Carlos at 50 review – Ballet icon Carlos Acosta thrills fans with a crowd-pleasing feast

The curtain pulls back to reveal a single dancer, lithe in white spandex, muscular strength held in elegant and triumphant pose. The crowd cheers and he can’t contain a quick smile.

This evening was always going to be more for the fans than the critics, as it should be. Comments about his age or athleticism are redundant. He is still a commanding presence and strong performer and, crucially, he continues to connect and communicate with his audience, to delight and inspire them.

Carlos Acosta dazzled on the world stage and now continues to champion dance as director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and his own fantastic Acosta Danza.

He performs in five pieces across a gala show ranging from ballet’s most famous moonlike lake to the streets of Havana.

The crowd roared at numerous points and surged to their feet at the end – most unlike the refined Royal Opera House, and all the better for it.

The night commences in regal style with Acosta in the white leotard and lyre of Balanchine’s Apollo, packed with fiendishly difficult footwork and intertwined poses with his three muses (Marianela Nuñez, Celine Gittens and Lucy Maine). 

Act Two opens with the bar scene from Acosta’s own Carmen, performed by his tremendous company, Acosta Danza. Feet stomp and hands clap to percussive gypsy guitar and vocals. 

After the rowdy fun you could have heard a pin drop as we held our breaths through the first of two sublime pairings with Nuñez. The Swan Lake pas de deux is Odette and Siegfried’s first meeting, filled with trembling turns and delicate embraces. Acosta demonstrates his enduring power as a partner, allowing this most mesmerisingly magnificent of ballerinas to shine.

The main man’s nephew Yonah Acosta and his wife Laurretta Summerscales delight in the grandstanding splendour of the Corsaire pas de deux before the jaw-dropping lyricism and power of Brandon Lawrence almost steals the whole show in Valery Panov’s Liebstrod.

Clad in the tiniest of nude pants and curled on the floor, he unfurls into an increasingly ecstatic exploration of movement. His long limbs exult in beautiful leaps and extensions before finally returning to his original position. Absolute perfection.

A slightly overstuffed Act Two ends in the heavenly romantic swirl of the Manon bedroom pas de deux. Acosta and Nuñez never danced this together but they are gorgeous here, giddily imbuing the passion of young love at 50 and 40, respectively.

Act Three is rather a mixed bag. Acosta’s choreographical reworking of Fokine’s Dying Swan into a plural version benefits from the sublime Zeleidy Crespo in the titular role but the addition of an angular, modern male swan has never really worked.

Acosta returns in another powerful piece of partnering to an electrifying Laura Rodriguez in Mermaid, Sid Larbi Charkaoui’s striking modern meditation on a highly dysfunctional relationship.

It segues seamlessly into an except from Acosta’s debut choreographic (semi-autobiographical) piece Tocoroco. The stage throbs with Afro-Cuban rhythms as Acosta Danza return in infectious celebration, the man of the hour dancing joyously at their heart.

For the prolonged, thunderous curtain call, he brings on his three daughters, both adorable and a symbol of a man whose life’s work has always looked to the future. No doubt he will still be celebrated in another 50 years.