Dallas — Even suffering from jet lag, even with one foot in a cast, Carlos Acosta looks every bit the star ballet dancer he is. And what a dancer. Once the pride of Houston Ballet, he joined the Royal Ballet in 1998 and made his final bow last fall. As in Houston, Dallas, New York, London, Moscow and the world over, he delighted audiences with his charm, his space-eating jumps, his dazzling technique and his animal magnetism.
In the conference room of Texas Ballet Theater’s Fort Worth studio whose glass windows look out into one of the rehearsal studios, Carlos radiates a mischievous charm along with a gracious manner. As he sips lemonade with his suffering foot propped up on a chair, he talks about his career and what brings him to Fort Worth. He is in town to set his new 50-minute Carmen for Texas Ballet Theater for its American premiere.
A co-production with the Royal Ballet and Australia’s Queensland Ballet, Carmen opens TBT’s 2016-17 season, paired with the company premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Danse à grand vitesse. Performances are Sept. 16-18 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House in Dallas, and Oct. 6-8 at Bass Performance Hall.
Acosta’s relationship with TBT artistic director Ben Stevenson goes back to when Stevenson discovered the 18-year-old dancing with the English National Ballet and later invited him to join Houston Ballet as a principal dancer at age 20. With a talent of that magnitude, however, Houston Ballet couldn’t hold him forever.
If anything, Acosta is not someone to be pinned down to anything. He’s full of ideas, full of projects, the most recent one forming his own ballet company in Cuba. His autobiography, No Way Home, portrays a very tough life as one of 11 children of a truck driver in Havana, often going hungry, often without shoes, stealing mangos, and headed to a life of petty crime. When his father discovered that the Cuban National Ballet School offered discipline and free lunch, he signed Carlos up.
Carlos rebelled. “I just wanted to be a break dancer and play football [soccer to Americans],” he said with a laugh, recalling those early days. It took several years for him to discover ballet was a way out of poverty.
His energy spills over to more than just dancing. He’s written a semi-autobiographic Pig’s Foot, created a touring show Tocororo that received high reviews in London where it originated, and recently restaged a full-length Don Quixote for the Royal Ballet.
Last October he created an ambitious Carmen for the Royal Ballet, playing the two pivotal male characters, Don José and the toreador Escamillo. He much preferred playing Escamillo. “He is so over the top, so vain, so suave.” As for Carmen, “I want her to look like a real woman, not a ballerina. Just the way she walks should be sexy, but real.”
He has had to scale down the production for Texas Ballet Theater—the original in London involved opera singers, large orchestra, a flamenco musician, and clever sets. It seemed touch and go last week when the Fort Worth Orchestra went on strike, but an understanding was made, and there will be an orchestra, with those same musicians playing under the billing of Symphony Musicians of Fort Worth. Miguel Harth-Bedoya still conducts.
“I was inspired by the Antonio Gades and Carlos Saure movie, he said with his thick Cuban accent. “I thought I could do something contemporary and classical,” incorporating flamenco and street dancing with classical ballet.
Although Carmen was his swan song for the Royal Ballet—it brought a 20-minute standing ovation—he hasn’t really “retired.” He will be back in London in October at the Royal Albert Hall with his own selected dancers to perform classical roles for the last time, including Don Quixote, Requiem, Apollo and White Dreams.
“For the curtain call, I am going to burn my ballet shoes on stage, like Jimi Hendrix did his guitar.” Then he laughs “of course I won’t. It’s just a metaphor.”
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.