Carlos Acosta reflects on his 30 year dance career, dancing with The Royal Ballet, favourite roles & advice for aspiring dancers

Carlos Acosta (Photo by Tim Whitby/Getty Images)

Acclaimed international dance sensation Carlos Acosta is celebrating his 30 year dance career. To mark this special occasion Carlos will be returning to the stage to perform alongside his company Acosta Danza at the Royal Albert Hall (2-5 October).

The Wonderful World of Dance talked with Carlos Acosta on our podcast show – read our interview below:

Do you have any career highlights or moments throughout your career that have been special to you?

Well, I have many obviously, but there is a particular moment that actually launched my career – when I was sixteen years old, I won the Prix de Lausanne which was a prestigious ballet competition in Switzerland.

Before then, I didn’t have a very clear future and then [after I won] all the newspapers had my photograph! So, that gave me the confidence that I needed to carry on.

I thought to myself, ‘well, perhaps I really have a good shot at this. If I work hard, I can come out of poverty, I can help my family and I can have a lifestyle that is going to be great’. That is a moment that I will always treasure.

Has there been a performance or a particular role that has been one of your favourites over your career?

I have many, because the good thing about what I do is that it gives you the opportunity to be somebody that you are not in real life, and that is what is fun about it. It’s always changing constantly.

Then after that, you are learning to profit from all these experiences, and it’s just great fun. For instance, Romeo and Juliet has got to be one of my favourite ones, but also another role that is quite different, and that is Spartacus. They are one among the greatest roles I ever played.

I think that is what kept me constantly growing, the fact that I didn’t stay where I was; I kept mutating into different roles. To me, what was easier was the roles that had the technical display, like high jumps.

But I’d never gotten the opportunity to play a role like the prince in Swan Lake or do them regularly. I learned how to do them. Therefore, I could show moody aspects to my dancing.

Carlos Acosta
Carlos Acosta

Throughout your career you have taken on many roles, not only as an acclaimed professional dancer, but as a choreographer, producer and you now run your own dance company. With all those talents and all those different roles, do you find one that is most rewarding or one that you think fits you best?

I think Don Quixote, it’s a role that I have been dancing since I was 16. In fact, I danced Don Quixote in the competition in Switzerland that I won at the age of 16. I also not only danced the role with The Royal Ballet, but I also choreographed my own production, with my vision for the role. It was rewarding, because you have these elements, choreographic and performance, coming together.

It was the ultimate reward, because it summarized everything that I wanted at that point to cultivate throughout my career. It was also the role that I danced when I won the Prix de Lausanne.

You retired from classical ballet two years ago, tell us about your experience of transitioning from the principal roles to now running your own company. What do these last two years look like for you?

Any transition is very nerve-racking, because you don’t know what you’re going to do after – that it’s going to fulfil you as much, but I have to say it was very seamless.  Because I was always somebody who was doing many things at the same time.

It wasn’t always about dance for me, it was about evolving and exploring and being curious. That is what it was all about and therefore that curiosity led me to write a couple of books, to choreograph and put on my own shows, at the same time dancing in roles. So, when that particular moment arrived, I already planned for my company.

It was a seamless transition from being a classical dancer into a platform that I already created that gave me chance to carry on to dancing more contemporary roles and also work with different choreographers.

Nevertheless, I was very nervous. I saw that perhaps whatever comes next wasn’t going to bring me as much fulfilment, but it has. Also, what is very rewarding is the fact that I have got three daughters, and I have more time to spend with them.

Again, it was not a transition, and I am still dancing with The Royal Ballet and touring everywhere, so I couldn’t spend as much time with her as I wanted to, but now I can. Although sometimes I have to go to #0:09:56.2#. It gave me the chance to actually be a father to them and be involved in whatever is going on in their lives.

I think this new chapter in my life has brought me a lot of joy, actually.

Carlos Acosta

I have to say that it’s not often that we hear men or male dancers talking about their fatherly role. It feels quite lovely and unique. It’s incredible that you are focusing very much on that part of your life now

It is important because I wasn’t fortunate enough to have my father around, because he was going all over the place trying to get the money and driving his lorry up and down trying to sustain us.

This is something that I wish could have changed for me, but obviously, I am trying to do… I remember how I used to feel not having my family around. So that history doesn’t repeat itself, I am trying to provide that comfort for them.

