Destinations | Perfect Weekend

Carlos Acosta’s London

One of 11 children, Carlos Acosta came from the backstreets of Havana to become the foremost male classical dancer of his generation. He is now a principal guest artist at The Royal Ballet.

July 04 2009
Alison Gunn

“Resting is what I like to do at the weekend. And avoiding stairs – oh my, I don’t like stairs. I live with my girlfriend, Charlotte, a former model, in a town house in Islington, so it’s very up-and-down. Luckily, the bedroom is on the first floor, so there’s not too many stairs.

However, the weekend all depends on my schedule. If I’m performing, I need to keep myself in top condition. So on Saturday morning I’ll either go to a class at the Royal Opera House, or to my local gym. In some ballets I have a lot of lifting, so I’ll do some weights and work on my upper body. I also like to have a sauna and steam; it’s great to relax and stretch out the muscles.

I’ve been in London for about 10 years, first of all in Pimlico, then I followed some Cuban friends to Islington. I like it because it’s young and vibrant, a little bit bohemian, and it’s got everything I need – shops, market, Sadler’s Wells and some nice bars, including Cuba Libre on Upper Street. You can have a few mojitos and a lot of fun here.

I don’t tend to shop for clothes because it’s really difficult to find stuff that fits me. My thighs are so big that if jeans fit at the waist, the legs are too tight. I just patch up my old ones. But I like to look round the local antiques shops for art and furniture – we’ve been decorating and there are still a few spaces to fill. There’s Camden Passage, of course, but there’s also a great shop called Eccentricities on Essex Road. I’m really interested in property and interiors; I’m a modern kind of guy but I want this house to develop its own style. My other house in Cuba is much more contemporary, with granite décor and a pool. It’s next to the beach and when I go this summer with the Royal Ballet we’re going to have a big party.

I often have lunch at a little Brazilian place in Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard Salad Bar. I know the owner, Helio, and his food is so fresh and healthy – I particularly like the chicken and the feijoada, a kind of black bean soup. Eating is important, especially when I’m dancing a big role. I try to have a balanced diet and maybe twice a week I’ll have a steak for lunch, then take a rest afterwards. At about 5pm I’ll do my warm-up and start to prepare for the show.

If I’m not performing, I like going to see plays and musicals – there’s some great dancing in Billy Elliot and Chicago, and I want to see Jersey Boys – and other dance companies, such as Sylvie Guillem’s. I really admire her work as she does such different things. Afterwards I’ll go out with friends, maybe to a club like Floridita on Wardour Street, or to eat at Souk Medina, a Moroccan restaurant with a beautiful, almost secret, interior. I think it’s important to socialise outside the ballet world, which is very small and intense – I like to mix with actors, artists, writers; interesting people.

On Sundays I’ll spend some time reading, both in Spanish and English. I read my first book at 25, so I’ve got some catching up to do. At the moment I’m reading a history of Cuba. Newspapers I avoid. I think maybe it’s best not to read the reviews. Critics can be very harsh; they should be more constructive. I don’t think they realise what a dancer goes through to be able to leap and jump like that every night.

Later on, Charlotte and I will walk along the canal and have a roast lunch at The Narrow Boat pub, or we might go to Richmond Park. Sometimes I’ll take the bus or the tube to the British Museum or one of the Tate galleries. I love looking at art for inspiration. I think of myself as an artist and I’m always exploring new ideas. For my show Carlos Acosta and Guest Artists at the Coliseum this month, I’m thinking like a producer; how all the different dance pieces will link together and the overall effect.

In the evening, I’ll get into my writing. I find it very relaxing, just me and my computer. My autobiography, No Way Home, has been published and now I’m writing a novel. It’s nearly finished. Is it any good? I don’t know, we’ll see.”

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