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Shooting Stars

Posted on October 9, 2018

Rudolf Nureyev’s passion for challenge has rarely been equalled. After his defection to the west in 1961, he repeatedly claimed he wanted to explore as many different ways of dancing as possible. Having conquered the classical repertoire and created roles at The Royal Ballet for Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan, Roland Petit, Rudi van Dantzig and Glen Tetley, he went farther afield to satisfy his restless curiosity, tackling new and existing works by George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, Vaslav Nijinsky, Maurice Béjart, Flemming Flindt, José Limón, Murray Louis and Pierre Lacotte. You could hardly keep up with his daring, and, deliberately, he could hardly keep up with himself.

Eager to move beyond familiar boundaries, Natalia Osipova recently organised a second showcase programme – the first was in 2016 – entitled Pure Dance, which featured four world premieres among its six short selections. You can understand why commissions would attract her: the roles she’s created during her five years with The Royal Ballet never tapped what she can already express confidently, let alone hinting at unused aspects of her extraordinary talent.

Yet none of these new pieces challenged her either physically or dramatically, and only Alexei Ratmansky’s tender Valse Triste, a pas de deux made for her and David Hallberg, contained enough emotional substance that you’d want to see it again. Both Ratmansky and Hallberg have worked with her before, so perhaps their friendship and mutual respect ignited Ratmansky’s creativity and informed their lyrical performance.

Set to Bach’s sublime Chaconne in D Minor, Kim Brandstrup’s solo for Hallberg, In Absentia, established a meditative atmosphere while showing off his silken technique and long, lean line. I found it the most intriguing piece of the entire short programme – Bach lends class to any effort – but the evening should have belonged to Osipova.

Main image and above: Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in Alexei Ratmansky’s Valse Triste. Photographs by Johan Persson.

Weeks later, in the cavernous Royal Albert Hall, Carlos Acosta all but stole the show from his company, Acosta Danza, during its celebration of his 30-year career. Officially retired from dancing, unlike Osipova, he shot forward into his own future like a comet and has now written two books, appeared in a number of films, and established Acosta Danza, a foundation and a dance academy in Havana offering youngsters three years of training free of charge.

Less risky than Osipova’s, this programme opened with a duet called Mermaid by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, alongside Christopher Bruce’s Rooster and another snappy ensemble piece, Alrededor No Hay Nada, choreographed, lit and costumed by Goyo Montero.

From the arena, where the seats were neither staggered nor raked, I missed most of all three but caught enticing glimpses of the exuberant company having fun and doing their best to match Acosta’s elegance and natural cool. Slipping into a box, after the interval I could see every moment of his reworked Carmen, noticeably improved since its first outing at Covent Garden though still overlong and sometimes laboured.

Clearly trained to meet his standard of strength, stamina and precision, the young troupe danced up a storm, devouring space as dancers from the UK seldom do and winning a warm, enthusiastic response. Only Acosta, however, stamped the steps with personality, and his innate charisma, exactly like Nureyev’s, made it hard to look at anyone else, even when he was standing still. Yet Cuba may hold more stars of his calibre, and he’s just the man to find them.

Pictured: Carlos Acosta and dancers of Acosta Danza in Christopher Bruce’s Rooster. Photographs by Tristram Kenton.

Barbara Newman’s books about ballet include Grace under Pressure; The Illustrated Book of Ballet Stories for children; a volume of interviews, Striking a Balance, and its follow-up, Never Far from Dancing. She has written for Dancing Times since 1984 and served as the dance critic for Country Life from 1990 to 2016. She archives all her work at http://barbaranewmandance.net

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