Issue 319
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He's danced with the most prestigious ballet companies in the world. He was the first black dancer to be given the role of Romeo. There's a film about his life — he starred in it. He's written two books. He's a CBE. And he's even found the time to create his own dance company, in Havana, his hometown. Carlos Acosta is many things, including, now, the director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. And don't think his ambition for the city ends there. We sat down with one of Cuba's greatest exports, and when we say sat, it's difficult to think of a moment when the humble, hulking ball of energy — who still attends morning class at BRB — stopped moving.
How's your foot? You were on crutches last time we saw you.
Oh, that hurt. I did a jump demonstrating a move in rehearsals and ‘KRRRR’ — I tore my fascia. Now? It’s alright. But I was worried about missing some performances. I have to dance in Rooster this month. It's hard and fast and cardio. But it's going to be okay. Painful maybe, but okay. 
So you're still juggling old commitments as well as your new job?
Oh yeah. It's crazy right now — I dance, I come back, then I dance some more. I'm at a crossroads in my life while I complete projects I took on before coming to Birmingham and I'm looking forward to being more settled. But I'm young enough to do this and I've got so many ideas!
Your eyes just lit up. What sort of ideas? What's job one?
Job one? Don't ask me to give you one! Okay, okay, the most important thing right now is to have a sense of a new beginning in people's minds. That something is happening at BRB and it's exciting and it’s different and it’s new. What do I mean by that? I mean lots of things but to start, I'm extending and revitalising the repertoire so we can be seen as a company that, as well as doing the traditional, is reaching out with surprising, exciting new titles and more representative choreography, particularly for the younger community. That’s why I’m starting with Don Q.

Don Quixote, right? Isn't that an old ballet?
It's the coolest classical ballet there is — it's Spanish, it has matadors, flamenco and big, colourful dancing. It’s very funny and all about escapism. The most beautiful escapism. It's a great production for first-timers and a ballet that every company commanding respect on the world stage should have. Birmingham Royal Ballet's run in June will be the first time my production has been performed outside London in the UK, and I am so excited for it.  
You mention the world stage, how does BRB rank globally?
It’s at a great level, but globally, we have a way to go. My challenge is to give the dancers the opportunity to grow, which I'll do by bringing guest teachers from the premier companies — Paris Opera, The Bolshoi, The Royal Ballet. And we'll bring top individuals in too — Alessandra Ferri, Darcey Bussell. You don't learn to dance through reading or through YouTube. No. It's a skill that is passed on one-to-one, hand-to-hand with nurturing and detail and the passing on of confidence.

You talk about confidence a lot, do you think Birmingham Royal Ballet could do with more of it?
It’s all part of the plan. I think we should start being more gutsy, and saying: I’m worth it, I’m going to be a worldwide star. And I’m going to put the spotlight on the dancers, by bringing them to perform at the Royal Opera House for the first time in twenty years. And by getting them to guest with the best companies around the world, so they can see where they are in the contest internationally. 
And by doing that, you raise the profile of the city?
To Birmingham, I make my greatest pledge. This is a city full of the most amazing treasures. But it has been ghettoised with everybody working individually on little things, so the world doesn't know about it yet. My aspiration is that the community comes together to emerge as the cultural powerhouse it deserves to be. Manchester’s done it. And Edinburgh has the most incredible festival. But what about us? We are the second-largest city in the UK and we should be second to none in the arts area. So it’s no longer about how great BRB or The Rep is — when the people of New York and Beijing and Buenos Aires look at us, they should know that there is a city called Birmingham, where the greatest artists in the world want to go. As a company, we're going to be ready. Ready with festivals, site-specific performances and engagement in the community. But I need people to come and see and pay attention and endorse what we are doing. Because worldwide, there’s nothing sadder than an empty seat.
It's well documented that you at times hated dance as a child [Acosta was expelled from ballet school for truancy]. What would you say to people who don't think ballet is for them?
That I was very, very wrong. And ballet became my life. I’m here because of ballet. I’m speaking English because of ballet. Ballet is the best thing that could ever have happened to me: it taught me tolerance and compassion and how to relate to people, because it’s a very collective art where 60 dancers are there every single day living and creating a work. Plus the crew. Plus the wardrobe. Plus the technical side. And, a bit like a city, if one of those factors fail, then the whole proposition fails. And when it works, the audience is on their feet, crying, and it’s a wonderful thing. 
Already, you seem proud of what the company is doing. What's the proudest moment in your life?
I don’t think about my achievements that much — I’m concentrating on tomorrow and the next day and what else can I achieve with my life while I’m young and have strength. But every now and again, I’m there with a glass of rum and a Cuban cigar, and I say, yeah — growing up as the 11th child in a poor family with no prospects — what I have achieved is wonderful. Winning the Prix De Lausanne aged 16 changed my life forever. It also kept me from my family [unable to leave Cuba, to visit Carlos, under Castro's regime]. But eventually, I managed to bring them all to London to see me perform — that made me so happy. And when I had the means to buy my Dad some cowboy boots from Texas! He wore them all around Cuba in sweltering heat with jacket and tie, so proud and so completely full of sweat. That put a smile on my face. And obviously the CBE… I cried. I cry a lot. But I cry because my family was not able to witness these moments. Anyway, there are more moments to come.
And finally, how will you know when your job here is done?
There are many ways to measure success. Audience size and a more representative demographic. International acclaim. A distinct and representative artistic proposition for Birmingham. A happy company, working in a healthy environment, knowing that together each member can become a better version of themselves. There are so many things! But this isn't about me — I’m obviously not going to be around forever. And if in the time I have, I can bring something new to what is already an incredible foundation and an incredible city, I will be happy. Then somebody else will come in, and will bring something different. That’s how you build a story.
Don Quixote is at the Hippodrome from June 19 to 27. Tickets (from £20)


