Carlos Acosta Performs in the U.S. for Two Nights Only

April 15, 2024

In 1989, Ariel Serrano, then 17, and Carlos Acosta, 15, were selected from among hundreds of peers at the Cuban National Ballet School to spend a year dancing in Italy as part of a cultural exchange. That year, which Acosta recalls as one of the most beautiful of his life, opened their eyes to the world, ignited their careers, and sealed their friendship for life.

Acosta, now artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, would, of course, go on to worldwide fame, dancing internationally and as a principal with The Royal Ballet in London; he retired from The Royal in 2015, then founded Acosta Danza in Havana, Cuba, in 2016. After an injury cut Serrano’s performing career short, he, his wife, and fellow dancer Wilmian Hernández founded The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School (SCBS), which carries on the Cuban ballet tradition, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. 

Carlos Acosta and Laura Rodriguez hold hands and lean away from each other in tendu derriere.
Carlos Acosta and Laura Rodriguez in On Before. Photo by Dibs McCallum, courtesy Next-Mark.

This April 19–20, the old friends will reunite when Acosta returns to the U.S. to perform there for the first time since 2018. In a collaboration with Serrano’s school, he and Acosta Danza principal dancer Laura Rodriguez will take the Sarasota Opera House stage just weeks before his 51st birthday to perform Acosta’s On Before, a poignant tribute to his late mother.

“This means the world to me,” says Serrano on Acosta’s visit to Sarasota. “I was there with him from the beginning, before anything big happened, and he is here for me now. Carlos has always respected what we are doing, trying to keep the tradition of the Cuban ballet alive.”

The two men have been in regular contact over the years, with Acosta serving as an advisor to SCBS since it opened in 2011. Periodically, Serrano would ask Acosta to perform in Florida, but his full dance card wouldn’t permit it. When Serrano’s son, Francisco, joined The Royal in 2016 to begin his professional career, Acosta stepped in as “uncle,” and the calls between Sarasota and London multiplied.

Laura Rodriguez stands behind Carlos Acosta, who sits on a black box, and matches the line of his arm as they reach up and out toward the audience.
Photo by Dibs McCallum, courtesy Next-Mark.

Last year, after traveling to London to watch Acosta perform in a series of special performances celebrating his 50th birthday, Serrano again asked his friend to come to Florida. Coming off of the critical success of his birthday performances, and already scheduling touring dates of On Before in the U.K., this time Acosta agreed. “I wanted to take it to America while I had the opportunity,” he says.

On Before is an intimate and personal piece Acosta choreographed shortly after losing his mother to cancer in 2010; it was just a year after The Royal had toured to Havana, where she had been living. Acosta originally performed the ballet alongside the now-retired Zenaida Yanowsky.

“It’s a very abstract and contemporary ballet that represents at once the mother, the lover, the full circle,” Acosta says. “My mother was the balance in my house to my father’s volatility. She was very soft and caring, and very sweet, almost like a kid. I made this show to pay her homage.”

Carlos Acosta lunges forward and bends his head down to rest its crown on Laura Rodriguez's chest.
Photo by Dibs McCallum, courtesy Next-Mark.

The demands of the many hats he wears—as director of both the BRB and Acosta Danza and their respective schools—mean the two performances in Sarasota will be the sole dates on this abbreviated tour. But Acosta says he does not rule out the possibility of returning, nor of continuing to perform for years to come—not in “white tights” classics but, rather, contemporary works that allow his artistry to shine.

“It doesn’t have to be the end when you turn 50,” Acosta says. “You don’t need to dance with the same tune. At this stage, I don’t have to prove anything, it’s just sharing with people what I have and the honesty of who I am now. The artist carries on.”

Carrie Seidman is an opinion columnist and dance critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, on Florida’s Gulf Coast.