January 1, 2018 Interview – Sergei Polunin
January 1, 2018 Interview

January 1, 2018 Interview

What do Kolobok and Sergei have in common?

Turlyan premiere. Sergei Polunin about the death of classical ballet

The ballet dancer Sergei Polunin told Fokus about the road not upwards, but downwards, what he and the hero of the fairy tale Kolobok had in common, and about his desire to combine dance and theater

At four years – gymnastics in his native Kherson. At nine – moving with his mother to the capital and studying at the Kiev Choreographic School. To give Sergei a chance to break through, his father goes to work in Portugal and gets a gardener from a wealthy family, and the grandmother finds a job as a nurse in Greece. At the age of 13, the future world ballet star is sent to study in London. At 17 he joined the Royal Ballet Company, and at 19 he became the youngest principal in the history of the troupe.

In the conservative world of ballet, Polunin quickly gained fame as a violator of foundations. Outside the scene, the young star coped with stress through parties, alcohol, drugs and new tattoos. His then nicknames are The Bad Guy, James Dean of Ballet and the Embodiment of Jumping Outside the Line. The name of the premiere rebel began to appear not only in enthusiastic reviews, but also in the yellow press, who did not miss the opportunity to publish reports with details of his next “release.”

While society was wondering whether the search for young talent was a successful PR move, Polunin announced his departure from the Royal Ballet. When two years ago the Ukrainian decided to say goodbye to the stage, his swan song, With the track Take Me To Church, it scored 21 million views on YouTube. “Obviously, the laws of gravitation for Mr. Polunin act differently,” one of the commentators wrote. “He moves as if he has wings,” others agreed.


He was born in Kherson. He studied at the Kiev Choreography School. At the age of 19 he became the premiere of the London Royal Ballet. Since 2016, the invited soloist of the Bavarian Ballet, author and soloist Project Polunin.  In 2017, a Ukrainian documentary film “Dancer” on the career of 27-year-old Sergei Polunin.

Forward to the past, and Kolobok?

What kind of eyes do you now look at yourself, a 6-year-old boy on video, in a T-shirt and shorts? What would you like to say to this boy now?

– “I would say to him: “Be yourself, listen to yourself and your intuition.” Now I’m trying to restore the internal state in which I was then. This is the most correct perception of the world and the most organic state of man.

Recently I had an interesting event. For filming in the film, I for a while became a blonde. And then a couple of days ago, when I had my hair dyed black, I looked in the mirror and suddenly I saw myself as small. It’s great. We must not forget how you were in childhood.

By the way, before the age of 13 I was the same as in 6-7. But just at 13-14 years has changed, unfortunately. I forgot myself a little. And about 25 again began to recover.”

What happens to a person who by the age of 19, when his peers are just starting a career, is on a professional peak? Feeling like a superman?

– “It was disappointing: you are achieving what you were going for, but it does not give you the satisfaction that you expected. For me it was a road not up, but down.”

Did it ever occur to you that the family paid too high a price, putting everything on you?

– “Speaking about the fact that the family broke up, – yes, probably. But if one day I decide to give birth to a child, I will do everything so that he, like me, will get a chance.”

And the right to choose? 

– “Yes, it must be. The child knows what he wants, it’s already laid. Parents can reveal his talent, give the opportunity to try everything and help him see what he can.”

Speaking on stage in the framework of Project Polunin, you stopped masking your tattoos. In one of the interviews, they were called what you associate with free people.

–  “You achieve what you came for, but it does not give you the satisfaction you expected, for me it was not a way up, but down.”

– “At first it was so. In London, I was an immigrant with a work visa. One mistake my colleagues did not like or a fight in the street – and I would be kicked out of the country. The visa was extended for a year. Every time for a year.

I experienced constant pressure and an absolute sense of unfreedom. And yes, I could not do tattoos. In the ballet, this is not accepted. And in the offices, by and large, this was unacceptable. Probably, that’s why I liked the people they had. I thought: Here they are, free people who do not depend on their work, they have complete freedom. They do what they want.

When I filled the first tattoo, the leadership gathered the whole theater and officially banned them. Later tattoos became the norm, and David Beckham made them more popular.”

Two Plains

Which of the children’s fairy tales is closest to your story?

– “The Gingerbread Man,” remember “I left my grandmother and left grandfather. And *Kolobok, which is rolling somewhere ( laughs ).”

