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Ballet superstar Carlos Acosta was a frequent performer on the stage at Birmingham Hippodrome with shows such as Tocororo, alongside other Royal Ballet dancers and with his Cuban-based company Acosta Danza - and it is great to have him back dancing for audiences.

These days Acosta, a former Royal Ballet principal, has become more familiar to the city as the director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, a post he took up in January 2020.

Now 50, he may no longer be leaping into the skies but On Before, a string of contemporary works by different choreographers, is the ideal vehicle to remind us that he remains a consummate and beautiful dancer.

On Before was initially conceived in 2010 and reads like a who’s who of international contemporary choreographers including Will Tuckett, Russell Maliphant, Kim Brandstrup, George Céspedes, Yury Yanowsky and Acosta himself.

The work aimed to pay homage to Acosta’s late mother but it focuses on a different kind of love – a faltering and fractured relationship between a man and a woman.

The piece was initially performed with fellow former Royal Ballet principal Zenaida Yanowsky who has continued to support the work while handing over the role to Acosta Danza member Laura Rodríguez.

It could be argued Rodríguez deserves equal billing as she more than holds her own in the show which is a mix of solos and pas-de-deux. Together she and Acosta explore every facet of a relationship bringing us tenderness and yearning but also anger and resentment as a kaleidoscope of feelings races around the stage.

Rodríguez is especially stunning in Brandstrup’s Footnote to Ashton in which she combines classical and contemporary forms to Handel’s aria Per te lasciai la luce on a stage lit by flickering candles.

Acosta is a blend of strength and precision as he partners Rodíguez. Taut with emotion and unleashed power, his solos, Miguel Altunaga’s Memoria and Maliphant’s Two, see him in concentrated movement, strong but also incredibly delicate.

The show is minimalist in many ways with stark spotlighting and monochrome costumes and this keeps our focus on the essentials so that the action of every muscle and every facial expression is brought to the fore.

The work also features graphics with a slow-motion film created by Estudio 50 in which the duo are screened dancing while water flows over their bodies - recreating the turbulence of their failing love affair across a giant screen.

On Before’s finale sees Birmingham’s Ex Cathedra choir take to the stage to perform Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium in which the relationship reaches its sad conclusion.

There is little doubting the warmth of the Hippodrome audience at seeing Acosta back on stage – let’s hope there are more opportunities in the future.

Four stars

Reviewed by Diane Parkes at Birmingham Hippodrome on Monday 6 May.