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Carlos Acosta: The Classical Farewell review at Royal Albert Hall, London – ‘the years roll by’

Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nunez in Don Quixote-Pas de Deux and Apollo Pas de Deux from Carlos Acosta The Classical Farewell at the Royal Albert Hall. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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So it’s goodbye from him. Carlos Acosta, the Cuban ballet superstar who really, really deserves the soubriquet, says a fond farewell to the rigorous technique of classical ballet to devote his time to contemporary work and his International Dance Foundation for young dancers. Having cobbled together classical bits and pieces shows in the past with varying degrees of success, Acosta gets it more or less right for his final bow.

From the outset, he is playing to his strengths. The elegiac duet of a soldier taking leave of his wife in MacMillan’s duet from Winter Dreams allows us a moment of reflection. Acosta caresses Marianela Nunez’s hair with aching tenderness before the increasing urgency of the dance kicks in. It is a superb opening and it is followed by several more. Acosta rings the changes with the lively duet from Don Quixote, tongue-in-cheeky in the duets with Nunez before the succession of solos, each of which are breathtaking in their speed and precision. If the final, tragic pas de deux from Mayerling has less impact it is simply because it is out of context; separated from the whole it becomes a study in dissipation rather than the full immersion that the ballet demands.

But everything comes together for the sequences from MacMillan’s Requiem, with Acosta partnering Yuhui Choe as if injected with a youth drug. Things get better with Balanchine’s Apollo (one of my favourite pieces) and a role Acosta was born to dance. The years roll by and he flickers and shimmers like a man whose agelessness might equal that of Dorian Gray. His final solo, created by Miguel Altunaga, is effective even if it was heavily influenced by Russell Maliphant’s Two.

Of his confederates on stage, Nunez takes the laurels – can she get any better? – though his fellow Cuban Gabriela Lugo proves herself a talent to watch in a new piece by Raul Reinoso and as a stunningly sexy Scheherazade in Fokine’s erotic exotica.

The leaps may be a few inches closer to the ground, the energy slightly more languid but there is no doubt that there will be a great big Carlos Acosta-shaped hole in classical ballet at the end of this tour. Clearly moved by the response, he was in tears at the end.

He wasn’t the only one.

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Carlos Acosta dances his way through a well-chosen selection of works before hanging up his classical ballet pumps