Carlos Acosta. The name is almost synonymous with great male dancing, calling up an image of a performer whose combination of athletic dynamism, refined classicism and onstage magnetism have made him a superstar from just about the start of his career. Born and raised in Cuba, he began performing at 18 with English National Ballet in London. He moved to Houston Ballet in 1993, joined The Royal Ballet as a principal in 1998 and was a regular guest artist at American Ballet Theatre (among other companies) for several years. Despite the acclaim that has consistently come his way, Acosta hasn’t ever rested on his laurels. Like Nureyev and Baryshnikov, he is a star capable of drawing audiences to any performance bearing his name, and over the last decade, he has presented regular seasons of his own programs in London and abroad. These have ranged from Cuban-themed populist shows to adventurous contemporary work featuring film and experimental choreography, but Acosta’s own charismatic personality is always at their heart. He remains a favorite of audiences at The Royal Ballet, where he is staging his own production of Don Quixote, which runs from September 30 through November 6 at the Royal Opera House. After a long day of rehearsal, he talked to Pointe about the new production, what Don Quixote means to him, Cuba and lots more.

How did the idea of staging Don Quixote for The Royal Ballet come about?

Every classical ballet company should have a Don Quixote, but for some reason The Royal Ballet hasn’t had a production for more than 10 years. We have a lot of youngsters who really want to try out their technical skills—and that’s the ballet to do it. People practice wild jumps in class, but there’s nowhere to do that onstage, no place for a really free kind of dancing.

When Kevin O’Hare was in line for director here, he heard that I had said something about this, and he told me, “If I get the job, we should make it happen.” He got the job—and I took the challenge.

Have you ever staged a ballet before?
No! But I have a lot of curiosity about new experiences. It is the natural course for an artist to keep trying things, not to keep repeating things—that is artistic death. Baryshnikov is what an artist should be, adapting and evolving all the time.

You have been closely identified with Don Quixote as a dancer.

I’ve always loved it. I won the Prix de Lausanne with the solo at 16, and it’s the ballet I have performed the most—at American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opéra, Stuttgart, Cuba, Chile, The Royal. It has so many great characters, and so much dancing for the corps. And it’s just so much fun.

Are you particularly influenced by any one version?

Ben Stevenson created a version in Houston for me in 1995, and perhaps because it was made on me, it is the one I really like. He has a tremendous sense of humor, particularly in the pantomime. I am keeping quite a lot from that production, including the libretto and structure.

How much original choreography have you introduced?

A lot, but it’s all in a dialogue with Petipa; I’m not trying to be clever, to put it in leather jeans and be “contemporary.” I’ve kept pretty much the same vocabulary, using the tambourines, the seguidilla, the fans, the toreadors, the capes. But I’ve tried to ease the rigidity of the classicism. The ballet can look dated; it was created in the 1800s. Today we have a different humor and I want people to see the personalities, not the stereotypes.

How have you done that?

Mostly through the acting. I want the dancers to have real conversations, people shouting in the crowds, more naturalistic behavior. I keep telling the dancers, we are people onstage. I want them to relax, to walk normally.

What has the process been like?
Very challenging. The company splits its time between so many productions, and I needed to start quite early. It’s hard for them to rehearse for a premiere a year ahead of time, but I needed to have a sense of who could do it, and whether what I choreographed worked outside of my head!

Is there any Cuban influence in the ballet?
Not specifically, although of course I am the product of what I learned in Cuba. In the final pas de deux, for example, I like the Cuban version when they finish the first section with Basilio’s back to the audience, and Kitri facing forward. There is something sexy about it, seeing just his back and the profile. I want that in the ballet, and also the exuberance. You want to jump as high as you can jump, and no one is going to tell you not to.

Are you suggesting that the English style is more restrained?
A lot of English choreography, like Kenneth MacMillan’s, is more personal and intimate. That quality can bring warmth to Don Q, and I think the ballet also requires that. This company does the pantomime parts so well because they have that storytelling tradition in their DNA.

What has it been like to direct your colleagues?

I am very hands-on, but I depend a lot on everyone working with me, too. I don’t always have the answers—I haven’t set 10 ballets before. I’m learning as well.

You have written a novel that’s out this month, you just had a season at the London Coliseum and helped recreate an arts center in Havana. And you are still dancing. Why take on staging a full-length ballet, too?

I like to keep testing my limits. It gives me creative fuel. It’s all a lot of work, but it helps me to stay at the level I need to be. I’ve always been a worker.



























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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Early in Carrie Imler's 22-year career with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was excited to be cast in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. But immediately following dress rehearsal, she was removed from her role in "Melancholic." "My artistic director at the time pulled me aside and said, 'We can't put you out there,' " she remembers. "My weight fluctuated my entire career. Just when I felt like I had figured it out, I would gain it back and have to start all over again." Despite becoming one of PNB's most celebrated principal dancers, Imler never shook the fear of what might happen when a leotard ballet was in the repertoire.

Ballet prides itself on high standards, and the classical ballet physique is not the least of those expectations. Fear of the "fat talk" still lurks in studios, but, as Imler points out, weight is a challenge that many dancers face, while others may struggle with the arches of their feet or turnout. If you are confronted about your weight, know that many talented dancers have been there. Having "the talk" doesn't mean you can't become a professional, but if you take a mindful approach to the conversation, it will show your maturity and ultimately your ability to navigate a career.

Has Something Changed?

If your teacher or director has approached you about your weight, you're likely left feeling emotional, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Once you have a chance to think clearly, ask yourself what factors, like puberty, may be contributing to changes in your body. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet, says, "There is this huge focus on weight and body at a time when even non-dancers are struggling with body issues and everything else that is happening as an adolescent."

External factors often play a role as well. PNB's consulting nutritionist, Peggy Swistak, says that she often sees dancers struggle with weight early in the season as they adjust to living on their own and sharing a kitchen with a roommate. "One may have really bad eating habits and doesn't have to watch her weight at all, and the other is gaining weight. There is a conflict in managing their food together," she says. Ballet Memphis ballet master Brian McSween adds that financial stress can create barriers for eating nutritiously. "The one-dollar piece of pizza costs a lot less than eating organic," he says. "You have to make the best choices possible with what you have." Other changes, like a new schedule, layoffs or even emotional setbacks, will present the need to reevaluate your food habits and exercise routines throughout your career.

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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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