“Art is the shortest way
to come to the triumph of truth.”
The film Yuli, directed by Spain’s Icíar Bollaín, realizes the long-awaited project promoted by the stellar Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta; to tell their story, to inspire young people looking for how to find their way into life.
The film was shown four times during the fortieth edition of the Havana Film Festival, with a crowded reception. However, included in the Special Galas category, it was considered out of competition. His protagonist manages to show that – with talent and will – he was able to become the first black dancer at the Royal Ballet in London (where he remained sixteen years), and reach the maximum rank of the cast of one of the largest dance companies in the orb.
Acosta, at forty-four years old, although with an enviable vitality and impeccable technique, decided to gradually begin his retirement from the stage, and has focused his energies on the foundation of his own company, Acosta Danza, on the Caribbean island that saw him born. His dedication to ballet, the estrangement from his family and the avatars of the trade – in addition to the grief for the incurable illness of a young sister – plunged him into a long loneliness that would lead him to write (with the help of a friend) a book about his life, Do Not Look Back (from the original in English, No Way Home, 2007), which has been translated into Spanish by a Cuban publisher , however, it has never been available to the reading public of the Major of the Antilles.
This text served as the basis for the film when it came into the hands of renowned English screenwriter Paul Laverty (regular collaborator of Ken Loach and sentimental partner of Bollaín). But it took another ten years to complete as a film, until it was definitively hosted by production company Andrea Calderwood.
The obvious quality of the finished audiovisual product is largely due to the intelligent selection of the distribution and the team of collaborators, such as the choreographer María Rovira, author of the brief but excellent sequential moments where we appreciate the resounding communicative virtuosity of the youth cast of Acosta Danza; the dazzling photograph was achieved by Alex Catalán (with his lens he crudely apprehended every significant revealing detail of a secret Havana); or the essential participation of a composer like Alberto Iglesias, author of the music necessary to support the fundamental frames.
With thirty years of a brilliant career and a dedicated youth, the Yuli of the film strives to see his outstanding subject overcome: to save the abandoned building of the Ballet School conceived by the remarkable Italian architect Vittorio Garatti – one of those that make up the wonderful complex of organic architecture of the National School of Art, today The Higher Institute of Art (ISA)– , where some sequences of the film take place, and which Acosta intends to turn into “her dream school before she dies”. The dancer has explained in recent interviews that this act would be “a way to give back to my country some of what I have received.” He has also created the Carlos Acosta International Ballet Foundation, through which he grants scholarships to low-income students, both Cuban and foreign. Currently they are studying two Spaniards, three Colombians and a Dominican, who in December debuted publicly with a unique performance in the habanero Teatro Mella.
In general, acting performance can be rated with high grades, although for this chronicler there are two most prominent, for its naturalness, conviction and charisma in the transmission of nuances, without excess histrionicism: that of the dancer and choreographer Santiago Alfonso, become Pedro Acosta (rough and reflective father of Yuli) and that of the boy-dancer Edilson Manuel Olvera (as Acosta niño), achieved thanks to the directing work of Bollaín, with great experience in children’s productions.
We were also surprised by the eloquent inter-pretation of Acosta himself, who successfully faces a new medium, the film cameras. Proof of this has been the recognition by the Spanish Academy of Film, by nominating it for the 2019 Goya in the section actor/revelation. Nor do we disintegrate the valuable delivery of a more adult Acosta, in the shoes of the dancer Keyvin Martínez.
We must take into account the ambitious of this project, both to carry it out in Cuba and Spain. The production company Claudia Calviño was, with its capacity, essential in solving most of the problems that arose in this filming of two and a half years, with the contribution of Cuban and Spanish entities, as co-producers, and the participation of other European ones.
We know, from previous confessions of the filmmaker he himself, that she “did not want to make a biopic”. And while he was inspired by Acosta’s life and career, according to the aforementioned texts of No Way Home, he started from the premise that “cinema is freedom” to allow himself – along with Laverty – to “fictionalize” him and introduce sequences with characters that contribute “to the game of bringing stories to the movies”.
Encumbrado by an important recognition at the last Film Festival of San Sebastian, Laverty, in his attempt to give us the tour of the protagonist, from his childhood in a slum of the Cuban capital (Los Pinos) to his fame when dancing in Giselle of the London Royal Ballet, he confronts topics adjoining family melodrama, as well as anthropological ones, by justifying the title of the film, Yuli, as an affectionate nickname of the father – a great-time trucker grandson of African slave and practitioner of Yoruba popular religiosity – when he chooses the name of Oggún’s son, a traditional warrior deity of this community. Here he reveals weaknesses in dramaturgy, as he does not avoid excesses and falls into reiterations. However, throughout the plot, the name of the Cuban ballet icon, Alicia Alonso, is not mentioned, but her reasons will have…
Undoubtedly, the emotional burden that distinguishes the filmic work from this talented Iberian filmmaker, allowed to sensitize – sometimes too much – the thousands of spectators with this project, where a personal story with dance is imbricated to make it a universal story. The overcoming of the artist, the father-son relationship, the sacrifice and the constancy emerge together with the ballet with the inclusion of the great teacher Ramona de Sáa (Chéry) –played with tino by the organic actress Laura de la Uz–, faithful to the teaching of the Cuban ballet school and forming Yuli’s talent and personality.
Chéry, with his experience and relevance, decided to send Carlos Acosta to the famous Swiss Prix de Lausanne competition. There his advantaged disciple reached the coveted golden presea, revealing himself to the world, consequently, as “the golden mulatto of Cuban ballet”.
The Lezamiano “concurrent chance” has become a ma-nifiesto in Carlos Acosta, being appointed president of the jury (accompanied by other prestigious perso-nalities of the dance world), of the Prix de Lausanne in its February 2019 edition.
For its part, the film has continued its journey through several film festivals in Europe. Prior to its commercial premiere in the Iberian Peninsula, it won the prestigious Goya in the category of best screenplay (for Laverty), and in April it was confronted with the American public and critics, when it was exhibited at the Havana Film Festival, edition 2019, which annually takes place in New York City, with the presence of Acosta himself.
According to authorized sources of the Cuban Institute of Film Art and Industry (ICAIC), Yuli’s long-awaited commercial distribution in the Major of the Antilles is planned for the special summer programming of the current year. Ω