Me and my home: A private dancer

Cuban ballet sensation Carlos Acosta talks to Patricia Wynn Davies about his north London sanctuary
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The Independent Online

Carlos Acosta is a guest principal dancer for the Royal Ballet and is currently starring in his own Olivier-nominated show, 'Tocororo - A Cuban Tale', at Sadler's Wells. He lives in a garden flat in Islington, north London

Carlos Acosta is a guest principal dancer for the Royal Ballet and is currently starring in his own Olivier-nominated show, 'Tocororo - A Cuban Tale', at Sadler's Wells. He lives in a garden flat in Islington, north London

I'm constantly on the move between London, New York and my birthplace Havana, with spells in other places, so my Islington flat is my home for about seven months of the year. I have the lower two floors of a Georgian house and a paved garden surrounded by lots of trailing creepers at the back.

Like so many people seem to have to do in London, I had to fix up the flat from scratch when I came here just over a year ago. It's not quite finished because I've had a really tough year with a lot of travelling. My Royal Ballet commitment is 23 performances a year and some of them are more demanding than others - like Mayerling, which I did in the spring. After that I was invited to guest-dance the title role in Don Quixote for the Opèra Bastille in Paris, which was a fantastic honour: they don't invite just anybody. In between times, I was thinking about my reworkings of Tocororo, the show I've choreographed, which is loosely based on my own life and tells, through a mix of Cuban dance and classical ballet, the story of a young boy who leaves his traditional family in the Cuban countryside to seek a new life in the city.

Because the ballet world is such a busy, stressful business I needed the flat to be a place to unwind in. So I made one room a large bathroom into which I could fit the largest possible jacuzzi bath, which helps me relax and take away the ballet-dancer's pain of using the body as an instrument. The bathroom leads off my bedroom, which I've made light and airy. A big mirror runs across one wall behind the bed and opposite, where the chimney used to be, is the desk where I write. I've started my autobiography; although I'm only 31, there already seems to be so much to say.

My high-pressure life means I haven't yet had time to assemble enough reminders of Cuba here, and I'll be searching for oil paintings of Havana on my next trip. The photograph beside my bed says a lot about my history, though, since it shows me, my mother, my 14-year-old nephew Yonah Acosta and my father; like the mere fact of living in London, it's a reminder of how life has changed since my childhood in a poor area of Havana. My father was a truck-driver but it was he who insisted I take ballet lessons as a way of keeping me from going off the rails; now Yonah is dancing too - he plays the young lead in Tocororo, has won prizes and is showing great promise as a dancer. Yonah's mother Marilin, my sister, has done the costumes for the show. As you go down to the lower floor there are four photographs in the hallway of me in action, chosen not because they're of me but because they're by the dance and theatre photographer Anthony Crickmay. They're about the only reference in the flat to my professional life, which is probably a good idea.

In my early years as a school-truanting, break-dancing youngster I lived in a cramped apartment; now I'm a successful dancer but I don't really have time to be interested in flashy trappings and I have kept the flat simple and calming. One exception is in the sitting room, where there's a symbol of 21st-century consumer culture with the very big flat-screen TV I've had installed on the wall; opposite, there's a modern sofa, covered in grey suede, to lounge on when watching films.

To me, though, the important thing about a home is not so much what is in it as who is in it. The film-watching, as it's turned out, is often done with Ruswel, a good Cuban friend of mine who's an interpreter, and his partner Eva, who's from Spain and an actress. They now rent the second bedroom on the lower floor. I'm always a little homesick, and we can talk in Spanish, watch movies, go to the Cuban bar up the street. They tell me about their problems, and it's good to talk about subjects away from the ballet world, such as film and literature. It helps soften the toughness of living in London, which is a hard town where it's difficult to make friends.

Islington is exciting - it's a microcosm of London as a whole - but people in Britain are basically conservative and they don't mix in the way people do in Havana, partly for cultural reasons and partly, I think, because of the cold, rainy weather. At the moment, this small flat couldn't feel more different because it's bursting with family, since Yonah, Marilin and my mother and father are all staying here for the duration of the show instead of going to a hotel. It's like a dormitory when everyone settles down at night, like old times. It's a good feeling." 'Tocororo', Sadler's Wells, London, to 24 July (0870 7377737, www.sadlerswells.com); Birmingham Hippodrome 27-31 July (0870 730 1234; www.birminghamhippodrome.com)

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