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Review: The Royal Ballet’s Viscera, Afternoon of a Faun, Tchaikovsky Pas de deux and Carmen

Carlos Acosta, the critically acclaimed Cuban principle dancer who has been with the Royal Ballet for over two decades, directed and performed his final ballet from 26th October—12th November.

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His own rendition of Bizet’s opera Carmen blazed onto the stage following three shorter ballet extracts, Viscera (created by Liam Scarlett), Afternoon of a Faun (created by Jerome Robbins with music by Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune), and Tchaikovsky Pas de deux, (created by George Balanchine in 1960). This intricate blend of the classical and the modern, the abstract and the traditional, seamlessly created a beautifully balanced and mixed programme, providing a tasting platter of all that the Royal Ballet company has to offer in terms of its versatility.

Scarlett’s Viscera opened the evening powerfully with incredibly engaging and dynamic group pieces, juxtaposed with a deeply hypnotic and intimate duet. The effortless blend between the contemporary elements (the stark and simple costume, with some inverted lines in the movements), and the classical (female dancers being en pointe, predominately performing classical positions such as arabesques and traditional arm positioning) was outstanding. The impressive unity of the dancers acting as a flock of birds or herd of animals was exquisitely executed and truly highlighted the physical strength and intense dramatic acting needed to produce such a vivid and profoundly energetic piece. The duet that sparkled at the centre of Viscera was accompanied by the gentle dissonant piano of Lowell Liebermann’s composition. The dancers delicately crafted a mesmerising performance with complicated choreography, but with simplistic and elegant lines. The duet left the spectator in a captivated state, only broken out of this by the climactic ending group piece that followed, finishing the half an hour ballet perfectly.

Following this, Robbins’ tender pas de deux graced the stage with young dancers Vadim Muntagirov and Sarah Lamb stealing the spotlight. Set in a ballet rehearsal studio, the two dancers break down the fourth wall, facing the audience the entire time as if they were the mirror, observing their lines and ultimately falling in love by gazing at each other through the reflection. It was subtle, simple and beautiful; the piece laid out an innocent exploration of love and youth with a fiery undertone of lust depicted with a gentle yet passionate kiss, creating a deeply touching performance.

Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky pas de deux brought tradition back onto the Royal Opera House stage with shiny, detailed costumes and grinning smiles. However, the steps and jumps felt a little clunky having been performed directly after Robbins’ delicate piece, but ultimately provided the audience with a classical gala extract which was nonetheless impressive.

The evening came to an end with the incredible style and ingenuity of Acosta’s spectacle piece Carmen. The backdrop was a simple red moon which lit up the stage with brooding crimson which flamed throughout the production as splashes of red frequently reappeared. The menacing silhouette of the bull man, representing Fate, who stood motionless and silent against the red background brought in the traditional touches of the opera but in a new and inventive way. The almost constant use of castanets felt a little exhausted by the end but was arguably important for transporting the audience to the steamy setting of Southern Spain.

Acosta’s role as Don José was small, allowing Marianela Nuñez as Carmen, to shine through as the leading star, filling the role perfectly as a sultry, pouting ‘femme fatale’. Acosta successfully preserved the original core of the opera by having flamenco guitar players and opera singers present on the stage, but at times the merging between traditional ballet, the opera itself and the contemporary dance elements felt slightly overwhelming. Despite this, the piece stood out and held its own against the contrasting works earlier in the evening. It was a triumphant farewell to the inspired Carlos Acosta as he showed off his acting and dancing capabilities as well as his choreographic creativity on the Royal Opera House’s stage for the last time.