Acosta Danza’s 2020 UK tour was brought to a premature end by the surging scourge of Covid and the company beat a hasty retreat to its homeland. After a two-year interregnum they are back with an updated programme of five short works, which are 100% Cuban in terms of performance, performers and passion.

Acosta Danza in De Punta a Cabo
© Hugo Glendinning

The programme’s journey was vaguely chronological in relation to Cuban culture, opening with Raúl Reinoso’s Liberto, addressing the impact of slavery on the island’s culture and the transition of the West African Yoruba religion into the indigenous form of Santería; and finishing with De Punto a Cabo (roughly translated as From one place to another) with joyful impressions of contemporary Cuban youth at play against the backdrop of the Malecón (the famous sea defence wall that stretches for several kilometres alongside Old Havana). In between these extremes, the endemic passion for dance that covers the island was imprinted on the middle works in which the influence of rumba and salsa was never far from the movement. Here were slices of Cuban history explained through dance.

Carlos Acosta founded the company that bears his name in 2016 but this reconvened Dance Consortium tour had to open without its founder since his commitments as director of Birmingham Royal Ballet took precedence (his production of Don Quixote opened in Southampton on the following day). Despite the absence of its founder and the particular challenges of Covid in Cuba (the dancers could not train or rehearse for much of the past two years), Acosta Danza returned in splendid form under the technical direction of Luis Carlos Benvenuto.

Zeleidy Crespo in Liberto
© Hugo Glendinning

Nonetheless, Acosta’s subliminal presence was embedded in a programme that was intensely personal. His surname is that of a rich Spanish family to which his paternal grandfather was enslaved, a story so searingly described in the biographical film, Yuli; and the choreographer who worked with Acosta on that film, Maria Rovira, contributed the brief but mesmerising solo, Impronta (Imprint), to this programme.

The 14 dancers had a busy time with several appearing in consecutive works. After Zeleidy Crespo's  mesmerising solo in Impronta – using her full-skirted aqua blue dress like a flamenco bata de cola – she was straight back on stage as part of the ensemble for the final work. It seemed improbable that she had the time to change!

When Reinoso took his curtain call as the choreographer of Liberto, an absorbing duet for Crespo and Mario Sergio Elias, he did so wearing a loose-fitting tracksuit and the reason soon became obvious as he was immediately back on stage, performing in the next work, Hybrid, a piece for six couples, by Norge Cedeño and Thais Suárez. This was the only work in the programme not specifically related to Cuba as it was inspired by the Greek myth of Sisyphus who was punished by Zeus for twice cheating death and condemned to push a huge boulder uphill forever. Despite having no narrative connection, these opening works had certain structural similarities, piecing together seemingly unrelated episodes within a familiar environment, mostly governed by eclectic music from the pulsating beat of tribal drums to the salsa-infused rhythms of modern-day Cuba and the excellent hazy, atmospheric lighting designed by Yaron Abulafia (who was also responsible for the sparse rope-themed set for Hybrid). Each of these opening works had a strong initial impact but, taken together, their combined length and stylistic similarities had an attritional affect on my concentration.

Acosta Danza in Hybrid
© Hugo Glendinning

Paysage, Soudain, la nuit (Countryside, Suddenly, the night) was Pontus Lidberg’s love letter to rumba, suffused by the Cuban music of Leo Brouwer and Stefan Lewin. The Swedish choreographer has showcased a celebration of dance in rural Cuba, an influence emphasised in the digital installation of long grass by the Cuban artist Elizabet Cerviño. This work for eleven dancers set a new and joyful tone for the second half of the show, leading into Crespo’s exhilarating Impronta solo.

Another powerful digital installation opened the final work (De Punta a Cabo) with the realistic imagery of a dozen or so performers dancing along the Malecón, soon to be joined by the full ensemble in a clever and cost-effective way of expanding the troupe! This work, by Alexis Fernandez (or Maca) and Yaday Ponce, is saturated with the hi-energy and carefree enthusiasm of modern-day Cuban youth. These 14 marvellous dancers at play gradually (and tastefully) peeled away their outer clothing to finish the work in an assortment of gym wear. The piece was performed at the company’s 2016 debut and it is clear to see why it might come to be regarded as a signature work to end Acosta Danza programmes since the performance continues into an exuberant curtain call. At just 18 minutes, it is that rare example of a work that leaves the audience clamouring for more, inevitably turning into a deserved standing ovation.