Dance Sarah Frater
Cleopatra, Mixed Bill, Sadler's Wells, London Show-stopper is one of those hackneyed descriptions that writers really do try to avoid. B a rn s wrm e r , foot-stamper, arm-waver — almost anything but that over used theatrical phrase.
But in the case of Carlos Acosta, no other term will do. When the Cuban born classical dancer leapt onto the stage of Sadler's Wells for his guest appearance with Houston Ballet, his extravagant style and jaw-dropping athleticism quite literally stopped the show. The audience audibly gasped, and then broke out into spontaneous applause every two minutes like unabashed teenage fans.
The piece was Diana and Actaeon, a 15-minute fantastically old-fashioned number (think loin clothes, Cupid's arrow, Grecian drapes) that has been reworked many times over since it was created by Maurice Pettpa in the late 19th century.
Lightening like, Acosta lunged at the feet of Lauren Anderson. He then proceeded to throw her and himself around the stage with a classical finish so perfect that he made Anderson, a perfectly good ballerina, look decidedly ragged. Acosta. meanwhile, managed to look both louche and dignified at the same time, an almost impossible combination that few can pull off. But the Cuban firecracker somehow managed it and was the undisputed star of Houston Ballet's mixed programme, the second of two that the Texan visitors brought to the Wells.
Also part of the mixed bill were three modem works, all new to the UK. None of these could be described as innovative. Indeed, Second Before The Ground, by Trey Mclntrye drew heavily on choreographic sentiments that fellow American Mark Morris explored a decade or more ago. Moreover, some of the duets were clearly indebted to the late Kenneth MacMillan. Still, it looked pretty and was finely perforrned by the 16 dancers to a sweet score of African songs adapted for string and drums. And it pleased the audience, who clearly warmed to its unaffected sincerity. Another crowd pleaser was the upbeat Bruiser, by Stanton Welch, an Australian choreographer who has never been popular with the critics and will, no doubt, receive some stinging reviews for this sports inspired ballet. However. it was enthusiastically danced (the women, in particular, were whip-lash fast and lovely to look at), and surely an ingenious response to the dual criticism that ballet is both too athletic and not athletic enough.
In Bruiser, Welch convened these vices into virtues by turning his dancers into athletes and their athleticisms into gentle poses. This will, no doubt, draw shrieks of protest from some quarters, as will its unabashed Americanisms, but it was good fun to watch and contained some inventive partnering (no debt to MacMillan here).
The mixed bill was a huge success, not something you could say about Cleopatra, the full length "spectacular", over which it is best to draw a veil. Created by company artistic director Ben Stevenson and set to a Rimsky-Korsakov patchwork arranged by John Lanchbery, this corny farrago was more Carry, on Cleo than classical ballet.
It was also vastly overproduced (a figure of $1.2 million was mentioned) and woefully under-choreographed, as well as looking weirdly under-populated. Houston is a mid-sized troupe, but in Cleopatra it looked as if half of them had taken the night off.
The remainder looked less than happy with the material they had to work with, although the principal dancers did what they could. Lauren Anderson was a technically proficient but emotionally under-charged Cleopatra, while Timothy O'Keefe's Caesar and Dominic Walsh's Mark Antony marched around like Ernie Wise.
The company should have known that a Hollywood take on Ancient Egypt would not appeal to British audiences. And, anyway, men look inherently ludicrous in GrecoRoman skirts, unless, of course, they are worn by Russell Crowe.