EFC singers with Carlos Acosta and Laura Rodriguez

Tuesday 27 & Wednesday 28 February 2024
Theatre Royal, Plymouth

In celebration of his 50th birthday, the iconic Carlos Acosta has come out of retirement to tour the On Before medley originally devised in memory of his mother.

The Cuban dancer, Acosta Danza company founder and now director of Birmingham Royal ballet (to name a few), has created and directs as well as performs in an intense and personal homage.

Starting and ending with a seated, brooding Acosta watching Laura Rodriguez (Acosta Danza founding member) lying at his feet, eight surprisingly similar pieces by contemporary choreographers (including Russell Maliphant, Kim Brandstrup and Will Tuckett as well as Acosta himself) meld one to another as a doomed relationship is seemingly explored through love, lust, dispute and mourning. The ninth piece, somewhere in the middle, is a slo-mo film with much water, splashing, feet and female nudity.

Acosta can undoubtedly still dance, his kicks and stretches lithe and muscular, but there is a lot of reliance on sensuous arm stretching and hand winding. And oddly wafting around and through the dancers or lined up watching are a host of space and time filling black-clad extras who are eventually revealed. in the final, magnificent piece, as a locally sourced choir whose a capella performance of Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium is beautiful.

Rodriguez is superb. Lissom and pliable, she in mesmerising whether à deux or solo interspersed with sinuous draping around Acosta or duelling. Classical movement is interspersed with athletic leaps and sinuous draping around Acosta’s honed torso.

The diverse score undulates from visceral, pounding drum beats through chanting and Cuban contemporary composer Omar Puente to Mande for a sell-out evening that had the audience on their feet.

Karen Bussell
British Theatre Guide

On Before marks the return of world renowned dancer Carlos Acosta in this collaborative showcase of major UK and international dance makers including Russell Maliphant and Kim Brandstrup, as well as Carlos’ own choreography. Incorporating a myriad of dance styles, both naturalistic and abstract, each sequence captivates audiences and the silence of the auditorium reveals their enrapture in this breathtaking performance.

As the lights dim, we are launched into the first dance, a duet between Carlos Acosta and Laura Rodriguez, whose effortless movements and ethereal grace are mesmerising. Their unfaltering connection and trust in one another are evident as they delicately balance and confide in one another; it’s almost as if they are one person. Acosta’s solo piece which follows is almost inter-dimensional, with abrupt lighting and music changes, performing fluidly to out of sync percussion with an electric presence as he commands the stage.

The second act commences, revealing the Lyric stage illuminated by candles creating an ambient atmosphere, underpinning Laura Rodriguez’s lyrical free-flowing performance to Handel’s ‘Per telasciai la luce’ – this is a standout performance. As the mass of candles are safely extinguished a projection screen falls, presenting ‘Falling Deep Inside’, a slow-motion film shot exploring ‘emotions and tension that exist between two lovers’. This unique cinematic interlude is refreshing and the echoing of sounds is effective in creating an intimate atmosphere. The finale is sombre and melancholic, exploring grief – which inspired Acosta to create this production after his mother’s death. The motivation of the ominous all-black bracket is disclosed as they erupt into a powerfully poignant choral symphony ‘O Magnum Mysterium’.

Depicting a doomed relationship, the narrative throughout is powerfully portrayed through the dances but also the music styles, pace and volume. The unlikely musical repertoire ranging from Handel to contemporary Cuban supports and conveys the fluctuating relationship and emotions. Furthermore, the lighting, although minimalistic, is evocative and delicately designed, portraying confinement through the narrowing spotlight and communicating setting through silhouettes of windows. Sound and lighting are fundamental aspects of this show and underscore the creative choreography.

Overall, On Before leaves you mesmerised by the sheer power of multiple creatives, designers and choreographers working together to make a beautiful show. An astounding exhibition of talent, passion and strength, Carlos Acosta: On Before is a phenomenal show, fit for all ages.

The Reviews Hub

Plymouth Live: Awesome Carlos Acosta's new show leaves Theatre Royal thrilled
Cuban dance superstar is joined by Laura Rodriguez and Southwest choirs in powerful production which leaves audience delighted.

It’s fair to say that people love Carlos Acosta. The audience at Theatre Royal Plymouth gave him three curtain calls and applauded for about five minutes after his astonishing performance of Carlos Acosta: On Before.

At the end of all that clapping they must have been almost as bushed as he was following 135 minutes of intense and mesmerising dance. Not that the statuesque and, indeed, ripped Cuban dance superstar looked it.

Carlos Acosta is nearly 51 years old and here he was on stage, topless, exploring the limits of physicality when most men of his vintage are on the sofa, in a hoodie, exploring a 140g bag of Wotsits. But, it’s not all about Acosta and his amazing physique and technique - On Before is a captivating, delicate and even heart-breaking realisation of a relationship, and partly inspired by the death of his mother.

A cluster of separate pieces, by different choreographers, including Acosta, and set to distinct pieces of music, On Before nevertheless comes together as a whole. Acosta dances some pieces alone, and some with another Cuban dancer, the elegant Laura Rodriguez, who also enthrals with two solos.

