He’s got the same striking good looks, explosive talent and cheekiness that made his uncle Carlos Acosta a star. But as Yonah Acosta prepares to play Mercutio to Carlos’ Romeo in ENB’s epic new production, he’s finally poised to leap out of his shadow for good.
By Hannah Nathanson
London Evening Standard
May 30, 2014
Dance history is not often made on the first day of rehearsal, but Derek Deane’s colossal new production of Romeo & Juliet for English National Ballet has brought together three of the dance world’s most exciting performers, two of whom just happen to be related. Carlos Acosta, the 40-year-old Cuban superstar, will play Romeo alongside his 24-year-old nephew Yonah, in the role of Mercutio. It’s an explosive combination of great genes and Latin fire-power that will be set alight by Tamara Rojo, ENB’s artistic director, who, also at 40, will be dancing Juliet.
‘It is kind of a déjà-vu but different because now [Yonah] is a man. It’s one of the moments of my career I will treasure forever,’ says Carlos. It’s been more than ten years since the Havana-born Acostas have danced together; the last and only other time was in Tocororo: A Cuban Tale at Sadler’s Wells in 2003. It was Carlos’ debut show as a choreographer and was loosely based on his own childhood, following a boy growing up in Havana with an exceptional knack for dance. Yonah, just 13, played Carlos’ younger self. The show broke box office records and reviewers raved that Yonah, training at the Cuban National Ballet School at the time, outclassed the adult dancers.
Now Yonah is ready to make his name as a star, rather than a talented upstart: ‘I’m young and when you’re young you think you can do everything,’ he tells me in his strong accent after a punishing day of rehearsals at Markova House, ENB’s South Kensington headquarters. Although not yet fluent, his English has improved dramatically in the past six months, since falling in love with the Royal Ballet’s Australian dancer Claudia Dean, whom he met at one of Carlos’ performances. The couple recently moved to North London to be nearer his uncle in Angel. It suits Acosta that Dean is in the same profession: ‘For me, it’s better that we’re both dancers. She understands me and I understand her,’ he explains.
Facially, he’s the spitting image of Carlos, but he’s shorter and broader-chested. He can’t wait to grand-jeté across the stage with his uncle. ‘We haven’t danced together for such a long time so it’s amazing to even be in the same rehearsal room.’ Does he push himself more when Carlos is around? ‘No. I don’t feel I have to show him what I can do.’
When he moved to London in 2011, joining the ENB as a First Artist, Acosta quickly proved he wasn’t just someone’s nephew, winning both the ENB’s 2012 Emerging Dancer and People’s Choice awards. After his debut as the titular young man in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort at the Coliseum, critics called for his immediate promotion. ‘I found myself in that ballet. It made me realise I could combine dancing with acting,’ he says now, adding that his dream is to star in a film. He’s ready to act up as Mercutio, Romeo’s chief protector and best friend who is murdered by Tybalt, his opposite number in the Capulet family: ‘Mercutio is the crazy guy in the family. He’s cheeky, and I’m cheeky, too, so I can really act the part and put a bit of myself into the choreography.’
Rojo is all too aware of that confidence. ‘Sometimes I see Yonah do things on stage and it shocks me because it is so much like Carlos; his cheekiness when he looks at you and his gestures. But Yonah is smaller so he is faster… he is explosive in a different way,’ she has said. Last summer he danced opposite Rojo in Nureyev’s version of Raymonda Act III; the opportunity made a big impression on Acosta: ‘It’s amazing dancing with Tamara because you have to work much harder. She pushes you — not in the way that teachers say you have to do something, but in the way that, because she does everything so amazingly, you have to match it otherwise you don’t look so good,’ he says.
He plans to return to Cuba for a holiday after Romeo & Juliet. He misses his mother and the laid-back Cuban way of life. ‘People don’t care if they don’t have enough to eat, they’re still smiling, out in the street. Here, if you don’t have enough money, it’s a real worry. I miss that attitude and being open. I lived in my own flat in Hammersmith for a couple of years and never met my neighbours; in Cuba everyone knows everyone else.’
Is he pining for the Cuban stage as well? ‘Yeah; I’ve been living here for three and a half years and in that time I haven’t been back to dance. The people who followed my career lost me — they probably don’t know what I’m doing over here.’
English National Ballet perform Romeo & Juliet at the Royal Albert Hall from 11 to 22 June
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