Interview with Carlos Acosta about his 'On Before' shows: "I wanted to pay homage to my mother"

In September he will choreograph and star in his "swan song" – an entirely new production of Carmen to Bizet's music for the Royal Ballet.

He will, however, continue to perform in more contemporary works and this week he will present two performances of his own show in Southampton.

The Mayflower will stage the production, On Before, tomorrow (14 April) and Wednesday (15 April).

In his most personal work to date, On Before builds on Carlos Acosta's astonishing dance vision and features collaborations with major UK and international dance stars.

On Before is created and danced by Carlos Acosta and Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Zenaida Yanowsky.

The show combines existing and new choreography by some of the world's leading dance makers, Russell Maliphant, Kim Brandstrup, Will Tuckett, Edwaard Liang, Yuri Yanowsky and Miguel Altunaga in a framework created by Carlos which tells the story of a doomed relationship between a man and a woman.

The show has a wide-ranging score from Handel to a commission from Cuban composer Omar Puente and culminates in a moving finale featuring the live choral work of Morte Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium with singers from Southampton Choral Society.

Carlos, who is widely considered among the most charismatic and dramatic of performers, receiving critical acclaim and selling out theatres wherever he performs, told the Daily Echo: "The show came at a point in my career that I wanted to explore different kinds of dance and create a show that's more personal.

"The narrative is very open to suggestion; it can have different meanings to different people. You see these two characters, sometimes sharing a tight dialogue and sometimes in a more personal space but everything is a journey to death.

The death is represented by the choir; it's a reminder of the power of death. The choir represents the power of death that ultimately takes you away."

The production was inspired by the death of his mother and is a tribute to her.

"I wanted to pay homage to my mother who passed away in 2010. It's extremely personal. Very often the narrative is just basically a homage to her. I also wanted to bring a mysterious, powerful and spiritual feeling through the show. It's filled with emotion. I find it really moves people. Physically it's very, very hard. It seems wherever we do it people like it very much because it's also contemporary."

Carlos, 41, said he has been "grieving" for the end of his career for some time but is looking forward to new opportunities as a contemporary performer.

"I'm retiring from the classic repertoire but making the transition to a more contemporary form of dance and this is part of that transition.

"It's difficult because ballet has been my greatest friend but you can't dance for ever and at some point you have to take a chance because ballet at this point injures me. But, I have so many ways I can re-direct my career. I have many possibilities to evolve."

Asked about his greatest achievements he said: "The Lifetime Achievement Award in dance is a big one. It's great to have received an appreciation for everything I've brought to dance and a great honour by the critics. The CBE was a very big surprise in 2014 too. I went to Buckingham Palace and met Prince Charles.

"It was wonderful. He told me how pleased he was to give me this award and no one deserved it better. I was very moved hearing him say this as I was thinking about my parents who have passed away and I thought of my childhood.

"It was a very humble upbringing. I never cared for ballet. I didn't know what ballet was.

"My father forced me to dance and took me to the National Ballet School in Havana and the next thing I knew I was learning what was to become my job. It was a very bumpy road with ups and downs. One of my teachers recognised my talent and took me to Italy with her and then Switzerland where I won a competition in 1990."

Carlos was the eleventh and last child in an impoverished Havana family. His father was a truck driver, and his mother often suffered from health problems. He grew up with no toys, sometimes went shoeless, and did not even have a birthday cake until he turned 23.

"I used to play football and do break dancing in the street and I was getting into petty crime and they believed I was going to have a very bad future if I carried on the way I was. They sought advice from a neighbour and she recommended this ballet school who also gave us a hot meal. Lack of food was a constant problem in my house so seeking a better future I developed a talent and a vocation eventually.

"I didn't like it because it was very mature and disciplined and I wanted to play football. I was a restless child – full of energy. It was only when I saw the National Ballet performing for the first time that I fell in love with it.

"Now I will be performing my swan song – which will be very emotional," he said.

Tickets for On Before are available from Mayflower Theatre Box Office on 023 8071 1811 or online at

'On before' is also on in Cardiff 3-4 July – see details here

and Brighton 9-11 July – see details here