Chair: Mariana Casale O’Ryan
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
It’s not unusual for artists to have more than one iron in the fire; rock stars turn actors and vice-versa. Performers who show real talent for writing (like Bogarde and Sher) tend to ease themselves towards fiction with factual books on their art or lives. Similarly ballet dancer Carlos Acosta follows his autobiography with an epic novel Pig’s Foot that sets out the history of his birth country, Cuba
Ascosta cuts an effortlessly cool figure entering The Lowry dressed in simple tee-shirt and faded jeans. Conscious that a crying infant has just been taken out of the theatre he sighs theatrically: ‘My daughter: already the temperament’. The format of the event involves Acosta discussing his novel with the Chair, Casale O’Ryan, and taking questions from the audience. Although Acosta is fluent in English he retains an accent and so allows the Chair to perform the traditional book launch task of reading extracts.
The questions from Casale O’Ryan are intellectual quizzing Acosta on the symbolism of mud, crossroads and character names. This is not always successful as Acosta reports the names were chosen by instinct rather than for their significance. He acknowledges the irony that the novel, which he wrote in Spanish and had translated into English, has yet to find a Spanish or Cuban publisher. Although something is inevitably lost in the process of translation (the title sounds particularly evocative in Spanish) Acosta is confident his voice and spirit have been retained.
The novel is sweepingly ambitious; opening in an isolated hamlet populated by escaped slaves it mixes real-life and fictional characters over several generations so as to cover key events in the development of Cuba. At times the questions from Casale O’Ryan provoke such an in-depth response, full of character and place names, as to bemuse anyone who hasn’t yet read the book.
Ascosta explains that he was aware of his ability to tell a story through movement but that his autobiography gave him the chance to explore if he could do the same with words. It was a steep learning process taking a decade to complete his first book and the novel was a further challenge. Amusingly Ascosta speaks of writing the novel in snatches of time between ballets. He acknowledges doubts about his writing talent but is glad he stuck to his instinct with the choices made.
Ascosta speaks eloquently of the life experiences that helped to shape the atmosphere of the novel. He could not help but include details of parties that last for days and the confusion of returning home as a success and struggling to relate to the members of a family and community.
During the question and answer session with the audience Ascosta becomes more animated sitting on the edge of his seat, clapping his hands and snapping his fingers. He is still ambitious to demonstrate the range of his abilities and feels there is more to life than dancing. It is crazy, he explains, to simulate being in love with a swan every night. One must evolve – he tried singing but was terrible and suffered from swollen glands for weeks afterwards. Writing offers the opportunity to expand his talents.
It is fascinating to hear Ascosta speak about his approach to choreography- the need to bow to the classic form but bring in a contemporary feel. He aspires to stage a production of Carmenthat would fuse the dance and the choir as one.
Ascosta has a fine sense of self-deprecation. Although he lists many authors as influences his ambition is not to win the Booker Prize but simply connect with an audience. Asked if the use of real-life characters required extensive research he cheerfully explains it was all taken from ‘Google’.
The only question to which Ascosta is reluctant to give a clear answer is whether he plans to retire. He goes no further than to say it is inevitable. But, he assures a patron who has says she has already bought tickets: ‘I’ll be there on Saturday’.