Yuli: The Carlos Acosta Story
- Kelly Apter
- 11 March 2019
Beautifully shot, poignant and fascinating biopic about one of the greatest dancers the world has ever known
'He was born to dance – he just doesn't know it yet.' So says Pedro Acosta, father of 10-year-old Carlos, as he tries to shoehorn his young son into ballet school. Carlos, however, would far rather play football, 'than be a faggot'.
For those who have followed Acosta's career over the past three decades, but haven't read his autobiography No Way Home (on which this film is partly based), such stubbornness on the dancer's part may come as a surprise. Although perhaps not quite so remarkable as seeing a macho, alpha male begging his male offspring to become a ballet dancer.
Acosta's relationship with his father forms the heart of this fascinating biopic, from those dirt poor days living on the outskirts of Havana to meeting his father backstage at the Royal Opera House after a performance. The title comes from the nickname Pedro gave Carlos as a baby, and the push and pull of their connection fuels much of the film's poignancy.
Writer Paul Laverty fills the talented cast with believable words that capture not just the pain, hope, loneliness and longing of the Acosta family, but the political climate of late 20th century Cuba. While director, Iciar Bollain fills the screen with iconic images of Havana and London, but never loses sight of the dirt beneath the fingernails.
What will capture the imaginations of dance fans most however, is the film's fragmented structure, which mixes acted narrative with modern-day footage of Acosta himself rehearsing a ballet about his life (both the choreography and dancing are exemplary – but then what would you expect from a Cuban dance company?).
Acosta's journey from breakdancing on a dusty street corner to dancing Romeo at the Royal Ballet was always going to make for captivating viewing. However it's the phenomenal performance by Edilson Manuel Olbera as young Acosta, the combined acting and dancing talents of Keyvin Martinez as Acosta in his 20s, and the brutal sensitivity of Santiago Alfonso as the father who loves his child but struggles to show it, that will ensure Yuli finds an appreciative audience far beyond the dance world.
Screenings at regional cinemas across the UK on Wed 3 Apr as part of the Royal Opera House live film event. General release from Fri 12 Apr.