Page last updated at 00:44 GMT, Tuesday, 14 June 2011 01:44 UK

Carlos Acosta contemplates life after ballet


Acosta says he would 'probably have defected' if the Cuban government hadn't allowed him to pursue his career overseas

By Rosie Waites
BBC News

Carlos Acosta's story reads like a fairytale. The son of a truck driver, he grew up in Havana with 10 siblings, and went on to become the star of the Royal Ballet.

Now aged 38 and living in London, he feels he has "maybe three more years" before he will retire.

"As long as I can deliver freshness and not make a fool of myself I'll continue to dance," he said.

Behind the grace and beauty of ballet, dancers are often in constant pain, and injuries can jeopardise their careers.

Acosta has pain in his hips and has had repeated surgeries on his right ankle.

"I still think I have what it takes, but sometimes it's difficult to know when it's the right time, I think I still have the quality people like - but it's not very far away now."

"Ballet has been like being married for 30 years, and then for some reason life takes you on different paths, but you still have the memories of the woman you love - that's me and ballet."

Child of revolution

Carlos Acosta

Joins the National Ballet School of Cuba aged nine

Wins a scholarship to the Turin Ballet aged 17

Principal dancer with the English National Ballet aged 18

Becomes a guest artist with the Royal Ballet in 2003

Acosta will be dancing the principal role in the Royal Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet at London's O2 Arena on 17 June, and has spoken before of how demanding the role is, "you have five scenes and you dance almost until you drop dead."

But he said he dances the classics as much as he can "because each time might be the last."

This year Acosta was awarded Cuba's National Dance Prize, in recognition of his fruitful career, and for being "a genuine example of an artist who loves the revolution" - in the words of the president of the jury which awarded the prize.

Many Cuban dancers have had to defect in order to pursue a career abroad, and to dance modern, contemporary ballet - Cuban dance tends to be traditional and classical.

But Acosta has managed to maintain his ties with Cuba and travel back and forth freely. He says he has been "very lucky" to do this.

"I feel for those people who needed to go abroad to dance and be fulfilled. It is a logical course, and completely understandable and we need to change that," he added.

Acosta said that if he had not had the blessing of the Cuban National Ballet to pursue his career overseas he would "probably have defected" as well.

You have to be able to dance anything as a ballet dancer with the Royal Ballet - that's what I'm looking for, the dancer I would like to form

"If you don't have space to grow, what's the point? I need the sense that every day I'm learning and evolving as an artist, if I don't have that, what's the point?"

But he believes if he had grown up anywhere else he would not have had the same opportunities that he had in Cuba, and admits that he is "a product of the revolution."

"I was very poor and if I would translate my life to here (the UK) I would have had no chance."

Like Russian dancers, training for Cuban dancers is very strict, and is funded by the government.

Future plans

Acosta says his heart still belongs in Havana, and that he deals with the separation from his family and country "by creating defence mechanisms".

When he retires he and his British fiancée plan to move to Cuba, and he may start his own dance company.

Acosta doesn't intend to take over from his one-time dance teacher, Alicia Alonso, founder of the Cuban National Ballet - now aged 90 and almost blind. Instead he wants to create a new style of "fusion" dance in Cuba.

"I used to breakdance, I know how to salsa, but I also have a very strong classical training. You have to be able to dance anything as a ballet dancer with the Royal Ballet - that's what I'm looking for, the dancer I would like to form."

Does he think Cuba might be on the brink of change? "I think it's up to Cubans to change it, it's wrong for anybody to come to your home and tell you to rearrange the furniture, Cubans must do it - but I think it will happen."

Stephen Sackur's interview with Carlos Acosta will be broadcast on HARDtalk on Tuesday 14 June.

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