The Royal Ballet’s Guest Pricipal Carlos Acosta wrote his autobiography, No Way Home, which was published in 2007.
Now, Margaret Willis has decided to raid her memory bank over the last 20 years and write her own version, entitled The Reluctant Dancer. There is nothing much new here – Carlos’ story is simply told and is already well-known. This book is disappointingly small when it arrives; perhaps the publishers were unsure how it would be received – that’s the impression such a small book gives.
Carlos’ childhood friends and neighbours know him as Yuli, and The Reluctant Dancer charts his days as a football-mad breakdancer who was heading for trouble until his father decided to send him to ballet school. There is his battle with the monotony of ballet classes, problems with his unpredictable father and his truancy which is a recurring theme throughout his school days. Even so, despite the gaps in his study, when he returned to ballet class he was always ahead of the others. Talent will out.
His lightbulb moment came when the Ballet Nacional de Cuba were touring the country and he saw principal dancer Alberto Terrero dance and knew that he wanted to learn how to do that. Ballet made sense.
Later on, his exemplary partnering is highlighted with a story about principal dancer Viengsay Valdés who had an asthma attack during her solo in the Diana & Actaeon pas de deux and Carlos rushed on and carried her through the rest of the piece.
His year as an exchange student in Italy with the Teatro Nuovo di Torino at 16 was a revelation to him and his teacher Ramona de Saá has been a guiding light ever since in his career. He won the Gold Medal at the Prix de Lausanne in 1990 and Ivan Nagy (then Artistic Director of English National Ballet) went to Cuba to audition for dancers, offering Carlos a Principal contract which he did not immediately accept. After graduation into the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Carlos found himself in the corps de ballet and so de Saá made the arrangements for him to obtain a visa and work in London. While with English National Ballet Carlos sustained an injury which saw him off-stage for a year, during which time he went back to Cuba and re-joined the Nacional Ballet. When he was 20 he was offered a contract to Houston Ballet where they nicknamed him ‘Air Acosta.’ He joined The Royal Ballet in 1998 at a bad time – the closure of the House and changes in Artistic Director made it hard for him. He commented that there were no news features about ballet dancers coming out of The Royal Ballet press office and his arrival was not reported, which made him anxious. He’d had a lot of success in Houston and was well-known. At The Royal Ballet he went from dancing an average of 20 shows in 2 months to 10 shows in 5 months, and no First Nights. He thought it was bad for his technique as well as his morale.
He choreographed his first piece – Tocororo in 2003 and in 2007 he danced the title role in Spartacus with The Bolshoi Ballet – a lifelong ambition. Who can forget 6th August 2007 ? He was instrumental in The Royal Ballet’s historic tour to Cuba in 2009, and took great pride in showing his home country his adopted family.
For me, this book leaves my existing questions unanswered, but if you’re looking for a pared down version of Carlos’ story that you can easily read in a few hours, this may be the book for you.
No Way Home is still available.
You might also like to watch Carlos’ Tocororo on DVD.