The Legendary Carlos Acosta Debuts Don Quixote in North America

by Caroline Dickie
April 9, 2024

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Hope Muir and Carlos Acosta in Company Class. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

What do you get when a world-renowned Basilio stages a new version of Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote for the 21st century? A sun-drenched ballet bursting with athletic fireworks, Spanish themes, satire and a passionate love affair unfolding in a clever and colourful design. Carlos Acosta presents his exhilarating Don Quixote in North America for the first time this June, following a much-lauded world premiere with Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2022.

Acosta is a household name in the ballet world, an international superstar who has graced the world’s finest stages, established a company in his own name, opened a Dance Academy and is now Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. He more than defied the odds.

Born in Havana in humble beginnings, Acosta was the 11th child in a large family who channeled his energy into dance lessons. In time, his talent led him to the Cuban National Ballet School and, at age sixteen, a gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne for his Basilio from Don Quixote. Just two years later, Acosta became the youngest Principal Dancer in the history of English National Ballet and joined the rosters of Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and, finally, his long-time home at The Royal Ballet. Acosta’s repertoire expanded with his fame, however the role of Basilio remained constant.

Don Quixote is the ballet that I performed the most,” he says. “I have done just about every production there is, including Nureyev’s, Baryshnikov’s and even one for Stuttgart Ballet, by Maximiliano Guerra.”

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Carlos Acosta with Marianela Núñez of the Royal Ballet in Don Quixote. Photo by Bill Cooper.

Petipa choreographed Don Quixote in 1869 to the music of Ludwig Minkus based on episodes from Miguel de Cervantes’ novel, focusing mainly on the daydreaming knight Don Quixote, his trusty sidekick Sancho Panza and their quest for the idealized woman, Dulcinea. Along the way, Don Quixote fixes an unlikely marriage between Kitri and Basilio, the town barber, who is charismatic yet poor. If Giselle is the great tragedy of ballet’s classical past, then Don Quixote is the romantic comedy.

“I had to make more of an effort with danseur noble roles like Prince Siegfried from Swan Lake because they were alien to my roots. With Basilio, I knew how to bring him to life. Cubans share that Spanish culture, those nuances. The ballet presents a sunny place, a happy place, and it’s playful. It’s second nature to me.”

Acosta first staged Don Quixote for The Royal Ballet in 2013 after the company had gone more than ten years without the ballet in their repertoire. The National Ballet will perform Acosta’s second iteration of Don Quixote, which he created for Birmingham Royal Ballet to better accommodate touring and serve as a signature work for the company he directs. Among its distinct elements are new sets and costumes, the use of voice, projections and smouldering choreography at every visual level, from the tabletops to the stage. Acosta has also adjusted the score.

“At the start of Act II, I introduced a pas de deux that Minkus composed for Petipa but is not often used. The piece is called ‘Carmencita,’ and it is very beautiful. My Don Quixote for The Royal Ballet was orchestrated by Martin Yates. In the Birmingham version, Hans Vercauteren did the orchestration and it’s a completely different sound.”

While this will be Acosta’s first collaboration with the National Ballet, Don Quixote marks a reunion for him and Artistic Director Hope Muir.

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Momoko Hirata as Kitri and Mathias Dingman as Basilio, with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Don Quixote. Photo by Johan Persson.

“I know Hope quite well because we used to be at English National Ballet together in the 1990s. I didn’t speak any English then. I didn’t know what a bank was, what a credit card was. I was straight out of communist Cuba and into this vast metropolis. Hope and I got along very well and we even performed together in The Nutcracker. So, I was thrilled and honoured when she invited me to stage this production here.

“We’re at a point now, my generation – Hope’s generation – when we can give back and remind people of how beautiful this world of ballet is. That’s the ultimate mission. To share in Don Quixote and see others absorb it and claim it as their own, that’s magical. Then I can retreat to my corner having said ‘my job is done.’”

Don’t miss Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote on stage June 1–9, 2024! Learn more

Don Quixote

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