Acosta Danza brings its Spectrum programme to the Royal Opera House's Linbury Theatre from 23 until 30 January, promising classical, contemporary, and Cuban influences from the five works on offer.
Before we talk choreography let's talk dancers. They're amazing. Properly. Beautiful techniques, endless commitment, and energy for eternity.
The overall show left me asking “is it possible for a dance show to have too much dancing?” and I think the answer might be yes. As I come to write my review, I'm not sure I can even remember the 1st of the 5 pieces (joke).
Spoiler: I connected with 1.5 out of the 5.
The programme opened with the European premiere of Performance by Micaela Taylor, my 0.5. It's never easy to open a programme and Performance kind of jumped in at the deep end which wasn't the best start. That said Taylor clearly knows her way around choreography. She uses the group well and creates atmosphere – though I'm not sure what kind…
Her language is articulate and gestural, to the point that it lacks flow or range at times. Researching her canon, I came across the fact her work includes “exaggerated facial expressions…and athletic theatricality” – the hammy facial element just confused things for me. Something was very clearly going on, however it wasn't transparent what exactly. The programme notes mention the complexities of performance and the breaking of the fourth wall, but these aspects didn't communicate in an obvious way. And athletic theatricality I hear you say? Yeah, me too… none the wiser. The music choices (Andy Stott, Johnny Dexter Goss and AGF) felt fresh, minus the Debussy (Clair de lune), and the lights verged on garish. As did the sound at times. I'd turn the volume down a bit.
This opening piece though was the first sighting of Mario Sergio Elías – an extraordinary dancer who can't be ignored. He lived the groove, urban-infused movement whereas the others somehow seemed to only wear it. Elías could dance anywhere he wanted in my opinion – a wonderful mix of exuberance and catharsis. VERY watchable.
Next followed Faun by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (originally choreographed in 2009). This is a no for me. I don't want to sound like a museum, but it just made me crave the original work. Well, what I know of it. Cherkaoui went down the route of relentless, whereas Nijinsky chose minimalism (movement-wise). Cherkaoui also added a musical mashup with additional sounds from Nitin Sawhney – eek. The (literally) non-stop movement caused my attention to go elsewhere… well pine elsewhere. And I don't think it helped the dancers either in regard to connection. They didn't have the time or opportunity to build a rapport, let alone fragrant sexual attraction. They came across more like wild dogs or possessed zombies than mystical creatures in lust. Very skilled ones, nonetheless. Quite early in I wanted it to end and that never normally happens with that score. A man behind me clearly loved it though, so each to their own. That's the beauty of a mixed bill!
After the interval we restarted with Portal by Juanjo Arques (2019). Disclaimer: Arques is an old professional peer and current friend, but I pride myself on objectivity. Plus, Juanjo is a talent and as hard as nails! Though honesty is always the best possible and Portal is the one resounding work for me. It's amazing to see where Arques' work has gone. He trained as a classical dancer, but his diverse career and sharp mind mean he's been a sponge around good work and you can definitely tell. Portal is a really strong piece offering full, varied movement, from detailed to broad. Original partnering, innate musicality, molecular style groupings that travel, and positivity. It's so rare to see a modern dance piece that isn't all perpetual doom. Arques offers a little sass, joy, and easy vibes – Cuba basically. And the dancers clearly love doing it. The simple, grounded, rhythmical movement works for them and consequently works for us. Arques also uses the range of music styles well – regular funky pulse and throwaway electric guitar strokes, it's all there in Ariwo's score. The light design by Bonnie Beecher is another level. The kind of lighting that enhances a piece throughout. The dancers carry follow spots themselves at times causing interesting shadow play and an environment of inquisitive interrogation. Always something to ponder. A work that's going to keep feeling fresh for a while I reckon. Bravo.
Next followed Nosotros (2017) by Beatriz Garcia and company member Raul Reinoso. Most importantly it was danced by Elías and Laura Rodriguez who had both just been in Portal – no interval. No pause. Just the world's fastest quick changes! The mind boggles, but even they couldn't save the piece. It was a dated situation. Can something from 2017 qualify as dated? Evidently so. It was heavy-handed on the drama and suggested a wannabe Jiří Kylián's Petite Mort (1991). What's the saying? “If it ain't broke don't fix it”? Enough said.
And closing the programme was Alrededor No Hay Nada (2015) by Goyo Montero, the resident choreographer of Acosta Danza. I'm afraid I also didn't connect with this piece. 90% was performed to spoken word, Spanish spoken word, with four poems by Joaquin Sabina. I've only myself to blame as I don't speak Spanish, so perhaps I majorly missed out, but if honest I was already a bit saturated by this point and I'm not massively into props (hats), though the skill of the structure and dynamic spectrum of the piece can't be denied. It will work for some people no doubt.
The show is only 80 mins of actual dancing, but somehow it feels a tad dense. Perhaps it's less about the overall balance of programming, and more about the amount of relentless in-style content…
But even though I'm proposing only 1.5/5 worked for me, it still doesn't feel like a flop. Why? Because of the dancers. There's a lot of confident execution and effervescent energy emitting from the stage, and in my experience good working environments = happy dancers = good dancing. So kudos to Mr Acosta and his team for apparently allowing the dancers to reach their fullest potential.
And it really seems nothing can keep Acosta down! BRB2, BRB's new graduate, touring company has just been launched. See below for all the lowdown:
Matthew Paluch was awarded a place at The Royal Ballet School in 1990 where he graduated in 1997. His first four years as a professional dancer were spent working with London City Ballet, Scottish Ballet, K-Ballet and English National Ballet, becoming a full-time member of ENB until leaving in 2006.
Matthew graduated from the Royal Academy of Dance, Professional Dancers' Teaching Diploma in 2007, and was fomerly on faculty at The Royal Ballet School. He completed his Masters in Ballet Studies at Roehampton University in 2011 and has been a freelance writer since 2010. He is a Trustee (2021) of the Royal Academy of Dance and works in the Law Sector.