Carlos Acosta is a most unlikely ballet star. The youngest of 11 children growing up in a poor, rough quarter of Havana, he aspired to be a professional soccer player. He'd never even heard of ballet, he says, until the day his parents told him they were sending him to ballet school to keep him from becoming a juvenile delinquent. Now 28 and a principal dancer turned guest artist with the Royal Ballet in London, Acosta is acclaimed as "the new Baryshnikov" and described as a panther for his combination of athleticism, agility and elegance. Leaping and floating in the air with no obvious effort and often displaying a daredevil streak he is the Michael Jordan of ballet.
Having just completed a short stint in Swan Lake and a mixed ballet program at
Covent Garden, he's off for a month's break at home in Cuba. Then it's
back to work in September, on a tour that will take him to Montreal, Houston,
Copenhagen, Cairo and back to London. "I didn't like school," Acosta
recalls. "My father used to wake me at about 5 a.m. to go to the ballet school,
but instead I would go to play soccer. One day the school called him and said
‘What's going on? It's been a month and Carlos hasn't shown
Carlos does show up these days, as he has since he began, at age 13, to take ballet
seriously at the school of the prestigious National Ballet of Cuba. His career
took off in 1990, when he won international competitions in Lausanne and Paris.
Since then, he has danced with the English National Ballet, the National Ballet
of Cuba and the Houston Ballet, as well as making guest appearances in Munich,
Stuttgart, St. Petersburg, Athens and elsewhere. Next April, he will be performing
with the American Ballet Theater in New York. "It's a dream come true,"
Another Acosta dream is to return to live in Cuba. No fan of English weather,
he acknowledges feeling lonely in London. "I finish the show, I sign autographs
and then I go home by myself," he says. "Nobody likes that."
Acosta's heart is clearly in his homeland. Whenever he's in Havana,
he drops in on the National Ballet founded in 1948 by the dance legend Alicia
Alonso and "the one who really formed me," teacher Ramona de Saa.
"I take rehearsals, I give opinions to students," he says. "The
teachers always ask me to come and help them, and I do." He adds: "Cuba
is facing so much, and I do understand that the priorities right now are education
and medicine." Still, he would like to see Cuban dancers paid better so they
don't feel they need to leave the country. Has Cuba lost many good ones in
recent years? "Oh, yeah. A lot. The best of the best," Acosta says,
citing José Manuel Carreño, Lorena Feijó o, Jesú s Corales
Back home, along with friends and family and his beloved salsa music, is a much-treasured
dance trophy, won when he was only nine for breakdancing. The first-place
award bears the image of Lenin and a hammer and sickle. "That was the best,"
he says. "It was the first time I ever won a prize." The memory produces
the sunny curtain-call grin that so charms global audiences.
Q: Where does your power come from on the stage?
A: It's a combination of things. Training, the way I'm built but I work hard as well. I have the capacity to pay attention and quickly adapt.
I listen. I want to do well. I'm disciplined. I learned that very well
Q: Given your background, what goes through your mind when you're appearing
before an audience where some people are paying more than $100 to see you dance?
A: I don't really think about that. It is ironic, because I never asked
for this, and it's just wonderful that it happened to me. I give 101% every
time I'm out there.
Q: How is the National Ballet of Cuba faring now?
A: It has changed. The problem that Cuba is facing with the economy is reflected
everywhere. It shows in the ballet. There are good people, and if somebody gives
them a contract, they go away to pursue an international career.
Q: What would you like to do when your dancing career ends?
A: I want to do more for the Cuban people. They haven't been able to see really
big productions. I want to be able to bring those things over there. It's as
if time has stopped there, and they got stuck with the same old productions.
The world kept going, but they still are doing Giselle and Coppelia. They've
never been able to see a big production like Manon.
Q: What would be your advice to aspiring young dancers?
A: It's a wonderful world, but it's a very difficult one. The most
important thing is the discipline. In life, in anything you want to accomplish,
you need to be disciplined. With perseverance, anything is