‘Try to evolve, not to repeat. Why fall in love with Swan Lake again and again?’ Life is too short for too many encores. Carlos Acosta wants to try everything before checking out, he tells the audience gathered in the plush red seats of the Quays Theatre at the Lowry. He is world famous for his dancing, with a reputation for soaring jumps surpassed only by Nureyev and Nijinski. However,time is passing and he is now forty. More recently he has tried singing – which was not so successful, he says, grimacing at the memory of a sore throat – and now, following the publication of his autobiography, he has moved on to writing fiction.
He wanted to write a book called “Pata de Peurco” before he even knew the story. With the skill of a politician addressing an awkward question before it is asked, he admits that he knows the book’s title “Pig’s Foot” does not translate well, he smiles. He repeats the book’s title in Spanish several times, yes “Pata de Peuerco” does have a strength about it that is lost in the English translation. Then he needed a story. He visualised a place, and tumultuous times, slaves and war. The novel, influenced by Latin American magical realism- sweeps across generations of Cuban history. ‘I am trying to tell a story and make you laugh, not stretch literary boundaries in anyway,’ Carlos says, in case we think he is hoping to emulate his hero Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ‘but really I don’t care.’ He wrote the book between rehearsals of Swan Lake and Giselle. It is five years’ work, and like so many debut novelists he wonders if anyone will read it. He need not worry on that score. He learned more about Cuban history, though he’s no expert, when researching on Google. The audience gasp at the mention of the internet as if they were being privileged with a guilty secret. He took advice on cutting out parts of the book and then, at the end, put them back in. How many of us struggle with that dilemma?
‘I have done every role with everyone now, let me rephrase that – danced every role.’ But there are things he would still like to do in ballet, choreograph Carmen, for example. Many ballets were created when the world was completely different, he wants to make things fresh, enhance the classics and give them a voice for now.
What does he long for? ‘The sense of community in nineteen eighties Cuba.’ This was before the Soviet Union collapsed in1989, isolating Cuba and exposing the weakness of its economy. Then there was simplicity, everyone would sit down for a meal which lasted for hours. There were no dishwashers, all would help with the washing up and talk. ‘It was all about relationships. That’s all that matters.’ Carlos Acosta sounds wistful for those days, and his nostalgia is accompanied by fears for society in the future. There is a dangerous side effect to technology. ‘Youngsters have a virtual life now, everything is broken and, like fast food, there is no quality. How do you unravel that? There’s going to be a time when you would ask why would you go out? Then you won’t know your neighbours, there are no bonding ties. If we bond I’m not going to harm you, loot you.’
‘All things have to come to an end,’ Carlos answers when asked about retirement. ‘It’s too painful,’ he protests as the audience groans. ‘The truth is retirement is inevitable.’ A fact that the majority of the audience, presumably admirers of the ballet, predominantly female, middle-aged at least must appreciate.
If his novel captures the voice of this dynamic and inquiring mind it cannot fail to be a good read. He has explored the past, it sounds as if he has enough ideas to write about the future.
Carlos Acosta at The Lowry, Salford 19 October 2013.