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Adelante Carlos Acosta: Cuban Hometown Hero Debuts Acosta Danza in New York

by Bonnie Rosenstock
May 2, 2018
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430
Carlos Acosta’s acclaimed dance career spanned more than two decades. He has been hailed as one of the greatest male classical ballet dancers, in the company of Nureyev and Baryshnikov for his dazzling leaps, grace, athleticism and artistry. But he did not have a storied beginning. He was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1973, one of 11 children and grew up in poverty. His father, seeing his youngest child heading for trouble, enrolled him in Cuba’s National Ballet School, one of the island country’s state-funded schools, where he would learn discipline and receive a daily free lunch. His rise to prominence is storybook, which he recounts in No Way Home—A Cuban Dancer’s Story, a candid autobiography of poverty, petty crime, breakdancing and soccer, published in 2007, the same year he was invited to perform the lead role in Spartacus with the Bolshoi Ballet.

But after 17 years with The Royal Ballet (1998-2015), where he rose to become the first black principal, he packed up his toe shoes and headed home. Because his work abroad was sanctioned by the Cuban government (he did not defect), he was able to travel back and forth freely. Since returning, he has founded an academy for disadvantaged youngsters from all parts of Cuba and created his own dance company, Acosta Danza, with the aim of bringing together many dance forms, like flamenco, classical and hip-hop, as well as showcasing both dancers and choreographers from diverse backgrounds.

In the weekly London entertainment newspaper, The Stage (September 25, 2017), he said, “It’s essential that Cuba stays connected to the world but also breaks the idea of the picture-postcard Cuba. I want to bring Cuba to the world but I am very eager to bring all this choreography to Cuba. It works both ways. The world should be reminded that Cuba is a very big player in the field of art.”

To demonstrate just how big a player on the world stage that Cuba has become—and to shatter the image of cigar-chomping, mojito-slugging, salsa-dancing Cubans driving around in refurbished Chevys—New York City Center presented the week-long ¡Adelante, Cuba¡ Festival, a celebration of Cuba Through Dance and Music, featuring the U.S. debut of Acosta Danza for three nights (April 25-27); an evening of Afro-Cuban music curated by pianist/composer/arranger Arturo O’Farrill with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and many stellar guests (April 28); and panel discussions and master classes in dance and music.

Helmed by Acosta, artistic director, choreographer and yes, still dancer, Acosta Danza is a 14-member company evenly divided between men and women. At City Center on April 25 the company presented five works, including three powerful duets. “Alrededor no hay nada” (“Around there is nothing”) by Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero takes its name from a poem by Spanish singer/songwriter Joaquín Sabina, enumerating body parts. Sabina and Brazilian poet/lyricist Vinicius de Moraes recited their poems, which delivered the dynamic rhythm and tempo. The ten dancers performed in many configurations of duets, trios, quartets, quintets and as a well-oiled whole. The dancers are extraordinary in this fast-paced, lyrical work.

"Mermaid," by Belgian-Moroccan dancer/choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, with music by Cherkaoui and Woojae Park plus Erik Satie, is a homage to the sea and a tour de force duet for Acosta, at 44, paired with the remarkable knockout Marta Ortega, former Danza Contemporánea de Cuba principal. Acosta demonstrates why he was such a sought-after partner as well as soloist. Ortega in a red dress appears in ballet slippers clutching an empty wine glass, which Acosta gently takes from her. There are chanting/singing Korean sea songs throughout. Their duet is slow and sensuous. Ortega is tentative at first; she looks unhappy or ill at ease. She leaves and Acosta performs a wistful solo. She reenters barefoot. They continue their duet of longing. She appears happier, but at the end she leaves. Acosta holds up the empty wine glass, which gets filled with water that is dripping from the ceiling.

"El Cruce sobre el Niágara" (Crossing the Niagara) (1987) by Cuban choreographer Marianela Boán was inspired by Peruvian playwright Alonso Alegría’s play of the same name about the 19th-century tightrope daredevil Charles Blondin, who crossed the Falls carrying a man on his shoulders. Carlos Luis Blanco and Alejandro Silva, in jockstraps, are a formidable pair, their bulked-up bodies making them look more like body builders than dancers. Blanco, the larger of the two, with thighs and buttocks of enormous proportion (maybe it was the lighting) is a marvel of concentration and control as he slow dances across the stage with balancing poses, turns and lunges, to eventually step into the circle formed by Silva’s curled up body. They change places so that Silva can have a go. Standing, they mime each other’s daring movements. Sometimes they move slowly in perfect synchrony with their profile positioned to appear as if there was only one body. The somber music by Olivier Messiaen, changes often from fast to slow. At the end Silva is sitting on Blanco’s shoulders, ready for that ride. A daring feat of athleticism and strength.

"Raúl Reinoso’s Nosotros" (Us) is a study in love and longing, accompanied by the plaintive sounds of virtuoso composer/pianist José Víctor Gavilondo Peón and cellist Cicely Parnas. The marvelous Mario Sergio Elias and Liliana Menéndez are the lovelorn couple, he in black shorts and black socks, she in red leotard with red socks.

Spanish dancer/lecturer/teacher/ choreographer Jorge Crecis prefers to say that he devises experiences rather than choreographing dance pieces, which is probably why for "Twelve" (2017), created for the company, his program credit reads “with concept and direction by.” It is a quirky likable piece, merging extreme athleticism with art installation. Onstage there are dozens of plastic neon-lit water bottles, which are constantly being rearranged. The twelve dancers in street clothes count from one to twelve, in either Spanish or English. They fling the bottles at one another at breakneck speed, then leap, twist, turn, while the catcher leaps for it and does sensational movements as well. Sometimes pitchers are looking directly at catchers; sometimes they throw without looking; sometimes the bottle is thrown overhand; sometimes it’s a flip-from-the-back throw. The dancers are everywhere in this nonstop, giddy ride, rearranging themselves into different groupings, always catching, throwing, dancing.
Acosta Danza in Goyo Montero's “Alrededor no hay nada”.

Acosta Danza in Goyo Montero's “Alrededor no hay nada”.

Photo © & courtesy of Andrew Lang


Acosta Danza in Marianela Boán's 'El Cruce sobre el Niágara'.

Acosta Danza in Marianela Boán's "El Cruce sobre el Niágara".

Photo © & courtesy of Johan Persson


Acosta Danza in Marianela Boán's 'El Cruce sobre el Niágara'.

Acosta Danza in Marianela Boán's "El Cruce sobre el Niágara".

Photo © & courtesy of Johan Persson


Acosta Danza in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's 'Mermaid'.

Acosta Danza in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's "Mermaid".

Photo © & courtesy of Johan Persson


Acosta Danza in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's 'Mermaid'.

Acosta Danza in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's "Mermaid".

Photo © & courtesy of Johan Persson


Acosta Danza in Raúl Reinoso’s 'Nosotros'.

Acosta Danza in Raúl Reinoso’s "Nosotros".

Photo © & courtesy of Yuris Nórido


Acosta Danza in Jorge Crecis’'Twelve'.

Acosta Danza in Jorge Crecis’"Twelve".

Photo © & courtesy of Johan Persson

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