Carlos Acosta announces Nutcracker in Havana

Carlos Acosta is a big personality with bold ideas. At the beginning of March at Acosta Dance Centre, the new London headquarters of Acosta Danza in Woolwich, he announced his latest venture, Nutcracker in Havana. He promises a show that will, in his own words, have the “colour, feel and vibrancy of Havana with the tradition and beauty of The Nutcracker.”

It sounds extraordinary but as Acosta explained, while Christmas productions are cash cows for most ballet companies, especially those in the United States, in Cuba they are an unknown concept despite the strong Cuban ballet culture. He first discovered this anomaly when he joined Houston Ballet. Cubans may not celebrate Christmas, but they certainly know how to throw a great party and now he plans a Nutcracker embedded in Cuban culture.

The idea was one of those born under lockdown, when Stephen Crocket, Chief Executive and Creative Director of Norwich Theatre, met Acosta and the unlikely idea was hatched. This will be a unique Nutcracker, choreographed on the 20-plus dancers of Acosta Danza, well trained in ballet and contemporary dance and based in London for six months of the year.

Video clips wet the appetite. At the party, Grandad is offered his dance clogs (hints of La Fille Mal Gardée here), which sets the room alight in traditional folk dance. A taste of the Chinese divertissement sees Acosta neatly skirt the sometime controversial issues by choreographing it as a thrilling Kung Fu contest. The Arabian Dance similarly follows the traditional style although the music has a different flavour.

Laura Rodriquez was on hand to give a real live performance of the famous Sugar Plum Fairy solo. It is one of the pointe shoe moments in the ballet and stays close to Petipa’s original. The big dance numbers like the Waltz of the Flowers will also be on pointe.

Of course, there has to be Tchaikovsky’s beloved score, but it will be reorchestrated and rearranged by Pepe Gavilondo, a Cuban composer, musician and director well versed in both classical and Cuban music.

Costume designs are by Curaçao-born Angelo Alberto and will also reflect the diversity. The soldiers will be fighting the rats, but their uniforms will be those of the Cuban soldiers in the War of Independence at the end of the nineteenth century!

Laura Rodriguez of Acosta Danza
Photo Eduardo Lara

Snow is an essential for Nutcracker but an unknown feature of Cuban life. However, set designer Nina Dunn’s work with the magic of integrated live video will see snow falling on Havana’s famous landmarks. Lighting is by Andrew Exeter.

Central to the project is the versatility of the production. It will be able to visit smaller theatres that rarely see ballet. This is part of Acosta’s drive to open dance in all its forms to a wider base. The performance will have appeal for audiences of both contemporary dance and ballet as well as those who want a taste of Cuban culture.

Nutcracker in Havana is produced by Norwich Theatre and Valid Productions and opens at the Norwich Theatre Royal on November 1, 2024 before embarking on a nationwide tour that includes a week at London’s Southbank Centre in December.