*Kolobok is the main character of an East Slavic national fairy tale with the same name, represented as a small yellow spherical being. The fairy tale is prevalent in Slavic regions in a number of variations.

He will not be eaten?

– “I do not know. But at some point Kolobok should stop running away. Which I did. All that I knew before was to destroy, leave and rebuild in a new place. I did it once, then again. And I realized that this is a habit. There is a risk to get carried away. Then I realized: you just need to create, build.”

There are at least two Sergei Polunin. One is called a “bad guy in the ballet”, they reproach him for sloppiness, hobby for alcohol and drugs, going beyond what is permissible. Second Polunin is shown in the film “Dancer”: a boy who submitted to the will of his mother, fulfilled the requirements of teachers, showed diligence, which eventually made him the premier of the Royal Ballet in London. Even the temporary break with the ballet, this second Polunin designed stylishly. Which of these two is the real you?

– “There was a time when I read the press and believed in it. And played along. You get used to the image and then forget who you are.

But in what way it was, I love to work, set a goal and achieve it. People are not always ready for this. Many people drop their hands: come what may. You say: “No, it’s probably wrong, let’s think about how to fix it.” And immediately you in the eyes of these people are bad. It is easier for them to decide that something is wrong with you, than to admit that the system can work incorrectly.”

kolobok is sergei polunin

These riotous little

What is the difference between Russian, Ukrainian and British ballet schools?

– “I think the Russian and Ukrainian schools are similar. The initial training in them is stronger than in the West. In ballet, the first four years are very important.”

– “it’s a machine. I was lucky, I had a talented teacher Eduard Borisovich Kostyukov here in the school (Kyiv State Choreographic School .- Focus ). He gave a good school. And after that, it was already easier for me to develop. And the dance was taught to me by Nikolai Danilovich Pryadchenko, the late teacher of the National Opera of Ukraine. He gave me an understanding of how to behave on stage, the artistic part. And with this education I went to the West.

The strength of Western educators is that they pay a lot of attention to acting. Their methodology was built around the Russian school, but with innovations. Which, in my opinion, made the school weaker. But the fact that they made the ballet theatrical, this is a plus. The game added a zest to their ballet. So I took the best and combined it into one: both the game and the pure dance.”

The world of ballet is small, and the competition is high. Over the years of work, you have probably come across not only with recognition and admiration, but also with envy. Was there a case that made you think: “Wow, if someone tries to annoy me so much, then I have already achieved something.”

– “There were no obvious signs of envy. But I remember that when I came to work in the theater, I naively believed that I could make friends with all. At least sincerely tried to do it. I was met rather coldly and firmly pushed. After that I decided to keep my distance. I maintained friendly relations, but I did not really make friends with any of my colleagues.”

What is happening today with the classical ballet? Is it more alive than dead, or vice versa?

–  “The ballet is more dead than alive.” And there is nothing very interesting there. The best managers, the best musicians do not go to work with the ballet – apparently, not a big enough audience for them. They prefer movies, games, musicals, other platforms, where there are more spectators. They say if Mozart were alive today, he would write musicals.

To attract the best people to the ballet, there must be a strong industry. The ballet must be shown on television, in cinemas. Good advertising is needed. Dancers should have agent managers who would popularize them themselves, not the theaters where they perform. Now this is not.

Compare opera and ballet. Opera music works with big labels, it’s a huge turnover of money. The opera part of the theater is very rich, very free. The musicians also have strong professional solidarity. Dancers do not have this. They are defenseless, like children. Dancers from school are used to: they tell you – you do it. Silently. They can not even object if they disagree with something. So taught. This, of course, is very convenient for the theater. But not for the industry. In order for it to grow, you need to unite and defend your rights.

The ballet age is short. Career – 10 years. People are changing. There are no those who would say: “Sorry, it will not work.”

Dancers “write off” to retire at 35 years. Does it frighten you?

–  “No, it does not.” I would like to combine the dance with the theater. Take Mikhail Baryshnikov. I do not know exactly how old he is. In sixty? (Baryshnikov is 69. – Focus ). He combines the dance with the theater. And it’s very interesting. We will get something with amazing energy. I will try to put on performances in a new genre. This will bring the dance to a new level and prolong the career of the dancers.”

You rushed to learn a new skill for yourself, in particular, cinema. In “Listen to the song of the wind,” Murakami has these words: “While you are learning something new, aging is not so painful.” Is not that the reason?

