Dancer, a documentary about one of the greatest principal dancers of our time, Sergei Polunin, premiered in St Petersburg on 16 May. Prospekt Magazine attended the screening at the LenDok cinema and reviewed the movie about the rebellious Ukrainian prodigy often called ‘the bad boy of ballet’
“You feel like a prisoner to your body: that is the urge to dance”
Sergei Polunin has broken almost every taboo and cliché in the world of ballet with his sharp attitude and rebellious tendencies. His body is marked with ‘Tiger scratches’ and unusual tattoos, including a Kolovrat—the ancient pagan Slavic symbol representing the sun—a howling wolf, a Chechen flag, a Ukrainian church, and a double-headed eagle, the national symbol of Russia. As a freelance principal dancer, he has worked with the world’s greatest theatres, from the Royal Ballet and the Bolshoi Theatre to the Stanislavski Ballet and the Ayerisches Staats Ballet, earning the most prestigious awards in the world of dance in the process. In 2012, he shocked the dancing world when he suddenly announced that he would be leaving ballet to pursue a ‘normal life’ because ‘the artist in him was dying.’ What brought the insatiable heart of a valuable talent and incredible dancer like Polunin back to life? This is the question asked and answered by Dancer.
Directed by Steven Cantor, Dancer was screened at the outstanding theatre hall of LenDok. Spectators ranged from art lovers of all ages, younger dance enthusiasts attracted to Polunin’s morbidity, magnificent figure, and life story, to an elegant old woman with a delicate pose—whose 45 degree angle-feet placement walk suggested she had been a ballerina.
Dancer offers a perfect melange of home videos and photos from the attic of Polunin’s family and his colleagues from ballet, interchanged with professional contemporary shots specifically made for the film.
A son of Kherson becomes Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal
The movie begins in Kherson, Ukraine, the city where Sergei Polunin was born. The first shots focus on the dancer’s childhood in his native town as well as his first steps as a dancer. At the time, Polunin’s parents had to travel all across the country to pay for his ballet lessons. At the age of thirteen, the young Polunin was accepted at the Royal Ballet School and, for that reason, left Ukraine to move to London. The newly discovered prodigy was mobbed by fame and media attention, leading to personal anguish and familial drama which heavily affected Polunin, to the point that he quit the Royal Ballet. Sergei’s narration, along with frank interviews by experts, his parents, and friends from the Royal Ballet School unearth his remarkable story on different levels.
“I was born sick, but I love it. Command me to be well”
The director dissects the making of Take Me to Church—a video starring Polunin by David La Chapelle, who, in the words of Sergei, is a ‘pure honest person’—and how it influenced Polunin to fall back in love with dance. This production of the eponymous song by the famous Irish musician, Hozier, was supposed to become Sergei Polunin’s goodbye message to ballet, but it went on to inspire so many people that it prompted the star to return back to dancing. Polunin’s output since then has been well worth it: the ‘graceful beast’ is back to creating sublime beauty that astounds people across the world and attracts younger generations to the neglected, magnificent world of ballet. As he puts it:
“I didn’t choose ballet. It’s who I am.”