I am in a multicultural relationship, so it is important that that side of their culture, which is mine, also grows in them. That is why we made the decision to spend two months of the year in Cuba.

Our eldest daughter studies in Cuba – Spanish obviously.

[This way], know that side of the culture – their culture, as well. So it’s the best that we could give them; the freedom to know people from different cultures, people from different backgrounds so that they can understand the world better. I think it’s something that we are aware of in bringing them up.

You have got your own dance company, Acosta Danza. Tell us about the vision for your company and the type of dancers that you look forward to joining your company

I went for dancers from the classical background and from the contemporary background with very strong technique who could provide a foundation from which to build. I wish to build on top of. So, I saw that I would build a company in Cuba to give back to my country.

I have the arts scene in Cuba that gave the audience in Cuba the chance to see some of the prominent choreographers in the world, and at the same time to bring to the world all our Cuban talent.

I think one of the main purposes is to share with the world these wonderful talents so that they can come out of obscurity. Be dancers that the world has never heard of or choreographers that could be in different parts of the world that are not always the usual choreographers that everybody wants to normally use; people who are equally talented, but nobody would give them a chance.

It’s not about the obvious talent that everybody knows, it’s about the talent that nobody knows. Find them, discover them and bring them to the light. I am aware that because of money issues, for instance, there are a lot of talent that could never ever had the chance that I had. That is where the foundation goes to find them and provide an allocation for free, so that the talent can grow.

Carlos Acosta
Carlos Acosta

You are giving back, not just to your culture or country, but also to other dancers, giving them opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise had. Has your own personal story influenced your entire dance career?

That is right. The thing about me is that I have so much enthusiasm about life, and life is too short. I wish I could live forever. I could do so many things I want to do but know I could never achieve.

While I am still around, I want to be able to live life to the fullest and create an impact on many fronts, and at the same time, fulfill my thirst for discovery and just go for something that sometimes people deem impossible.

I can only do little by little, but already my company that is only three years old and my school that I started have proven that we’ve got something going on here, and this is going to hopefully be visible in these shows coming up in October.

For the first time, we are going into a venue which is very large without the help of any international stars. There is basically a full orchestra, myself and my company, and we are going to perform “Carmen”, which is a choreography that I did with my dancer. So, the Carmen for the first time is not going to be the most talked about star that everybody knows; it’s going to be an equally [talented] star that nobody knows.

Hopefully from this point on, everybody knows. That is what it’s all about. There are many talents that are not obvious that are waiting to be discovered. In Cuba, there are many, many talents, and if we don’t do something about them, they will leave their country and go to another company.

It is also a big challenge for me to bring the world to them and for them to meet the finances that allow them to stay that they didn’t have previously.  I didn’t have the privilege of going up with my family, because I had to leave everything behind and go and dance so that I could sustain them. Then luckily, I had a good career, travelled the world regularly, and got back to my country of origin to share all that with their parents.

That is the most natural thing, but it is a big challenge. At the moment, I know that I am not going to be able to do all of that because everybody would want a life that they choose readily, but I can always try. At this point, I think Acosta is trying their best at doing so.

Carlos Acosta
Carlos Acosta

You talked about leaving these opportunities to the next generation and really showcasing the local talents and enabling them to have flourishing and fulfilling a professional dance career within their own hometowns. What advice would you give to other young aspiring dancers from all walks of life who would love to have a successful career in dance?

Like I always say, hard work will always prevail. There are going to be people who say you are not good enough or you are not going to get anywhere or maybe a teacher that shouts at you and makes you turn away from a role or fall out of love with this wonderful world that we call dance; this is life itself. It’s not about even dance – it’s about life itself.

You are always going to have obstacles, but in the end you have a choice about what you do with those obstacles. My advice is, just work hard and try to be focused and never, ever give up on your dreams for noone. Nobody should have that power over you and your dreams. Ultimately your work will prevail and your talent will flourish. It might take longer and you have to work harder, but eventually you will get there.

t is possible to be born in the streets of Havana and have no future and be a break dancer on the streets of Havana and become a principle dancer of one of the greatest companies like The Royal Ballet. It is possible; it is not a cliché. I have done it, and I did it by working hard.

Ultimately the sun is so bright, you cannot hide it with your hand. It’s too bright, and you have to turn yourself into the sun. If you are black or [of a] different origin or you look a certain way, you will [have to] be so bright that people cannot ignore you. I believe that working and dreaming can achieve this.