It’s a deliberately selective version of a very large life, centring on Acosta’s early years when his loneliness is only slightly relieved by the adulation he attracts as principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and in the leading roles he’s offered by more of the world’s great companies. Whether he’s in Houston, New York or London, he’s hankering after news from home.
Unlike that other ballet prodigy Billy Elliot, the Havana slum kid playing in the street has no desire to be a dancer. Dance, he thinks, is for “faggots”. He wants to be the next Pele.
But his father, Pedro (Santiago Alfonso), a truck driver, thinks otherwise. A tough, hot-tempered character, he certainly doesn’t lack machismo but he’s also blessed with a respect for the transformative powers of art and he’s certain dance will be his son’s passport out of the slums.
Yuli, as his father calls him, takes a lot of convincing. He rebels, plays truant and eventually runs away. Yet Pedro and a group of enlightened teachers maintain their faith in him and gradually he comes round – in spite of increasing turmoil at home.
Much of this is told in flashback as Acosta, playing himself, directs rehearsals for a dance production based on his life in Cuba. It’s a meditative trip between past and present that stops at the point where his career is really taking off.
He eventually chose Britain as his base, marrying an English woman and making his home in Somerset, but Laverty’s script doesn’t take us that far. It’s the dancer’s unbreakable bond with Cuba that preoccupies him. And Iciar clearly feels the same. The stage sequences were shot in Havana with some of the young dancers from the company Acosta has set up there and his love for the city, coloured by layers of memory and heritage, infuses every frame.