Yuli: The Carlos Acosta Story review – fast-moving dance biopic

The story of the Cuban ballet dancer’s rise to fame, told with the help of the man himself

A traditional biopic wraps itself around a dance performance in this colourful film about Carlos Acosta, the world-renowned Cuban ballet dancer and the Royal Ballet’s first black principal.

Nicknamed Yuli by his father, Pedro (Santiago Alfonso), he begrudgingly auditions for ballet school despite claiming he’d rather be a footballer, “like Pelé”. The young Acosta, portrayed by Edilson Manuel Olbera Nuñez, is in turn distracted, cherubic, cheeky and belligerent. These qualities reappear in the dance scenes (performed by Acosta himself), organised as a stage show that tells the story of his childhood.

The meat of the film is Acosta’s volatile relationship with his father, explored in a tense square-off between Acosta and another male dancer. He chases the dancer with a belt; in a flashback, we hear the sound of Pedro beating his son, the action behind a closed door. At times the film’s two storytelling modes feel disjointed, but here the use of choreography seems fittingly abstract, a bodily interpretation of an emotional memory.

Watch a trailer for Yuli.


Simran Hans

The GuardianTramp

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