Born in 1973, Carlos grew up as the 11th child of an impoverished family in one of Havana’s poorest districts. With the persuasion of his father, Carlos was sent to train at the National Ballet School of Cuba. Here he trained with some of its most influential teachers including Ramona de Saa. From 1989 to 1991 Carlos performed throughout the world, guesting with several leading companies including the Compagnia Teatro Nuovo Di Torino in Italy.
With his natural talent and drive to succeed, 1990 became an important and life changing year for Carlos when he won the prestigious Gold Medal at the Prix De Lausanne. This was followed by the Grand Prix at the 4th Biennial Concours International de Danse de Paris plus several other important awards that helped him on his way to success.
Upon the invitation of Ivan Nagy, Carlos was then invited to dance with the English National Ballet during their 91-92 season, where at the age of 18, he became ENB’s youngest ever principal dancer. After gaining recognition on the London stages, injury sadly forced him to return to Cuba.
Carlos subsequently danced for six months with the National Ballet of Cuba under Alicia Alonso, touring with the company to Spain. During his time with the company, Carlos was visited by Ben Stevenson, then director of the Houston Ballet, and offered a contract as a Principal dancer. Carlos accepted and spent five years with the company between 1993 and 1998. Carlos flourished under Ben’s direction, where he danced all the major roles in the company repertoire, leaving his mark in the American ballet world.
After maturing a great deal in Houston, Carlos felt the need to expand and grow further, choosing to join the Royal Ballet under the direction of Anthony Dowell in 1998. The Royal Ballet soon became his home where he danced in nearly all the major ballets in their repertoire, of which many are filmed, even successfully choreographing his first full length ballet, Don Quixote, for the company.
Carlos was instrumental in touring the company to his homeland of Havana Cuba for the first time in 2009. This was a proud moment and one of the highlights. He also performed Romeo and Juliet in the o2 Arena with Tamara Rojo and the cast of the Royal Ballet to an audience of 13,500 people.
Carlos changed his title to Principal Guest Artist from 2003 and has enjoyed a thriving career as an International Guest Artist with all the leading ballet companies around the world, appearing in the United States, Russia, the Netherlands, Chile, Argentina, Japan, China, Greece, Germany, Italy, France, and Australia. He did several seasons with the American Ballet Theatre in New York, and was twice invited to the Opera Garnier in Paris to dance Nureyev’s Don Quixote and La Bayadere. He won critical acclaim in Moscow and London in 2007 for the role of Spartacus, which he performed with the Bolshoi Ballet. The production was re staged and filmed in January 2008 in the Paris Opera’s Palais Garnier, especially for Carlos. He won the prestigious Benois De La Danse for this role.
In the 2014 New Year’s Honours List Carlos was awarded the CBE, capping the end of a remarkable year which saw him stage his new production of Don Quixote at the Royal Opera House, and choreographing a new production of Guys and Dolls for the West End. In the National Dance Awards 2015, Carlos was awarded the De Valois Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In addition to his work with the Royal Ballet, Carlos also choreographed his semi autobiographical show, Tocororo. It premiered in Havana in 2003 and subsequently broke all box office records at Sadlers Wells Theatre in London. It was nominated for an Olivier award in 2004. He continued to develop his own highly popular and award winning shows in London and throughout Europe including both Classical and contemporary repertoire, and often championing relatively unknown choreographers from his native Cuba. In 2007 he won the coveted ‘Outstanding Achievement in Dance’ at the Laurence Oliver Awards for his production of Carlos Acosta and Friends of the Royal Ballet.
Carlos retired from the Royal Ballet stage in 2015 with his own version of Carmen, choreographed for the company. He then brought the curtain down on his classical career with sell out shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2016.
Carlos continues to dance contemporary and formed his own company in Havana, Acosta Danza, to critical acclaim. He directs and performs with the company as it tours the world. The culture and vibrancy of his country have always had a big influence on his career and continue to do so as he has also created the Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation, a project close to his heart, with the dream of giving young dancers and choreographers the opportunities he benefitted from by providing an education platform, free at the point of delivery, where they can come to express talents which might not otherwise be seen or heard whilst receiving world class training in an inspirational setting. The first step in this process was the creation of the Acosta Danza Academy which opened its doors in Havana for the first time in September 2017 to its first intake of aspiring and talented young Cuban students, each embarking on the first of a three-year course and who will be joined by a further intake of Cuban and international students in September 2018.
But Carlos’s remarkable career does not only extend to dance. He wrote his autobiography entitled No Way Home which was published by Harper Collins in the UK and Scribner in the US in 2007, becoming Radio 4’s book of the week. Following that he wrote his first work of fiction, Pig’s Foot, which was published by Bloomsbury in 2013.
Numerous documentaries have been made about him and he has also appeared in several feature films including the Natalie Portman directed segment of New York I Love You, John Robert’s The Day of Flowers, Susanna White’s Our Kind of Traitor, and Cynthia Newport’s Dreams of Flight. A film inspired by his life, entitled Yuli, was released in April 2019.
In January 2020, Carlos became Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet where he set to the task of building on the Company’s classical traditions whilst expanding its repertoire and reaching out to new and more diverse audiences,
List of Prizes and Awards
1990 Gran Prix de Lausanne
Gran Prix at the 4th Biennial Concours International De Danse de Paris.
Vignale Danza prize in Italy, Frederic Chopin Prize.
1991 Prize for merit in the young talent competition, Positano Italy.
The Italian Osimodanza prize.
Grand Prix at Cuba’s Union of Writers and Artists Competition.
Dance fellowship (Princess Grace Foundation USA 1995)
Critics Circle Awards for Best Male Dancer (twice)
Benois De La Danse – for the role of Spartacus
2006 Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa
Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance – For his Carlos Acosta and Friends of the Royal Ballet program of 2006.
De Valois Lifetime Achievement Award.
Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award by the Royal Academy of Dance (received in the fall of 2018)
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