Cuban ballet icon Carlos Acosta has turned 40. But instead of sitting to rest and admire his career, or going for a few drinks at the local pub, he celebrates with an intensely challenging and diverse range of works at the London Coliseum.
Classical Selection is, in effect, a gala, but little of its repertoire is typical gala fare. It seems instead to be a tribute to the Royal Ballet, with whom Acosta has danced since 1998, with ballets from across the company's heritage being performed alongside other company stars.
Acosta dances in literally every other work but shows no signs of exhaustion. He revels in the bravura leaps and spins with which he made his name, but is also compellingly disturbed in the narrative choreography of Crown Prince Rudolf, the suicidal drug-taking lead character in Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling.
Acosta is partnered by Marianela Nuñez, and together they perform a superbly impassioned Winter Dreams, an erotic Scheherezade and an exuberant Diana and Actaeon. Alongside Leanne Benjamin, Acosta performs a stunning extract from MacMillan's Requiem, accompanied by the beautiful choral sounds of the Pegasus Choir.
In other works, Melissa Hamilton and Nehemiah Kish excel in Gloria, a ballet inspired by the First World War. Ricardo Cervera and Yuhui Choe are effortlessly musical and sprightly in Frederick Ashton's Rhapsody.
The works on show are a joy and a real breath of fresh air to see showcased out of context. Acosta says, "What I'm trying to do is show people the possibilities of what the ballet world can give - from classic works like Diana and Actaeon to modern classics like Mayerling. People will have a bigger sense of what ballet's about."
Acosta is a superbly accomplished classical dancer, but he completes the bill with a modern solo, Memoria, choreographed for him by Miguel Altunaga in 2009. At its close, he sits on a chair, breathing heavily, towelling off his sweat and dressing himself in outdoor clothing.
It's as if he's winding down, saying a final goodbye to performing and his devoted audience. But as he takes his bow, the real meaning of his actions become clear. This is the inimitable Carlos Acosta, and for him, Classical Selection is just another day in the office.
Carlos Acosta - Classical Selection is at the London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, Westminster, WC2N 4ES until Sunday. A limited number of tickets are available, priced £10-85, from the London Coliseum website. Londonist received a complimentary ticket to this performance.
Pictured: Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nuñez / Photo: Johan Persson