Dance review: Carlos Acosta – On Before, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

He may be in his 50s, but Carlos Acosta still has the physicality to light up a theatre, writes Kelly Apter

Carlos Acosta – On Before, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ****

With most professional dancers bidding farewell to performance long before they reach 40, Carlos Acosta isn’t afraid to go against the grain. At 51, his refreshingly mature on-stage presence lights up a theatre as much as it ever did, not just via the emotional depth that comes with advancing years (although that’s there, too) but with a physicality that is still strong, powerful and in complete command of the choreography.

The high leaps of classical ballet may be beyond him, but in Acosta’s firm grasp works by Russell Maliphant, Kim Brandstrup, Will Tuckett and others come alive with poetic grace. Joining Acosta, is fellow Cuban dancer Laura Rodríguez, very much a star in her own right. Between them, they deliver four solos and four duets, interspersed by a short film filled with water, echoing the fluidity of the live pieces.

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One of the most demanding aspects of being a male classical dancer is the lifts, but Acosta doesn’t shy away from those here. Taking Rodríguez into his long arms and up onto his sinuous shoulders time and again, the duo make everything look effortless.

What surprises most, however, is how these disparate pieces hang together. Works by different choreographers across two decades feel somehow connected, as if we’re watching the same couple share their inner world.

That said, each piece comes with its own unique stamp in terms of musical choice and lighting design, never leading us down a path of sameness. At each venue on the UK tour, Acosta and Rodríguez are joined by a choir (in this case, Edinburgh University Singers) who initially wander aimlessly across the stage in search of a purpose. But when they finally find one, performing Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium in the closing duet, the coming together of voice, movement and emotion is utterly sublime.

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