Carlos Acosta Announces His Swan Song to Classical Ballet

Carlos Acosta

Carlos Acosta announced at the Hay Festival in Wales this past week, that he will be retiring from ballet within two years time. His final appearance with the Royal Ballet, based in London, will be in a production of Carmen that he plans to choreograph and star in. At the end of the 2015/2016 season, his reign as the most powerfully stunning, charismatic and accomplished male performer still dancing ballet today, will come to a close.

Known for his incredible soaring leaps and his boundless artistic energy, Carlos’s performances are exceptionally beautiful and breathtaking. His dance is pure and heartfelt. The audience becomes entranced and mesmerized, as they are transported into the story that is being told through the timeless language of Carlos Acosta’s dance.

Coming from an impoverished part of Havana, Cuba, he was born in 1973, and grew up the youngest in a family of eleven children. Carlos has said that his father had fought for every penny that they had. He was quoted as saying that if he really wanted something, he had to beg for it from his father. The mattress he shared with his siblings had springs popping out of it in various spots. They needed to map out where they would sleep each night to keep from hitting themselves on the metal springs in the middle of the night.

His life growing up was that of a rambunctious boy who wanted to play football and baseball. Carlos has been known as a kid who was always jumping around. By the age of nine, his restless spirit would lead him to skip school and spend time break-dancing or getting into trouble on the streets of Havana. In 1982, his father made a decision to send him to ballet camp at the National Ballet School of Cuba.

In Cuba, ballet is seen by males as a way to achieve excellence and to further their quality of life. It allows a person to travel the world. The belief is that ballet, if you are an accomplished dancer, can pave the way to be able to live comfortably with a good income. However, Carlos Acosta’s time in the ballet camp was not ideal. He had difficulty with the rigid training and inflexible schedule. He just wanted to go home. But his father said no. After getting into numerous fights during what was a miserable time for him, the school expelled him. He was then sent to a boarding school in the province of Pinar Del Rio, Cuba.

While in Pinar Del Rio, thirteen year old Carlos saw a performance given by the National Ballet of Cuba. He watched the lead male performer do powerful leaps. That was the moment he knew what he wanted to do with his life. Carlos told himself that he would be dancing like that within a few years. By the time he turned 18, he was principle dancer in the English National Ballet. In 1998, he joined the Royal Ballet. In 2002, back in his native Cuba, he wrote and choreographed Tocororo. It is a semi-autobiographical show. It premiered in Cuba and went on to break box office records in London.

When asked about the competitive world of dance, Carlos has said that he does not compete with anyone besides himself. He believes that every day, he can strive to be better than the day before. Carlos knows that discipline, commitment and respect is the key to everything. He has told younger dancers that learning through hardship has taught him that people should love and have passion for what they do. They need to let that passion take them where they will go. Most importantly, do not do it for the fame or money. Do it for the love of the dance.

The rigorous daily classes have taken their toll over time. The enormous drive to excel involves daily practice at a level that pushes and punishes the body to its limits. There are never any days off for the ballet dancers. It is always hard work and lots of practice. These days it is not unusual to find Carlos taking a multitude of supplements that include vitamin D, glucosamine, anti-inflammatories, chondroitin, iron and multivitamins. He had once stated that he would never dance past the age of forty.

A dancer learns, through experience, how to cope with and make allowances for pain. Carlos Acosta is no stranger to this fact. His right foot has been operated on five times in order to remove floating bone in his ankle. The fear and sadness is evident in his face when he speaks of the beautiful pain of ballet. Carlos, in the past year, had stated that he has lived a life that is like a fairytale. But he knows that there will come a day when he wakes up and finds that he can no longer deliver at the level that is expected of him. It will be obvious at that moment when he looks around and sees the dancers with all their strength and all of their energy. At that moment, Carlos has said that he will know that it is time for him to go.

The prominent dancer, in an interview after turning forty last year, says that he cannot be compared to a time in the past when he was twenty. His flexibility and his body have changed. He asks how he could possibly go on if in his heart he knows that his kicks are not high enough. What happens when he can no longer make the jumps that he has excelled at in the world of ballet? Being his own harshest critic, Carlos Acosta has said that he pushes harder now than he did when he was younger. It is something he has to do. But when that day comes to decide to say goodbye, he will know it in his heart and it will be the hardest thing he has ever had to do.

The announcement of Carlos Acosta’s retirement from classical ballet came this past week. He joked that after he retires, he will hire a choreographer to create works for him to do while he is sitting down. Carlos believes it is only fair to the audiences for him to retire now. He may start his own dance company sometime in the future. Writing a second novel may also be a viable option. Pigs Foot is the first novel he has written. His autobiography, No Way Home, was published in 2007.

by Saki Kahala


Carlos Acosta
Royal Opera House

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