The pair intertwine in the opening piece, the tender On Before, choreographed by Will Tuckett to music by John Adams, and then it is into Acosta’s first solo, Memoria, in which he shows off his amazing range, incorporating ballet, street and even martial arts under a single spotlight, choreographed by Miguel Altunaga to music performed by Murcof.

Rodriguez’ Sirin then showcases her talents in the beautiful solo Sirin, choreographed by YuryYanowsky, with the first half climaxing with Acosta returning for Two (choreographer Russell Maliphant, music by Andy Cowton), in which he twists and whirls inside a tight square of light, hands flashing like blades, his arms all knotted rope. Astounding.

The second half begins with another Rodriguez solo, Footnote to Ashton, music by Handel, in which a screen descends leading to Falling Deep Inside, a filmed projection which features the two dancers cavorting in a shower and splashing about in a torrent of water. It certainly breaks up the overall feel of the production, but is also perhaps the least exciting part, despite its pace.

No matter, the dancers are soon back in the flesh for Nosotros, a new piece added to this version, choreographed by Beatriz Garcia and Raul Reinoso. It moves into Hand Duets, which Acosta choreographed with George Cespedes to music by Omar Puente, as the relationship moves to its doomed conclusion.

And then the emotional finale, O Magnum Mysterium, as the lovers are parted by death, to Morten Lauridsen’s music and Acosta and Yanowsky’s choreography. They are joined on stage by a choir, who have been, at intervals, wandering on and off during what was otherwise the Acosta and Rodriguez show.

Hats off to members of Exeter Festival Chorus, South West Chamber Choir, ExeVox Chamber Choir, Dartington Community Choir, Colatti Singers, and conductor Andrea Brown. But with the vast majority of On Before being just the two dancers with little staging, some candles but mainly spotlights, it proves the intimate and minimal, if delivered with grace, precision, passion and intensity can nonetheless be spectacular.

William Telford, Plymouth Herald

There are not many chances in life to see an artist perform who has been regarded as the best in the world. At 50, there are probably limited opportunities left to see Carlos Acosta dance live. Thus his current tour ‘On Before’ is gathering huge audiences as those who have followed his career and those who are new to his work are drawn in like a very powerful magnet.

Comprising nine vignettes the evening begins with a soundscape of falling rain and distant thunder with droplets covering the curtain; the sombre theme set from the off; Acosta acknowledging the piece is part homage to his late Mother. Although performed before, the work has been updated and reconfigured.

Acosta is partnered by the equal talent of Laura Rodríguez  (a dancer with Acosta’s own Company, Acosta Danza) and the two create duets and solo performances of beauty, creativity and power. They complement each other as well as one can imagine. These are athletes in the peak of condition; the use of their own bodies is off the scale fitness wise.

The programme begins with the duo ‘On Before’ choreographed by Will Tuckett; a close symmetry of dance, counterpointed by John Adams’ ‘Christian Zeal & Activity’; the fluidity of movement punctuated by the spoken word. Sublime. There is a claustrophobic feel to the whole with ‘Sirin’ suggested a trapped bird and the stunning and unforgettable ‘Two’ where Acosta uses his physique to full effect in the confines of a small box of light – it ends the first half with gasps from the audience.

The stage is strewn with lit candles giving space for ‘Footnote to Ashton’ allowing Rodríguez to offer more expansive movement to the strains of the aria ‘Per telasciai la luce’ from Handel’s Italian cantata ‘Delirio Amoroso’; it is visually and aurally arresting. This is followed by something completely different as a stage screen is projected with a slow motion film of the two protagonists – as the evening has defined them – up very close and personal; physical, emotional and exploring all emotions of a relationship. It is unexpected and riveting.

The show closes with the end of the partnership as the life of one of the two ends and is transported to another life. Throughout the show a group of people walk back and forth across the stage, sometimes in a formation and sometimes not, their part in the proceedings only revealed at the very end as they form an ethereal choir performing Morten Lauridsen’s ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ – it is stirring and an utterly fitting climax. It was wonderful that this choir was created from local organisations; Exeter Festival Chorus, South West Chamber Choir, ExeVox, Andrea Brown, Dartington Community Choir and The Collati Singers.

This is a show to make you think, to ponder, to absorb and to admire. Acosta and Rodríguez are mesmerising and sublime; the dynamics between them are extraordinarily varied and powerful. The choreography by Will Tuckett, MigueslAltunga, YuryYankowsky, Russell Maliphant, Kim Brandstrup, Beatriz Garcia, Raul Reinoso, George Cespedes, Carlos Acosta and Zenaida Yanowsky is extraordinary throughout. The music takes us through the ages from Handel to Acosta’s home of Cuba; inspired choices.

The programme holds together as an exploration of human emotion at its most vulnerable.

As ever, with dance, the lighting is often a ‘character’ all of its own and this never disappoints; how the blurred movement visuals are created in ‘Two’ is a wonder; cinematic and unforgettable.

A mark of the man is his insistence that the curtain call be taken by him and his dance partner and the singers, not alone. Carlos Acosta has said that this is one of his most important works and while his multitude of fans may wish to see him in the classical ballet roles he is known for, his contemporary dance work is here to see for all and in a theatre where no one wanted the show to end it was a true privilege to witness.

Cormac Richards