharp as a butcher’s knife and a perfect venue for Acosta’s charismatic style. The girls, dressed like the backers of a 1960’s Top of the Pops group, were equally affective and the piece well deserved the loud applause.

Carlos Acosta and Acosta Danza dancers in Bruce's Rooster
© Tristram Kenton

Acosta uses the Shchedrin arrangement of Bizet’s score for his concise and eloquent rendition of Carmen that gives plenty of opportunity for the punctuated, sharpened steps of Spanish dance. And with the whole company involved, there is a feeling of a bustling, busy-bodying society—though the opening held a surprise for the audience when the men first tossed away their caps, then ties, waistcoats, shirts and finally their trousers for no apparent reason! Carmen was voluptuously danced (on pointe) by Laura Rodríguez with enviable energy and passion. She never paused throughout the work – even the love scenes with the equally driven Don José (Javier Rojas) were vigorous, with numerous lifts and heart-stopping spinning leaps and turns. These are obviously two young dancers to watch. Acosta danced Escamillo, a role that gave him the opportunity to remind us of his super array of technical feats as he elegantly performed split leaps, multiple turns and strong upright tours en l’air. He also added the needed theatrical drama with his natural acting skills.

The backdrop was a huge red ring out of which came the mythical harbinger of death – a muscular bull with enormous horns that taunts Carmen and finally, after Don José has stabbed her, carries her body slowly back into the circle.