6 Reasons You Should See the Carlos Acosta Biopic Yuli
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
The film finally had its New York premiere earlier this week at the closing night of the 20th Havana Film Festival New York. In addition to raising funds for The International Performing Arts Foundation, which works closely with Acosta on his philanthropic efforts, the event also gave us a chance to finally catch the film. (We're still awaiting word on a wider U.S. release.)
Spoiler alert: You're going to want to see it. Here's why.
1: The actor playing Acosta as a boy is adorable.
Edlison Manuel Olbera Núñez plays a young Carlos Acosta in Yuli.
Denise Guerra, Courtesy Janet Stapleton
Edlison Manuel Olbera Núñez almost runs away with the entire film. His resemblance to Acosta is uncanny, sure, but it's his puckish delight in imitating moves from music videos and his hilariously obstinate quips about why he doesn't want to go to ballet class that charm. The young actor's sparkling performance as Yuli (Acosta's boyhood nickname) is worth the price of admission on its own.
2: Acosta's archival performance footage is breathtaking.
Instead of getting Keyvin Martínez (the wonderful dancer who plays teenage Acosta) to re-create Acosta's gold medal–winning performance at Prix de Lausanne, the filmmakers used actual footage of his variation and the moment his award was announced. Watching on a small television at home in Havana, Acosta's family explodes into celebrations, with his father running outside to call to their neighbors, "Yuli's won the World Cup!"
And later, to represent Acosta's watershed casting as the first black man to dance Romeo in the history of The Royal Ballet, we see selections from a performance of the balcony pas de deux with Tamara Rojo. (The footage comes from the performance recorded and aired on the BBC in 2007.)
3: It offers a rare glimpse of the versatile dancers of Acosta Danza.
Acosta Danza in Goyo Montero's Imponderable
Johan Persson, Courtesy Sadler's Wells
The superstar's troupe was launched in 2016 and made its U.S. debut as a full company in New York City last April, but we don't often get to see these Havana-based artists stateside. Mario Sergio Elías, who dances the Yuli/Acosta character in the fictional dance work Acosta is seen rehearsing throughout the film, stands out for his exceptional technique and versatility.
4: There are loads of long-form dance sequences.
There's original choreography by Acosta, classical pas de deux and (of course) high-flying men's variations, and more often than not we get good, extended shots that really show the dancing. The music is sometimes misaligned with the movement on screen—that two or four count difference might not stand out to a film editor adding the score in post-production, but we couldn't help but find it jarring. Nevertheless, Yuli is remarkable in that it trusts the capable dancers who appear in it to do what they do best, and actually steps back enough to let them.
5: It's more than just a dance movie.
In the film, a young Acosta finishes his audition for the Cuban National Ballet School by pulling on a baseball cap and imitating moves from music videos.
Denise Guerra, Courtesy Janet Stapleton
Impressive dance sequences aside, the film has a rock-solid emotional core, largely thanks to former Cuban ballet star Santiago Alfonso's performance as Pedro Acosta, Carlos' father. (Fun fact: Alfonso was Acosta's fourth grade teacher!) That the film manages to get at wider themes—about Cuba, about race, about filial responsibility—while digging deep into the interpersonal conflicts and choices that shape the central characters is a hallmark of screenwriter Paul Laverty's work, and it makes this "dance film" far more relatable to a general audience.
6: Acosta is as riveting to watch now as he ever was.
Carlos Acosta in Yuli
Denise Guerra, Courtesy Janet Stapleton
It's no secret that Acosta is an incredible performer—would we be talking about him, otherwise? But even as he cedes the technical pyrotechnics to the youthful members of his company, that same can't-quite-look-away quality is still present, whether he's giving notes to a dancer or quietly sitting with his thoughts. He dances a final solo at the close of the film, in jeans and ballet slippers, alone in a massive theater: A simple port de bras from Acosta is still somehow more affecting than any other dancing in the film.
- From JLaw to Ralph Fiennes, Here Are the Danciest Movies in the ... ›
- Carlos Acosta to Become Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet - Pointe ›
- Carlos Acosta Brings His New Cuban Dance Company to the U.S. ... ›
- You'll Want to See These Dance Movies in Theaters - Dance ... ›
- The First Trailer for Carlos Acosta's Biopic Just Dropped, And We're ... ›
- Cuban ballet icon Carlos Acosta stars in biopic 'Yuli,' gets Goya ... ›
- Yuli: The Carlos Acosta Story review – unflinching biopic of a ballet ... ›
- Yuli (2018) - Rotten Tomatoes ›
- 'Yuli' - first trailer for Icíar Bollaín's San Sebastian Competition title ... ›
- 'Yuli' Review: Carlos Acosta Gets an Uneven But Vibrant Bio-Ballet ... ›
- Yuli: The Carlos Acosta Story — Productions — Royal Opera House ›
- Yuli, An Unmissable New Film About Royal Ballet Star Carlos Acosta ›
- Yuli (2018) - IMDb ›
- Yuli: this portrait of Carlos Acosta and Cuba is a dance film like no ... ›
- Yuli - The Carlos Acosta Story | UK Official Trailer - YouTube ›
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.