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06 January 2016

Carlos Acosta hangs up his ballet shoes.

For two decades we’ve been transfixed by Carlos Acosta’s fearlessness, power, god-like aura and catch-your-breath sex appeal. I could go on. But even gods have to call time when pain is a constant companion. So, at 42, Acosta is giving up the hugely demanding classical repertoire before it gives up on him, to focus on contemporary dance and choreography.

He started life as a Havana street urchin, the last of eleven children, and heading for trouble. When his father discovered that the local ballet school not only dished out hefty doses of discipline, but also provided three square meals a day, he promptly enrolled young Carlos. The rest is history. Sent to Turin at 16 on a cultural exchange, he went on to win the international Prix de Lausanne gold medal. At 18 he was the English National Ballet’s principal dancer, and the Royal Ballet’s from 1998.

Acosta’s backstory serves only to bring his virtuoso technique, musicality and athletic grace into even starker relief. Add to this the bucket-loads of charisma, charm and intelligence that have earned him the soubriquet ‘the Cuban sex missile’, and it’s easy to understand the devotion he inspires. So it was that his farewell performance on 13 December at the London Coliseum was a wildly exhilarating extravaganza that brought the house to its feet cheering, chanting and calling for more. In the company of his Royal Ballet peers, Marianela Nuñez, Zenaida Yanowsky, Yuhui Choe, Valeri Hristov, Thiago Soares, Anna Rose O’Sullivan, Tierney Heap and Nehemiah Kish, he delivered a series of excerpts from the classics packed with heart-stopping, high-risk pyrotechnics. Erotic and sensuous, terrifying and thrilling, it was an epic last hurrah. To paraphrase Dostoevsky: “The brighter the star, the darker the night.”