Carlos Acosta gives a superb performance if middling choreography in his Royal Ballet swansong, 'Carmen'
It’s truly the end of an era – Carlos Acosta, the greatest male ballet dancer of our generation, is performing for the last time on the Covent Garden stage before retiring from the Royal Ballet. His swansong is no less than a new work he’s created for the company: a one-act dance version of 'Carmen' (presented here with short pieces by Liam Scarlett, Jerome Robbins and Balanchine), with Acosta taking the roles of Don Jose and Escamillo in different performances, which gets a live cinema broadcast on November 12.
After the knockabout fun of his 'Don Quixote\, Carmen is pared-back, stark, physical. The red-rimmed hole in Tim Hatley’s black backdrop acts as a hellish symbol of the tale’s fatal erotic circle, through which the bull-horned figure of Fate (Matthew Golding) rises up menacingly.
Acosta convincingly plays Don Jose as a man grappling with, and eventually driven mad by, emotions he never knew he possessed. Federico Bonelli has tremendous fun as the swaggering bullfighter Escamillo. And Marianela Nunez throws everything she’s got into her depiction of Carmen, a woman who recklessly delights in her power over men. The cut-up Bizet score works well, and having on-stage musicians and an operatic chorus pop up adds vitality to the staging.
Acosta’s choreography, though, has its bumpy bits. The sparky fun of the opening scene, when Carmen induces seven men to rip their clothes off, is great entertainment. But there’s a lot of ungainly scrambling around on the floor during the love scenes, which lose their sweaty intensity on the main stage and instead just look muddled, despite Nunez’s full-wattage passion. In the pas de deux particularly, the steps often only make one point repeatedly rather than teasing out an emotional journey. And throughout Nunez is required to have her legs splayed apart so often it starts to feel like a gynaecological examination.
All this is beside the point while Acosta is dancing – he may not have the turbo-power of his youth but he’s still a thrillingly commanding presence. But when the dance legend has taken his final bow, his Carmen really needs some retuning before slotting into the repertoire.
BY: SIOBHAN MURPHY