Interview: Carlos Acosta celebrates Acosta Danza’s Cuban roots as the company brings 100% Cuban to Nottingham
By Diane Parkes
Since internationally renowned ballet star Carlos Acosta set up his company Acosta Danza six years ago it has seen a meteoric rise. This spring, Acosta Danza returns to the UK on a brand-new tour infused with Cuban heritage, movement and music.
The new programme from the Havana-based company will be turning up the heat in an evening packed with homegrown talent. 100% Cuban features three UK premieres by Cuban choreographers plus two audience favourites in an action-packed performance exploring the island’s heritage of dance, folklore and rhythm.
Acosta Danza was formed by Carlos to showcase and celebrate dancers and choreographers from his home country and the company has rapidly become a ‘must see’ on the international touring circuit.
Carlos, who retired from his role as a principal with Royal Ballet in 2016 and is now director at Birmingham Royal Ballet, says Acosta Danza has taken very rapid steps to success.
“I’m very surprised and very pleased that we have done so much in so few years. When I formed the company, we had no repertoire at all, we didn’t even have a base. We were in a studio in a school that my teacher lent me. We were creating work from scratch every evening after the school finished. But now the company feels very solid.”
From its beginning, Carlos was determined that Acosta Danza productions and performances would be world-class.
“Cuba is a third world country where everything is very bare but I try to break through that and be comparable with other European companies in terms of production values. We bring in choreographers and designers to help us develop work which is of the highest standard.”
And Acosta Danza aims to build the talents of its company members.
“We are not only developing dancers but also the choreographers and the teachers of tomorrow,” says Carlos. “This is a long-term project. Hopefully the dancers feel invested in Acosta Danza, they feel happy and proud to be part of that company and founders of that company.
“I encourage the dancers to teach and, whenever we go on tour, we give workshops. It’s not about egos, it’s about growing and developing talent.”
As part of that process, Carlos has also stepped away from performing with the company and won’t be dancing on the 100% Cuban tour this spring. Taking in six venues across the UK, the tour is presented by Dance Consortium, the UK-wide group of 18 large-scale theatres dedicated to bringing high quality international dance companies to British audiences.
“In the beginning, because everyone always needs a reference point and someone they can recognise, I involved myself in my project,” says Carlos. “My being on stage meant I could pull in the audiences with the intention that they could see the talent of all of our dancers.
“I always knew that I wanted to create a company that has its own value, not a platform for people to come and see me perform. Now the company is strong enough that they don’t need me on stage any more. After six years we have the reviews, the awareness of the talent, and I think it is time for the dancers to navigate on their own.”
The 100% Cuban programme features new works Hybrid created by Norge Cedeño Raffo, Liberto by Raúl Reinoso and Da Punta a Cabo by Alexis Fernández, as well as revivals of Paysage, Soudain, la nuit by Pontus Lidberg and Impronta by Maria Rovira.
All five are charged with elements of Cuban life, storytelling or music as Carlos was keen for this tour to be a celebration of his homeland.
“I’m Cuban and I recognise the amount of talent that we have in the island so I wanted to bring it to the world and especially to the UK – and not just the dancers but also the artistic heritage that we have.
“Cuban folklore is part of who we are. We have very rich folk roots from Africa and Spain which collided and blended in the island over generations. That’s what we’re celebrating in 100% Cuban.
“In the programme most of the musicians, choreographers and the team are Cuba-related. There are exceptions like Paysage by Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg but again he tailor-made that piece for Acosta Danza with Cuba in mind. And he collaborated with Cuban composer Leo Brouwer and Cuban artist Elizabet Cerviño who made an installation as scenery.”
The new commissions all have the Caribbean island at their heart.
“De Punta a Cabo is set on the Malecón which is the sea bay by Havana where there are so many stories happening every single day. It’s a corner where we all go to escape or meet other people. There are guys making music, families, all kinds of craftsmen selling their stuff, it’s a very important spot for us.
“De Punta a Cabo all happens in that place, it’s an entire day in Havana, and at the end the dusk falls. It’s a piece that’s enjoyable and entertaining and is also symbolic of the melting pot which is the Cuban heritage.”
Carlos is keen to promote and develop young Cuban choreographers and has commissioned the new piece Liberto from Raúl Reinoso. A dancer with Acosta Danza, Raúl’s piece Satori was critically acclaimed on the previous Acosta Danza tour Evolution.
“Raúl is a really great talent so I am encouraging him to choreograph. His work hasn’t been seen much outside of Cuba but Satori was such a powerful piece. A liberto slave was one who escaped and became a free man and Liberto explores the interaction of two runaway slaves.
“The other new piece Hybrid is by Norge Cedeño Raffo, another Cuban talent whose work hasn’t been seen in the UK. It will be very exciting for audiences to discover his work and this piece taps into our culture which is already a hybrid of cultures.”
The programme also features Impronta which Spanish choreographer Maria Rovira created specifically for company member Zeleidy Crespo and set to music by Cuban composer José Gavilondo.
“Impronta explores Zeleidy’s physique, her beauty and her grace,” explains Carlos. “Zeleidy is a very specific ballerina with an amazing talent and physique, she’s almost Amazonian.”
Carlos has ambitious plans for the next chapter of the Acosta Danza story.
“We have built up a great repertoire now and I want to tap into more big title productions. I am going to choreograph a new Romeo and Juliet for the company based in Havana and we already have my Carmen which I will turn into a full evening production.
“It’s now about expanding the repertory, expanding the outreach worldwide and carrying on developing friendships, links and relationships with venues that keep investing in the company. We have been grateful for the support of Sadler’s Wells, Dance Consortium, our founder sponsor Aud Jebsen, Sir Simon Robey, Aline Foriel-Destezet, Alan and Caroline Howard… all of these have given us the support we needed to create a rep and bring international artists to Cuba to develop the company.
“We have an academy in Cuba and we are starting to bring our graduates into the company now. That is the future, it means that there is a guarantee of new dancers there.
“Our story hasn’t been easy and I’ve only been able to build the company we have because of supporters. But six years along the line, Acosta Danza has caught the imagination of audiences worldwide and we will keep fighting to keep that up.”
Acosta Danza’s 100% Cuban is at Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham on 15 & 16 February 0115 989 5555 / www.trch.co.uk