Daniel Rittoles: 'Cuban music lifts the spirit and brings a feeling of complete enjoyment deep inside'

This article is from 2019

Daniel Rittoles: 'Cuban music lifts the spirit and brings a feeling of complete enjoyment deep inside'

The young dancer destined to inherit Carlos Acosta's crown discusses his heritage and the Cuban dance party heating up the Fringe

Daniel Rittoles was just seven years old when the talent scouts came calling. Up until then, his only interest had been taekwondo, but when the teachers from the Cuban National Ballet School arrived, they knew they had found someone special.

Having seen Rittoles' incredible performance in Fringe music and dance hit Havana After Dark, it's easy to see why. Although back then, not everybody thought the same way.

'I was the only person in my school to pass the selection audition,' recalls Rittoles. 'But I come from a military family, all the men are soldiers, so ballet was something very different for us. I travelled to the first workshop on my own because they didn't want me to go.'

Rittoles' grandfather was particularly unimpressed. A general who had fought in the revolution alongside Fidel Castro, he wasn't about to stand by and watch his young grandson take a ballet class.

'My grandfather came to take me out of the class,' says Rittoles, 'and even though the director of the school tried to speak to him, they couldn't change his mind. But I liked what I did that first day in class, and when my family asked me if I really wanted to dance, I said yes, it feels good. So then everything began.'

How times have changed. Accepted into the National Ballet of Cuba after he finished his training, Rittoles was soon promoted to soloist – and now, his family (grandfather included) fight over who's getting the theatre tickets to see him perform.

Ironically, it's the polar opposite story to Carlos Acosta, the Cuban dancer who moved to London and set the Royal Ballet ablaze for 17 years. Acosta's father practically bullied him into becoming a dancer, knowing the opportunities it would present. And now, Acosta is helping Rittoles follow in his footsteps.

'Carlos has always been an idol of mine,' says Rittoles. 'I first had an opportunity to meet him when I was at ballet school, to talk to him and listen to his story and advice. From that moment, my friendship with him began to grow and now it's a great honour to have him as my friend and advisor.

'He said to me, "If you want to do something in your life, try and do it in the best possible way", and now my career is stamped with his style. Everything about Carlos' life and way of dancing has inspired me, and continues to inspire me.'

Shades of the young Acosta are in evidence when watching 21-year-old Rittoles dance on stage in Havana After Dark. Rittoles' powerful turns and leaps are sublime, his balletic grace refined as he partners fellow-classical ballet dancer, Barbara Patterson. It's a remarkable contrast to the rest of the show, which is packed with hi-octane mambo, rhumba and salsa, performed by eight dancers and backed by a stunning live Cuban band.

Daniel Rittoles: 'Cuban music lifts the spirit and brings a feeling of complete enjoyment deep inside'

This year, Havana celebrates its 500th anniversary, and alongside the uplifting and incredibly tight music and dance (Cuba has some of the best dance training in the world) is a brief sprinkling of fascinating history about the city.

Rittoles and Patterson, who trained at the same ballet school, also join in some of the Latin dances, but their hearts lie in the classical realm. That said, they're both enjoying the opportunity to live it up a little in Havana After Dark.

'There's a world of difference for us as dancers,' explains Patterson. 'In classical ballet, everything is fixed in place and specific, it's all locked. Whereas in this show, you can improvise, you can do things differently and express yourself.

'Daniel is a wonderful person and an excellent dance partner. We only met recently to rehearse the show, but already have a very special connection that shines. I can enter the stage dancing with him without any sense of fear, I know it will go well.'

Rittoles agrees: 'It's an incredible experience to dance with Barbara. I've never felt such a connection with another dancer in such a short space of time.'

It's unusual to find a classical ballet dancer who can embrace the Latin styles so instinctively, but in Cuba it's in the blood. So whether Rittoles is sweeping through the air in a pas de deux, or joining in a group rumba, he's a force to be reckoned with.

'I feel incredible dancing ballet, because it's my life,' he says. 'When I'm dancing, I don't need to think about anything else, I escape into an inner world and forget all my problems, it's a completely natural possession.

'But with the other styles, I'm remembering my country and my Cuban identity. Cuban music lifts the spirit and brings a feeling of complete enjoyment deep inside.'

Havana After Dark, Pleasance at EICC, until 25 Aug (not 21), 9pm, £15–£17.50 (£12–£14.50).

Havana After Dark

  • 4 stars

The sizzling new summer dance show. The world premiere of a breathtaking new Cuban dance musical. Hot Latin hits from Beyoncé, Mark Anthony, Bad Bunny, Gente de Zona. Starring gorgeous star dancers from Carlos Acosta's company, Ballet Nacional de Cuba and Ballet Revolucion, a sensational seven-piece live salsa band, and…