Carlos Acosta has traveled from poverty in Cuba to international stardom as a dancer. In No Way Home (Reviews, Feb. 18), he tells how he did it.
How did your father motivate your dance career?
He wanted me to have a better future, so he enrolled me in ballet school. I was into street activities and wasting time with my mates. He spoke to a downstairs neighbor and she recommended a ballet school in the city center where they gave you hot meals.
Your memoir tells how poverty, racism and loneliness informed your early years as a dance student in Havana. How has adversity shaped you as an artist?
It helped tremendously. I understood from an early age that if I ever wanted to become something in life, I was going to have to fight for it, that no one would give me anything. I also understood that my art was my best friend. I think it’s harder for colleagues who live in a world where life is easy. No one is going to learn anything sitting in a palace.
Which other dancers and choreographers have inspired you?
Balanchine, of course. He was a genius, and I understand why he was so influential. I also admire choreographers who express emotion in their work, like Kenneth MacMillan. And I identify with dancers Nureyev and Baryshnikov, with their loneliness and what they had to overcome to succeed. They had nobody. No wonder that they became legends—their level of despair was far greater.
What have you been up to lately in London? Is your focus more on dancing or choreographing?
I’m not choreographing, but I’m producing and dancing my own program at the London Coliseum in April, “Carlos Acosta with Guest Artists from the Royal Ballet,” which previously won an Olivier. I’m also getting ready for a new triple bill opening at the Royal Ballet, where I’ve been a guest artist for nearly 10 years. So far, I’ve choreographed one ballet, Tocororo, about my childhood in Havana, which combines Afro-Cuban rhythms and classical ballet technique. I have in mind to choreograph more at some point, but now I’m actually working on a novel. It’s at the very early stages. It’s magical realism and about a town in Cuba.
Have you found many similarities between writing and dancing?
All the arts have a common ground. You have to have tremendous sensibility to paint with words or movement. To translate movement into writing, I needed tremendous help from connoisseurs of the art of writing to teach me a few tricks. Like choreography, the more you do it, the more mistakes you make, the more you learn.