Birmingham (United Kingdom) (AFP)
Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta is hosting dance world premieres at one of Britain’s largest ballet companies to welcome audiences after the ‘nightmare’ of pandemic lockdowns.
The 47-year-old, who took charge of Birmingham Royal Ballet early last year, said he was looking forward to ‘reconnecting’ with ballet fans through a mixed program of modern and classical dance .
Acosta grew up in poverty in Cuba, but his prodigious talent propelled him into major roles in dance companies, including the Royal Ballet in London.
He hung up his ballet shoes in 2016 and in January 2020 took over the reins of the Birmingham company, based in the UK’s second largest city.
However, soon after his appointment, the country was plunged into a series of long lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.
– ‘Very traumatic’ –
“It was very traumatic,” Acosta told AFP, after leading a class in his studio. “This institution is very large. It was all new to me. “
His job was to keep the company’s finances afloat and chose to cut his own salary so that the 60 dancers could be paid in full.
The Birmingham Royal Ballet was one of the first UK companies to resume live performances in October, between shutdowns.
# photo1The first live show programmed by Acosta was a one-act ballet called “Lazuli Sky”.
The dancers obeyed the rules of social distancing by performing in voluminous skirts, modeled after the crinolines worn in the 19th century, when this was believed to prevent the transmission of cholera.
“I wanted to leave a pandemic record,” Acosta said of the show’s concept.
But the lockdown rules for dancers not to touch each other were “very unnatural,” he admitted.
“Without contact, there are limited things you can do. “
Later, the company began rehearsing with dancers in “bubbles” to reduce the risk that the whole company would have to self-isolate in the event of illness.
Soon after, the UK closed its doors again, with cinemas reopening only briefly in December before closing again until early this month.
“It was like false hope,” said Rosanna Ely, a 25-year-old dancer with the company.
# photo2 The pandemic “has been a nightmare for everyone,” Acosta admitted.
For the dancers, “the body is in pain” but the locks and reopens were also “very damaging” psychologically, he said.
For the company, the shutdown during the normally lucrative holiday season has also been financially disastrous.
The cancellation of Christmas performances of ‘The Nutcracker’ cost her around £ 1million (€ 1.2million, $ 1.4million), Acosta said.
To welcome the public once again, Acosta offers “Curated by Carlos: Triple Bill”, a performance made up of three short ballets, two of which will be world premieres, starting June 10.
One of the first – “City of a Thousand Trades” by native Havana choreographer Miguel Altunaga – celebrates Birmingham’s industrial heritage.
The other, “Imminent”, by Brazilian-British choreographer Daniela Cardim, is inspired by themes such as climate change.
“It’s very eclectic, it’s fresh… that’s what I think is the way forward for a 21st century ballet company,” Acosta said.
The company will also present a traditional favorite, “Cinderella,” later in June.
– “Not easily defeated” –
Acosta’s programming reflects his vision of dancers embracing both modern dance and classical ballet.
“I like this contemporary thing so much right now because it’s so different and it’s so out of my comfort zone,” Ely said, after a rehearsal of “City of a Thousand Trades,” the nickname of Birmingham during the Industrial Revolution.
Darel Jose Perez, a 22-year-old Dominican dancer, joined Birmingham Ballet as an apprentice dancer in November, thanks to the Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation, which aims to provide opportunities for dancers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“It was really difficult to come to a country that I didn’t know,” he said.
He added that he “felt lonely” during the pandemic, but was still very grateful for the “great opportunity”.
Acosta himself is of Spanish and African descent.
He grew up as the 11th child in his family, but his truck driver father prompted him to study ballet.
His career has seen him perform with the world’s greatest companies, making him a pioneer for black dancers.
At the Royal Ballet he was the only black principal dancer and one of only two non-white dancers.
“I think now that has changed,” he said.
Acosta has set up projects to help young dancers from his native Cuba: the Carlos Acosta Dance Academy and the company Acosta Danza, launched in 2015.
He said his background gave him “tremendous resilience” and that he was “not someone who gives up or gets defeated very easily”.
He hopes there won’t be another lockdown but added that “if that (happens) then we will have to adapt.”
© 2021 AFP