Recently I caught up with Ballet News favourite Venus Villa, who was rehearsing with Carlos Acosta’s nephew Yonah Acosta. Yonah recently completed his training in Cuba and has joined English National Ballet as a First Artist. His technique and partnering are already well defined, and I reviewed his first performance for the company, in Suite en Blanc by saying “Yonah Acosta makes his assured debut with the company (he is a First Artist), and his entrechats, his feet, the height of his jumps and the speed of his turns – even though they are not yet honed for performance – will fair take your breath away.” Photographer Bex Singleton and I prepared for lift-off !
What made this rehearsal literally spell-binding was the presence of Yonah’s uncle, Carlos Acosta, who took the rehearsal. Many of you will have seen Carlos dance in virtuoso roles such as Spartacus and Le Corsaire, but here Venus & Yonah are being coached in Diana and Actaeon, and they could have no finer teacher.
The story goes that Actaeon spies Diana (godess of the hunt) while she is bathing with her nymphs, and she’s none too pleased about it. She turns him into a deer and subsequently he is attacked by his own animals and killed. The famous pas de deux divertissement is often performed at galas and is based on a pas de deux from Esmeralda, by Petipa.
But back to our rehearsal. Venus and Yonah were invited to dance at a gala in Russia; the GALA OF INTERNATIONAL BALLET STARS DANCE OPEN at the Grand Concert Hall Oktyabrsky in St Petersburg.
Our stars danced on the same evening as : Anette Delgado, Alejandro Virelles – National Ballet of Cuba, Jurgita Dronina, Cédric Ygnace – Dutch National Ballet, Ashley Bouder – New York City Ballet, Denis Matvienko, Viktoria Tereshkina, Elena Evseeva, Yury Smekalov – Mariinsky Theatre, Sue Jin Kang & Jason Reilly – Stuttgart Ballet, Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vasiliev – Bolshoy Theatre, Isabelle Ciaravola – Paris Opera Ballet, Marcelo Gomes – American Ballet Theater, Alina Cojocaru, Sergey Polunin, Steven McRae – Royal Ballet Covent Garden, Lucia Laccara – Bavarian State Ballet & Semen Chudin –Thatre named after Stanislavsky-Danchenko.
Rehearsing in their free time, the pair embarked on a gruelling schedule with the aim of perfecting the ballet in time for the gala. For Venus & Yonah, the priviledge of having Carlos as their teacher was always evident; their intense concentration alternated with bursts of laughter – the perfect recipe for success. No shouting, rudeness or bullying with Carlos; just a quiet determination to perfect every last nuance. And how Venus & Yonah excelled under Carlos’ tutelage!
You can see from these images what a great partnership Venus & Yonah are already : can you imagine what they will become ?
They are both fearless and trusting but also the have the Cuban warmth, speed and attack that makes watching them so exciting.
You can see my favourite part of the ballet in this next photograph – when they were dancing this section, Carlos could be heard over the music, saying “listen for the bells.” I heard them ! It’s hard to be perfectly syncronised with your partner when you can’t look in the mirror to check your position, but Venus & Yonah are so well matched that they make it look easy.
Carlos encouraged Venus & Yonah to run through sections and went over the corrections afterwards. They listened intently as he demonstrated the exact position and gave them insights into the ballet and how they should react to one another. As you can tell from the story, Diana isn’t keen on men, and so Carlos was very keen to make sure that Venus (as Diana) didn’t act in a flirtacious way towards Yonah (as Actaeon). Quite hard, for a pair of Cubans !
I’m very happy to report that the gala went very well and the audience was thrilled with their performance. After the show, Yonah was awarded the prize of the most virtuoso male dancer. I am so proud of them both.
Finally, Venus and Yonah reached for the ceiling !
With thanks to Carlos Acosta.