When ballet superstar Carlos Acosta was planning the new show for his company Acosta Danza there was only one possible name. He called it Evolution because he believes it will show audiences just how much his company has grown since he founded it four years ago.
The former Royal Ballet principal, who was born and grew up in Cuba, created Acosta Danza in 2015 to promote young talent and showcase performers from his home country. Since then the company has become hugely popular in Cuba, the UK and beyond.
“I had this great idea to create a company which didn’t look like any other company out there. The journey was always going to be hard and it needed a whole team of people who really believed in the idea,” says Carlos. “But I have managed to do it and I learnt a lot from it. I learnt that everything is possible.
“We called our first tour Debut because we were still in our early stages. But now we have a company which is more mature and with more repertory which means we can create a programme like Evolution. We have been evolving from that very first tour and I want to share that. With this programme, I know that we can do that.
“If you have the right energy and you convey your idea to people who believe in it, you can do wonders. That is what tells me to keep dreaming big.”
Carlos has always dreamed big. As a young boy growing up in hardship in the Cuban capital of Havana, he dreamed of being a football player but his father sent him to ballet school to keep him off the streets and to instil some discipline.
Initially reluctant to dance, Carlos’ talent impressed teachers and he went on to win a host of awards including the prestigious Prix de Lausanne. After performing with renowned companies around the globe, he joined the Royal Ballet in in 1998 becoming Principal Guest Artist in 2003. It was on retiring in 2016 that he created Acosta Danza, returning to Cuba to find his performers.
“When I audition dancers, I am looking for strong personalities, great commitment and great technique, whether contemporary or classical,” he says. “The dancers come from various different backgrounds and companies so I was looking to create a foundation on which to build.
“At the beginning I didn’t know how it would turn out because we started from zero – but everything has turned out just fine!”
It is a journey which continues. In 2017 Carlos opened the Carlos Acosta Dance Academy in Havana to train young dancers.
“We have 51 kids in the academy at the moment. We have a special programme for talented kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and we have children from other countries including the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Spain and Colombia,” says Carlos
“We are training them from an early age and giving them the signature of Acosta Danza so we now have a source that will feed the company in the future.
“This will keep up our vision and the direction of the company – a company which tackles the Cuban essence. Every choreographer that I have worked with, I ask them to find inspiration from the island and from its music and people so we can create work which is different from every other contemporary dance company.”
Much of that Cuban essence is evident in Evolution which features Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun, Pontus Lidberg’s Paysage, Soudain la nuit and Maria Rovira’s Impronta.
Set to hits by the Rolling Stones including Little Red Rooster, Paint it Black, Ruby Tuesday and Sympathy for the Devil, Rooster pokes gentle fun at cocksure males as they hit the town on the hunt for women. Created in 1991, it has been staged worldwide – and it’s a piece close to Carlos’ heart as he first performed it in the 1990s when he was a dancer with Houston Ballet. In the upcoming tour, Carlos returns to the stage as part of the cast.
“Rooster is a big crowd-pleaser and it’s great for me to be with the dancers, building our dream of this company together,” he says. “Sometimes a director is far removed from the dancers, just saying ‘go here, go there, do this, do that’ but it is something special when you put the director on the stage with the dancers. We are all breathing the same artistry and we look at each other’s eyes and pick up each other’s energy. They appreciate that I’m one of them, not just someone who tells them what to do!
“For me, every minute that I’m on stage counts as it’s not the usual thing for me any more. Before I was doing 100 shows a year and I would know that when one show was over there would be another one the next week but now that’s not the case. When I’m on stage I feel alive and now I know it could be the last time so I make sure I really enjoy it as much as I can.”
Maria Rovira, who created Impronta, has worked with Carlos and Acosta Danza on a number of projects and choreographed the recent film ‘Yuli’ based on Carlos’ life and autobiography ‘No Way Home’.
“Maria has a strong relationship with Cuba, she used to choreograph for the National Ballet of Cuba,” Carlos explains. “When I put the company together, I tried to look for choreographers who already had a connection to Cuba so I commissioned her to create her first work for Acosta Danza.
“Then there was an opportunity for a dance festival in Barcelona when she worked with the company and created Impronta. When there was the opportunity of the movie, she was the right person for that. So we have had this connection for a long time.
“Impronta was created for one of the dancers, Zeleidy Crespo, who is incredible. It’s Afro-Caribbean-based and very focussed on the individual performer. It’s a great addition to the show.”
Lidberg’s Paysage, Soudain, la nuit takes music by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer as the start point but that music is then re-worked by Swedish composer Stefan Levin. The set features an art installation by Cuban artist Elizabet Cerviño. For Carlos, this is a melding of different cultures to create something new and exciting.
“This piece has great atmosphere. You can see the subtlety of Cuban culture but from a European perspective which is very lovely,” he explains.
Cherkaoui’s Faun is inspired by the classic ballet L’Après-midi d’un faune and is set to Debussy’s original score with additional music by award-winning composer and producer Nitin Sawhney.
Again Carlos was keen to put the Acosta Danza stamp onto the piece. “Faun is a classic which is familiar to UK audiences but this time it is being danced by our dancers who have extraordinary bodies. To me, the piece becomes something else entirely with those dancers.”
This March and April Evolution travels to Southampton, Cardiff, Inverness, Bradford, Brighton, Canterbury, Salford, Plymouth, Newcastle and Nottingham after its premiere last autumn. The tour is presented by Dance Consortium, a group of 20 large-scale UK venues who work together to promote international dance. For Carlos, it is the ideal partnership.
“Working with Dance Consortium is an incredible opportunity for the company to go all over the country with this programme. Hopefully this is the beginning of a strong partnership so we can share our dance with regions across the UK. This tour takes us to a lot of venues we’ve not been before and we are really looking forward to it
“It’s great to bring top quality international dance to people’s doorstep so they don’t have to travel to Paris or other cities to see what is going on. Dance Consortium is a fantastic organisation for doing this – the more people understand other country’s cultures the more they understand the people of those countries. The arts help us to be more compassionate and tolerant of other peoples.”
In January Carlos became director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, a role he will combine with continuing to run Acosta Danza. Awarded the CBE in 2014, Carlos has for many years been based in both the UK and Cuba.
“Britain is like home to me,” he says. “The good thing about the British people is that they embrace difference. If you are different they see that as a good thing. They know talent when they see it and they really appreciate it, no matter where it comes from.
“I love the fact that a Cuban company can come here and the British welcome them like they are their own. It’s incredible when the audience stand up at the end of a performance and they are shouting and cheering. There has been so much love for us and we feed on that so we are looking forward to coming back and giving even more”.