Carlos Acosta on Returning to the Stage to Celebrate His 50th Birthday

July 26, 2023

Audiences have much to celebrate when Carlos Acosta performs at the Royal Opera House this month in honor of his 50th birthday. Between working as artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet and directing his own company, Acosta Danza, the Cuban superstar returns to the stage where he spent much of his performing career, reprising some of his favorite roles for Carlos at 50.

Carlos Acosta performs in George Balanchine's "Apollo," wearing a white sash and white tights. He lunges forward in croise, reaching his right hand upward on the diagonal and bending his left arm behind his back.
Acosta in George Balanchine’s Apollo. Photo by Johan Persson, courtesy Royal Opera House.

Premiering July 26–30, the sold-out event offers an opportunity not only to watch one of his generation’s greatest dancers but also to honor Acosta’s contributions to the art form.

Acosta grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Havana, Cuba, and began ballet lessons as a child at the urging of his parents, who sought an outlet for his strength and energy. After training at the National Ballet School of Cuba and winning the Prix de Lausanne at age 16, he was hired by Houston Ballet and later joined The Royal Ballet, where he spent much of his 28-year performing career. There, he earned praise for his charisma and athleticism as a dancer as well as for his dynamic onstage partnerships with Tamara Rojo and Marianela Nuñez, among others. Throughout his life, Acosta’s dedication to dance as an instrument for change, particularly in Cuba, has remained steadfast, culminating in the formation of the Acosta Dance Foundation in 2011 and his own company, Acosta Danza, in 2016. This October, Acosta will accompany BRB in its tour to the U.S. for New York City Center’s 2023 Fall for Dance Festival.

Pointe spoke with Acosta to learn more about Carlos at 50, how he has kept performance-ready, and more.

Where did the idea for Carlos at 50 come from?

I was truly humbled when so many members of the public and of the dance industry, and supporters of many types during my career to date, asked how I would be marking my landmark birthday. There was an opening in the summer calendar at the Royal Opera House, and that sparked an idea which has grown into this short run of performances. As we get closer to the date of the first show on July 26, I am really looking forward to performing with friends and colleagues onstage and, of course, for the ROH audience that has always been so supportive and appreciative over the years. 

How did you choose the performance lineup, and what are you most excited about dancing?

All the pieces being performed are special to me, and I am excited about all of them. George Balanchine’s Apollo, and the bedroom-scene pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon are particularly dear to me. These are masterpieces by two of the most important choreographers from either side of the Atlantic. Both pieces are challenging and rewarding to perform, and audiences love them. 

In the past, you’ve spoken about the desire to push the body beyond its perceived limits while a dancer is physically able. What physical differences are you noticing in yourself as a dancer during this part of your career, if any?

As the body gets older, the job of keeping in shape and ready for performances becomes more of a challenge, for sure! My regimen is a combination of doing daily class, doing my own workout, massaging, eating healthily, and getting enough good-quality rest and family time.

Carlos Acosta does a jubilant sauté with his left leg a la seconde at 90 degrees. He wears a white aristocrat-style costume and lifts his arms with confidence.
Acosta in Manon. Photo by Alice Pennefather, courtesy Royal Opera House.

How is this program personally meaningful to you? You mentioned it’s the first time your daughters, who are twins, will see you perform.

I’m first and foremost a family man, so it means the world to me that my family will be there, but to be celebrating my big birthday at “home” at the ROH with so many supporters onstage and in the audience is the best birthday present! 

This is happening on top of your other commitments in Birmingham and in Cuba. Why do you stay so busy?

There are so many great things to do, and so many exciting projects materialize and need attention. Coming from a simple background, my perspective on ballet, [which] especially [emphasizes] bringing dance to young people or people new to the art form, is always there. It’s kind of in my nature to push boundaries.

What part of your career to date are you proudest of?

There have been many successes, but what I have been doing since becoming director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, despite the impact of COVID in the early months, has been really gratifying. I have been able to commission new works celebrating the City of Birmingham and its great people, including Black Sabbath: The Ballet, which will be performed in Birmingham and London this autumn. Another development at BRB earlier this year was the launch of BRB2, a company made up of future stars which performs in smaller venues, often where ballet isn’t usually performed.