With all the efforts to bring new audiences into ballet and dance through innovative and radical new works and adaptations of previous masterpieces, a once-in-a-lifetime event such as The Classical Farewell seems paradoxically refreshing, an opportunity to witness set pieces from ballets received into the canon of the ballet repertory, performed as they were meant to, with movements retained from the choreography of previous productions. The choreography of the late Sir Kenneth MacMillan was particularly celebrated in this production, although there was just a dab of contemporary ‘street’ dance thrown in towards the end of the evening’s proceedings. And why not? It’s Carlos Acosta’s swansong show, and he has pushed boundaries of classical ballet throughout his career, but especially in more recent years as he has choreographed dances himself.
Like Rudolf Nureyev before him, this stepping out (so to speak) from merely accepting the conventions of ballet for what they are, has consistently rankled certain specialist dance and ballet critics. To some degree I can understand the frustration – I have seen some substantial adaptations of older plays and musicals over the years that are, to be blunt, distinctly inferior to the originals. But there has always been something hugely likeable, unique and remarkable about Acosta, and not for nothing has he ended up becoming one of the most celebrated dancers in living memory.
This being a touring production, the cast is not nearly as large as the ballet productions put on by, for example, the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House. We are therefore exposed to quite a few ‘pas de deux’ – two principal dancers, a ballerina and a danseur, owning the stage. There is such variation in this programme, not in terms of quality of dancing, but in the tempo of the dancing, and in the use of live musical accompaniment, which ranges from a piano solo (tinkering the ivories was Robert Clark) to choir and orchestra. The audible gasps from this cultured Royal Albert Hall audience say much about the incredible feats Acosta is still capable of, and while he could, I suspect, technically carry on dancing for a little while longer, it is admirably shrewd of him to go while he is being urged to stay.
To quote the Emcee in the musical Cabaret, “even the orchestra is beautiful”, and in a venue where the acoustics aren’t always perfect, every note was crystal clear on this occasion under the steady conductor’s baton of Paul Murphy. The inclusion of numbers from Fauré’s ‘Requiem’ slightly surprised me; in Acosta’s autobiography, ‘No Way Home’, he writes about the world’s religions doing nothing for him. To hear the ‘Pie Jesu’ wafting across the Albert Hall, therefore caught me unawares. But then, good music is good music, whether supposedly sacred or supposedly secular and here, the Pegasus Chamber Choir’s singing, MacMillan’s choreography and Acosta’s dancing, accompanied by Yuhui Choe, combine to give a breath-taking performance.
It isn’t all about the big numbers, though. Sarah Lamb performed a piece called ‘Dying Swan’, conveying the last moments of life with poignancy and fluency, a theme returned to in the very last number, Tchaikovsky’s ‘Sweet Dreams’, which had a strong finality to it, either despite or because of its simplicity. I also enjoyed Lamb’s pas de deux with Valentino Zucchetti in the second half, ‘Rubies’, which seemed to me quite a complicated piece, pulled off seemingly effortlessly.
This patchwork quilt of a show may have been too disjointed for some, but every number told a story, which was never difficult to decipher, even when I was completely unfamiliar with the source material. The scene changes were occasionally too lengthy, but even that gave the audience a chance to breathe from the spectacular performances that just kept flowing from this hugely talented cast. A highly memorable experience which I doubt I will ever forget.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Carlos Acosta bids farewell to classical ballet with his final performances at the Royal Albert Hall for a limited run from Monday 3rd to Friday 7th October 2016. The Classical Farewell celebrates highlights from Acosta’s career which led him to become the most famous male dancer of his generation, and marks the final time for audiences to watch the ballet superstar dance classical works.
The production follows the popular format of his 2006 show Carlos Acosta with Guests of The Royal Ballet, for which he won an Olivier Award, and A Classical Selection which was performed at London Coliseum in December 2015 to critical acclaim.
The farewell production at the Royal Albert Hall includes a number of the most famous pas de deux from the classical and neo-classical canon. The programme features Acosta dancing classical works including Winter Dreams, Mayerling and Requiem by one of the greatest ballet choreographers of the 20th century Kenneth MacMillan, George Balanchine’s story about the Greek God Apollo, Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote and Memoria by Rambert’s Miguel Altunaga. The Classical Farewell marks the final opportunity for audiences to see Acosta dance classical ballet repertoire anywhere in the world.
Also part of the evening’s programme is an extract from George Blanchine’s Rubies set to score by Stravinsky alongside an extract from one of Frederick Ashton’s last works, the playful, romantic, and elegant Rhapsody. Completing the bill are Raúl Reinoso’s Anadromous, Manon and Gloria by Kenneth MacMillan and Michel Fokine’s Scheherazade and solo Dying Swan.
Acosta has thrilled audiences throughout the world with his breathtaking performances, including principal roles in many ballets in the classical repertoire. For The Classical Farewell Acosta has put together a programme presenting some of his favourite pieces from the classical repertoire for the final time. At the Royal Albert Hall, Acosta will be joined on stage by some of his closest contemporaries from The Royal Ballet. The programme features Yuhui Choe, Sarah Lamb, Laura Morera, Marianela Nuñez and Valentino Zucchetti alongside Cuban dancers Gabriela Lugo and Luis Valle.
The evening’s programme is accompanied by a live orchestra conducted by Paul Murphy and features Pegasus Choir, one of London’s most accomplished chamber choirs. Pegasus has previously performed with Acosta in productions at the London Coliseum and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
The Classical Farewell
Royal Albert Hall, SW7
Monday 3 – Friday 7 October 2016
Performances: Mon – Fri at 7.30pm
Tickets: £20 – £110 + fees
Ticket Office: 020 7863 8000
www.sadlerswells.com / 020 7589 8212