The Royal Ballet’s principal dancer Carlos Acosta has appeared several times with guest artists in his own programmes. Though he is undoubtedly the star, these are not simply star turns. His latest venture, accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic and with guests from English National Ballet, has no show-off displays at all. Instead, it lets Acosta shine in the light of some of the 20th-century’s most refined classical choreography.
As if effacing the star persona, Acosta first appears lying down, his back towards us. Thus begins Jerome Robbins’s 1953 Afternoon of a Faun, set in a ballet studio in which the audience takes the place of the mirror. Acosta and Begoña Cao appraise their reflections and each other in a stylised duet of narcissism and voyeurism. Only their final, glancing kiss imparts a flicker of warmth to the work’s glassy erotics.
Robbins’s Suite of Dances, made in 1994 for Mikhail Baryshnikov, is a duet for a dancer and on-stage cellist (here, Natalie Clein). Like the Bach that drives it, the dance transmutes simple phrases into virtuoso complexity. Acosta pulls it off with aplomb.
Balanchine’s Apollo (1928) is a stark, exposing work, expressed through shape, pattern and timing. Acosta, with Cao, Daria Klimentová and Anaïs Chalendard, stand up to its rigours. Acosta, especially, makes the piece feel like a thrilling journey of discovery.
Against such masterly choreography, Adam Hougland’s new Young Apollo was almost bound to pale. A duet of corkscrew lifts and stuttering steps for Chalendard and Junor de Oliveira Souza, it has too much invention and not enough focus. But it fits this programme where artful beauty, not pyrotechnics, is the prime virtue.