Entertainment & Arts

Carlos Acosta on why the classical ballet world needs new Romeos

Carlos Acosta, one of the world's leading ballet dancers, bids farewell to classical ballet next week at the Royal Albert Hall, at the age of 43.

He's spent much of his career in the UK and he has a message for the government - that it must do more for people from different backgrounds to access free training to find the British dancing talent of the future. This he believes will end elitism in the profession.

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Image caption Acosta says he needs new challenges

As Carlos Acosta effortlessly rehearses his classical ballet steps for the last time backstage at the Royal Opera House, he doesn't show the strain the recent birth of new twins must be adding to his hectic schedule.

But pain and hard work are his forte.

From humble beginnings in Cuba he has become one of the best and most famous dancers in the world. He arrived in the UK aged 18 as the youngest principle dancer at the English National Ballet.

He went on to become the first black principal at the Royal Ballet and the first black Romeo.

Starting out in the UK was overwhelming, he says.

"Coming straight from Cuba it was like another galaxy. But I was on a mission at the time I really wanted to learn all the best I could learn and be the best dancer I could be."

'New generation'

Acosta studied ballet at the Cuban National Ballet School and says ballet is not tinged with the same elitism in Cuba as it is in the UK.

"It was the interest of the government [in Cuba] to educate a country in the arts," he says. "They would go to the most desolate place in the countryside to audition dancers for the school for free.

"I think the role of the government and of free access - so poor people from different backgrounds receive training for free - means the more chances we have to launch careers of the greatest artists of the new generation.

"In this country the government, I think, should do more. There are schemes like Chance To Dance which does community work, but government involvement should be more and I think that would breach the gap of elitism."

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Media captionCarlos Acosta talks about pain and retirement

There have been black ballet companies pushing forward the next generation in the UK and around the world - but Acosta is adamant this isn't the solution.

"Hire anybody that shows skill and talent and give people the chance to surprise us. They would never have thought I would end up one day playing Romeo in the Royal Ballet, so the same thing has to be done for others - give them the chance to see what Romeo lies inside of them."

The roles he has mastered in the classical ballets with their dramatic high leaps audiences demand came at considerable cost. Carlos Acosta has endured pain and surgery. "I've got tendonitis everywhere. It's not a secret we have to deal with pain all the time."

He said he takes painkillers, adding that "everybody has sort of painkillers they use".

Acosta added: "I try not to abuse it, it's not a habit. But when I am in crisis I need all the help I can get. But nobody is forcing us to dance. It's normal for us."

But this isn't the only reason he's saying goodbye to the classical repertoire at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

"It's not just that, I've done it all many times. What's another Swan Lake? An artist needs new challenges," he says.

"It's better to leave it when I can dance with dignity and give the people what they're after. There's so much I want to explore now while I still can and carry on doing my career as a contemporary dancer."

Carlos Acosta, The Classical Farewell, is at the Royal Albert Hall from 3-7 October

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