Go to the pub or go to the gym seem to be the primary post-work options. But every now and then, go to the museum is also a possibility. Opening up from 6.30pm through to 10pmish for an evening a month across the next three, for March, BMAG's got live music, dinns and the chance to wander the gallery space of Dressed to the Nines, an exhibition about dressing up and going out from 1850 until today. On March 28, tickets are £30, which includes your supper. Or, there's Drink and Draw as part of a singles night on April 25, for which the bar will be open and snacks available to buy. Free to attend but do book. Another freebie worth registering for is the Spring Craft Market on May 30. Local traders will be popping up in the Industrial Gallery while for drinks, snackage and music, it's back to the Edwardian Tearooms.


Launching in Brum today, The BarCode is a free to download app which'll help you discover and support local drinking spots, with events, offers and flat out money off sort of promos. Receive guaranteed discounts on your first round of up to £20 at any member venue — we're talking right proper goodies, like Arch 13, Chance & Counters, The Wolf, The Vanguard and Little Blackwood to name but a few. The discounts vary from 10% to 50% depending on where and when you are looking. And from opening times today across the Birmingham membership, app users can get completely free drinks (up to the value of £6). One per venue, unless you start doing clever things like introducing friends or sharing offers, which gets you credits and the potential for more drinks. Get The BarCode on Apple or Google Play.


Firstly, why aren't you going to the All England Open Badminton Championships? And secondly, WE HAVE NO FURTHER QUESTIONS! It's the best of the best of badminton, the planet's finest players, right here in Brum — like the world cup of shuttlecockery. Badders, stat fans, is the world’s fastest racquet sport with those funny plastic birdies travelling at speeds of up to 250mph. And that sort of walloping takes its toll. Across the five-day tournament up to 3,000 shuttlecocks will be pelted into pieces. This is the 110th annual Badminton Championships, believe it or not, and the 26th to be held here in Brummagem, so it's about time you jumped on board. March 11 to 15 at Arena Birmingham. Tickets are from £22.50. Get 20% off single day passes for Wednesday through to Friday of the champs, as well as for finals day on Sunday, by using promo code SERVICES20.
Venue: POSH at 1000 Trades, 16 Frederick Street, B1 3HE; website
Choice: Shepherd's Pie Sandwich (£8) Chooser: Chef

What do you get if you cross the common sandwich with a pub lunch? Knowing that people want more than the former but rarely have time for the latter, 1000 Trades have decided to find out, with their regularly changing selection of hot sandwiches under the banner POSH — because this is not your regular Pret rendition of a midday feeding. Take a pub classic, like lasagne or brisket with mac 'n' cheese, and serve it in a slab of salted-up
Ten Four Bakehouse focaccia. To our editor, who likes a minimum of three types of veg (no, not including potatoes), the meal-in-a-meal, double carb concept is faintly terrifying. But when the weather's cold, you're on something approaching a hangover, or you're a person who likes a serious lunch minus the wait, the kitchen might just be on to something. Take the shepherd's pie edition, where you get slow-cooked, braised lamb, roasted garlic mash, crispy potatoes, pickled veg and red wine jus encased in hot focaccia, served up speedily and wrapped in brown paper, so you can eat in or take your monster back to the office. It shouldn't work and yet we chomped our way through the construct still not entirely sure if we were in the presence of total genius, or the other option. Sample menu 
See an art exhibition in an Edwardian swimming pool. From today until March 28, you're heading to Moseley Road Baths. More
Or how about an art gallery of nature aquariums in the JQ, with its own mini-wellness programme? From March 9 to 14, the deets.
The best bar in the world was Dandelyan. We went. It was exceptional. Under the same ownership, Dandelyan became Lyan-ess. Today from 6pm, Lyan-ess is at Couch, mixing up drinks until 11pm. Walk-ins only. If we could go, we wouldn't be telling you about it.
Kings Heath's Beer and Cider Festival is on Friday and Saturday at KH cricket ground. There'll be more than 40 keg and cask drops to pick from, as well as rugby, music and a full bar. Entry is £6
Spring will sprung. And mac will host a dinner to celebrate its sprunging, with live music and spoken word. On March 20, it's £25 for a spot, where you're basically guaranteed to be overfed. Plenty of V/VE/GF/ACE options from the sharing menu.

"But, you know, it's still a drag to get your picture taken when you're eating a sandwich. It's a downer.”

Keanu Reeves responding to 'that' photo

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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Tom Cullen
PICTURES: Ty Singleton — Carlos Acosta in the Studio at Birmingham Royal Ballet

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