–  “When I left the Royal Ballet, I could say what would happen to me in 15 years.” Because there were examples, and history always repeats itself. I thought: “Yeah, I’ll have this and that, and they’ll do this to me and so on.” Is it nice for me? I realized that I had to find another way. Therefore, when I thought that I would leave the ballet, I asked myself: what could I do and want to do? What would make me happy? The answer came instantly: “Cinema“. I loved cinema from my childhood.”

One step before the end of a career

To put the last dance under Take me to church, being in excellent shape, remaining a favorite of spectators and having at least another ten years of ballet career in reserve, is a decisive act. In such situations, the choice of a song is not accidental. Which line from this composition of the Irish musician Hozier is the most important for you?

– “I do not know. In fact, for me, it’s not the lines that matter. I felt the song intuitively. Caught the emotion. And when I rehearsed, I did not dig into words. But the strongest – the first, with the phrase my lover. And the one in which “amen” is sung.”

In this song there are the words I was born sick, but I love it, command me to be well (“I was born sick, but I like it, but lead me to be healed”). Who or what prevented you from being healed of the ballet?

– “To attract the best people to the ballet, there must be a strong industry. Ballet needs to be shown on television, in cinemas.”

– “Feeling like I’m leaving something. That is, I could do something for people, and I leave them. It was like … ( pause )”

On betrayal?

– “It is possible and so to say. Only the feeling of guilt was not there. Rather regret. I regretted that I let down people who needed dance: spectators, dancers.

Then I had no idea that I could change anything. There were no options. It’s just a pity – before my Kiev teacher Nikolai Pryadchenko, before my parents too: I left them for a long time without support and information about what will happen to me next.

I knew that becoming an actor is a long way. And you can never be sure when you will be given a chance. Parents could not know for eight years what awaits me. It was complicated. And I realized that I could not leave it like that. Perhaps, you correctly noticed: such an act could seem to me a betrayal.”

You still feel responsible to your parents, teachers, spectators.  

– “Yes. But now I see that you can change a lot. And I know how.”

Second wind

On the way to the ballet Olympus, for many years you had to keep yourself in an iron grip. Is there a temptation to let go – just because you can afford it now?

– “Not interested. Now it all depends on me – I can rest at any time. But when you decide what to do, you do not choose rest. Such a strange psychology. The more freedom you have, the more work you gain. Well and when it is necessary to earn, then yes, you try to escape from it.

I can fly, move every day. I’m not tired. Because it is a new energy. And if I sit a week in one place, I start to get tired. He also annoys me when I am doing the same thing for a long time. The routine for me is death.”

Rehearsals are also routine.

– “Yes, that’s why I do not like to rehearse. I’ll keep it to a minimum. But again, I do not rehearse in the usual sense: I’m like, I’ll remember and show the spectator. That is, the first time I dance in public, before people.”

What does the average day of Sergei Polunin look like?

–  “The craziest day happened a week ago.” I have been shooting from 6am to 11pm. Even at this time I need to work out in the ballet class. That is, I did it in the afternoon or in the morning. Has slept, has woken up. They called me, I had to withdraw. I shot, the same day I flew from Serbia to Munich, rehearsed until three o’clock in the morning. I learned a new choreography for the ballet to dance the next day. I do not remember exactly what ballet was. After that, jumped into the car, nine hours I was taken to Serbia, we did not have time to shoot. We arrived at six in the morning, began 15-hour shooting.

This week is also not boring. Yesterday I went to bed at two o’clock in the morning, after hours of filming. I fell asleep at three, At four I woke up, and at seven we already went to the canal. A lot of things, but thanks to the fact that the team is good, everything is thought out, and I just have to gain strength and survive ( laughs ).”

In what language do you think?

– “If we talk about common topics, in English. But now I’m getting used to talking in Russian, so I switch. It takes one and a half to two days. As for the ballet, it works not verbal, but imaginative thinking. I feel music, choreography, partner. I do not think it’s important to know what her name is, what a character is, this is information for the viewer. If they want, they will read it. I rely on intuition.”

Today you do not look like a hostage to your own talent, whose life is dedicated exclusively to classical ballet. You have experience shooting in advertising, the first roles in the movie, Project Polunin. You started talking about your own foundation, which would support talented children. That you have to focus on several projects at the same time, fill you or, conversely, devastate?

– “Do more – more power. Your body produces as much energy as you need. If you do 50 things per day, you will be given energy for 50 things. If you do one – you have exactly that much energy and will allocate. Therefore, the bar should be set high.”

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