Yuli, Carlos Acosta (15)

Jan 29, 2020
Anson Paul

Ballet and film complement one another perfectly in this biopic of the Cuban dancer that captures life under Castro’s rule. Written by Paul Laverty (‘I, Daniel Blake’) the story is told in flashbacks, real footage and through Acosta’s own ballet adaptation of his life. A dance film like no other.


This is both a biographical drama based on balletomane Carlos Acosta’s autobiography “No Way Home” and an interpretive dance piece that seeks to explain his childhood and rise to stardom. Acosta was very much involved with its direction by Spaniard Iciar Bollain and with its script by her husband, Paul Laverty, with whose work we are already familiar (‘I Daniel Blake’, ‘The Angel’s Share’ and ‘Sorry We Missed You’ to name a few).

First we see Acosta playing himself driving through iridescent urban streets in Havana. Cinematographer Alex Catalán positively sweeps his camera through the light drawing us in and on. Then the action moves to the 1980s and we see Acosta as a young sassy child.
Edison Manuel Olbera Núñez captures his spirit, insolence, and talent and is a delight to watch. Acosta’s adamantine somewhat abusive father Pedro, played by Santiago Alfonso, literally drags his son to audition for the Cuban ballet school. He wanted free education and lunches for him and definitely wanted him off the streets away from trouble. Acosta is accepted despite his rudeness to the selection panel that makes for a great comic scene. His eventual rise to his present eminence in the dance world took place against a background of struggle against his father. Recently Acosta choreographed his life story in dance and Bollain weaves this into the story, with Acosta sometimes directing, sometimes dancing. In terms of time he is centre stage, but the most fully realized character in the film is Pedro, which adds an interesting dimension.

Acosta grows up and actor Núñez is replaced by Keyvin Martinez. then again by Acosta playing himself. Martinez is fine, but lacks verve and the film’s pace drops a little only to rise again as we see the mature Acosta dance. The highlight is surely a pas de deux between Acosta who is representing his own father and a younger version of himself. The two dancers play out the struggle between the two men, the ballet dancer and the dirt-poor trucker, the rebel and the bully. In a question and answer session after the film’s debut Acosta said of his father, “ Whatever he did, however he did it, came from a source of love. He was born in 1918, a very hard society for him. Whatever I am, he was the one who pursued that career with me.” He might have added that it was some achievement for the eleventh child in a family that faced maternal health problems, a sister with schizophrenia and patent discrimination from all sides including his mother’s white side of the family.

The panoramic shots of Havana, particularly when they feature street dancing, are fabulous and contrast well with the scenes of grey and rainy London when Acosta lived here for seventeen years as soloist at the Royal Ballet. Their clarity and vividness spoil us but do not take away from the grainy live shots of Acosta dancing the first ever-black Romeo. What is there not to like, seeing such an incredible dancer moving across the screen, grainy film or not? Music predictably plays a large part in this film and the score by Alberto Iglesias has been described as lush. You do not need to love dancing to enjoy this film, but if you are smitten then his dance company is in London this February and Acosta is now director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet. He has not forgotten the break he received from the state and his dance company in Havana sponsors up to twenty-four students each year for three years full time dance tuition.

This is a real crowd pleaser of a film, vibrant, colourful and particularly engaging when set in Havana.


            Weighted vote 95.36%