August 17, 2007 / 6:05 PM / 10 years ago

Cuban dancer Acosta seeks Afro-Cuban roots

<p>Cuba's ballet dancer Carlos Acosta talks to Reuters during a rehearsal at Cuba's National Ballet school in Havana August 16, 2007. Acosta is in Havana rehearsing a show that mixes classical dance techniques and choreographies with Afro-Cuban drum rhythms and live music. Acosta, a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet since 2003, will take top dancers of Cuba's National Ballet to London in October for six performances of his program that promises to bring a distinct Cuban flavor and energy to the stage of Sadler's Wells Theater. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa</p>

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta plans to treat London audiences to a novel fusion of classical dance and Afro-Cuban rhythms played by a live band.

Acclaimed for his raw athleticism and technical virtuosity, the dancer is rehearsing a program in Havana with seven members of the National Ballet of Cuba that will be performed at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre in late October.

“This is something new and fresh for London. We’re having a blast creating it,” Acosta told Reuters on Thursday during rehearsal in a sweltering dance studio.

The 34-year-old Acosta, who danced at the Bolshoi in Moscow when he was just 16 and joined The Royal Ballet in London in 1998, said his second choreography is a “fusion of classicism and Afro-Cuba” that -- like his autobiographical “Tocororo” -- takes him back to his roots in a poor Havana neighborhood.

“Carlos Acosta and Friends” tells the contemporary story of a young woman (Yolanda Correa), who wears jeans and dark glasses as she reads a book of stories to her uninterested boyfriend (Javier Torres). They quarrel and he leaves.

The four classical pieces arise from stories she imagines in her book that include “El rio y el bosque,” “Munecos” and “Paso a tres” by Cuban choreographer Alberto Mendez.

Acosta and Viengsay Valdes, principal ballerina of the national ballet company run by the 86-year-old matriarch of Cuban ballet, Alicia Alonso, also dance his favorite pas de deux, Petipa’s “Le Corsaire.”

The program ends in an energetic samba played by its Cuban composer Aldo Lopez Gavilan and his band.

CUBAN SENSUALITY, CLASSICAL TRAINING

<p>REFILE - CORRECTING NAME OF PRINCIPAL DANCER Cuba's ballet dancer Carlos Acosta (L) rehearses with Annette Delgado, principal dancer of Cuba's National Ballet, in Havana August 16, 2007. Acosta is in Havana rehearsing for a show that mixes classical dance techniques and choreographies with Afro-Cuban drum rhythms and live music. Acosta, a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet since 2003, will take top dancers of Cuba's National Ballet to London in October for six performances of his program that promises to bring a distinct Cuban flavor and energy to the stage of Sadler's Wells Theater. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa</p>

“It’s challenging, so different from what we are used to, especially the end where we all dance to very fast live samba music,” said Anette Delgado, sweat running off her body.

Delgado, 28, considered by some to be Cuba’s next Alicia Alonso, was acclaimed in France last month when the National Ballet of Cuba performed “Giselle” and “Don Quixote” to a sold-out Grand Palais in Paris.

Cuba is turning out some of the world’s finest dancers who stun audiences with their blend of joyful Cuban sensuality and superb classical training in Russian and French techniques. They are sought by leading international companies.

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The success of dancers trained by Alonso is remarkable for an elitist art form in a poor communist-run country.

“Cuba is a melting pot of races. To that we add a fusion of rhythms and classical techniques,” said Acosta. “When you see Cuban dance on stage, you know it is Cuban, because it brings its own flavor.”

Acosta said he seeks to go beyond “the fairy tales and pantomime” of classical ballet to explore the essence of Cuba.

His first creation “Tocororo -- A Cuban tale” told the story of a poor boy who leaves his rural family for the city. It is loosely based on his rise from the streets to stage fame.

His new choreography uses classical instead of contemporary dancers, but they dance to fast-paced modern Cuban music.

“This is very different,” said Yolanda Correa. “We had to forget that we are classical dancers.”

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