Tag Archives: Carlos Acosta

Colour

Olivia Goldhill and Sarah Marsh of the Guardian recently posed the question “where are the black dancers?” in reference to classical ballet companies. I immediately thought “well there is Carlos Acosta….and Misty Copeland…..Junor Souza…….Eric Underwood”, and my list quickly fizzled out. The black dancers are out there, they just aren’t given the roles and are thus not visible.

When Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams created the iconic pas de deux in Balanchine’s Agon in 1957, the visual impact was heightened immensely by the fact that he was black and she was caucasian. 50 or so years on, the pairing of Eric Underwood and Sarah Lamb in Wayne McGregor’s Infra seemed to hold the same allure. Why? Because we’re just not used to seeing it.

Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell in Agon

Some parties still argue that ballet developed in Europe in the latter half of the last millenium and everyone involved was white, and through the centuries we’ve become conditioned to expect a certain look, and when we’re confronted with something else we somehow, automatically, think it’s “wrong”.

In the sporting world no one raises an eyebrow when the entire field in the mens 100m sprint is of Afro-Caribbean descent – that’s because these gentlemen are simply faster than runners from a different ethnic background. This cannot be said for dance, where your place in the corps de ballet might depend on the colour of your skin and not your talent.

As I have mentioned above, some black dancers have made their mark in the classical ballet world, but the fact that companies have existed and continue to exist, like Ballet Black in London and Dance Theatre of Harlem, to employ dancers from ethnic minorities (in a dance-sense), speaks volumes.

I’m not just trying to fly the flag for racial equality here – the present situation poses problems for future generations of both dancers and audiences. Ballet already suffers from the curse of being seen as elitist. Until dancers of all backgrounds are working at a visible level in high-profile companies, ballet will remain in its Ivory Tower. That the “look” of a work might suffer because of the lack of ethnic uniformity in the corps de ballet is rubbish – and the longer ballet companies maintain this stance, the less relevant they will become. An artform can only be relevant if it is reflecting the times in which it exists – so the sooner we see more different shades of skin on stage, the sooner ballet can start it’s uphill struggle towards being a contemporary artform again.

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A Cold, Empty Trip to Verona

Romeo & Juliet, Royal Opera House, January 19th, 2012

Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet has become somewhat of a calling card for The Royal Ballet; after The Sleeping Beauty it arguably the company’s most recognisable work. For Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta, it is a ballet that has done much in advancing their careers and establishing them as internationally respected ballet stars, both individually and as a principal couple. The evidence from this performance suggests that both the lead dancer’s performances and the company as a whole need a shake-up if this production is to avoid the ballet scrap-heap.

The sold-out house is a clear indication of the esteem in which both the ballet and the Acosta/Rojo partnership are held and while there were several glorious moments in this work, such as the dance of Juliet’s friends and a wonderful Mandolin dance, there is simply not enough to justify the following. It was in the street scenes that the cracks of disrepair are starting to show: the harlots, wearing what look like fright-wigs, have lost their gritty edge and the general hustle-and-bustle drama around the edges is gone. While both of these are probably victims of under-rehearsal, the sword fighting seems to be suffering from the opposite; the metronomic meeting of the blades has become more of an exercise in counting completely lacking spontaneity. These smaller elements are suffering, presumably with a bulk of rehearsal resources being aimed at the flashier moments, and need some love and attention if the ballet is to retain any sense of theatrical coherence.

The legendary Rojo – Acosta pairing seems always to be a draw. Not only are they celebrated for their technical proficiency, but this ballet is generally accepted as the perfect vehicle for their acting prowess and on-stage chemistry. Whether it was an off-night or they’ve done so many that they are on autopilot at this stage, none of their famed passion was on display. The role is an ideal showcase for Acosta’s preternatural turning ability, and he duly obliged on this occasion, but his acting was flat – a boyish nonchalance coming across the footlights as complacency. Rojo’s technique is much feted, but sometimes, as was the case on this occasion, it stifles her; everything was so assured and studied that it lost any sense of movement and belied her character’s emotional whimsy.

While the principal couple failed to ignite any interest, the supporting roles provided far more interesting viewing. Christopher Saunders and Genesia Rosato as Lord and Lady Capulet performed with elegant gravitas and Rosato’s grievance over Tybalt’s body was devastating. Gary Avis and José Martín as Tybalt and Mercutio respectively, were proof that multiple visits to a role don’t need to induce stagnation.

Romeo and Juliet has been a cornerstone of the Royal Ballet since it premiered in 1965. What should become richer and more nuanced with time – and MacMillan’s choreography still has the capacity to be danced gloriously – has become lazy, with many of the performances being danced from memory, rather than with the engaged presence it deserves. The ballet needs to be curated in its entirety, with the roles of every size and visibility given adequate attention: otherwise it will become a pastiche, and a dusty vestige of MacMillan’s original masterpiece.

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