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“Passion De Deux” Natalia And Sergei

“Passion De Deux” Natalia And Sergei

Passion de deux: The explosive chemistry between Royal Ballet superstar Natalia Osipova and ‘bad boy’ dancer Sergei Polunin

passion de deux
Natalia Osipova with Sergei Polunin

My interview with Russian ballet star Natalia Osipova has not got off to the best of starts. 

So guarded is the darling of the Royal Ballet – who has now segued into modern dance with a risqué new show at Sadler’s Wells – about her love affair with Sergei Polunin, the brooding enfant terrible of dance, that I worry their relationship may be on the rocks.

Dubbed ‘the Brangelina of Ballet’, the two have been together for over a year now. They fell in love while dancing Giselle together in Milan, which sounds so sexy and romantic it makes me feel faint.

Their chemistry – on and off stage – seems quite explosive. I imagine they have fiery rows – and even more heated, er, reconciliations. But to my horror, Natalia says at first that she doesn’t ‘want to discuss our feelings for each other in public’. What?

The dancer, who turned 30 in May, is at pains to demonstrate how much she has grown since her relationship with Sergei began last summer – when, clearly in the throes of early passion, she made the gushing admission that they found it hard to be apart for more than two days.

Sergei – who left the Royal Ballet amid drama and allegations of drug-taking just before Natalia joined as a principal, giving their union a star-crossed twist – has said that he never wants to dance with anyone but Natalia again.

But the Natalia I encounter today – busily rehearsing a contemporary dance ensemble specially choreographed for her by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant and Arthur Pita (Sergei dances the latter two works with her), which will return to Sadler’s Wells later this month after a successful summer run and then transfer to New York – is altogether more composed than she has seemed before.

passion de deux
Natalia and Sergei performing in new dance piece Silent Echo at Sadler’s Wells in June

Despite having made London her home since 2013, Moscow-born Natalia still struggles with the language. ‘This is my biggest challenge. I need to study English and to learn it properly, but there is never the time,’ she sighs.

With the help of a translator, she explains how she has evolved of late. ‘I am a highly emotional person, confident and bold, but ruled by my emotions. I am capable of a sort of madness. If I am feeling emotionally charged, I could buy a ticket and move to another continent!’ she exclaims.

‘I am too spontaneous sometimes. But now that I am 30 I think I am becoming more balanced and getting better at thinking before I speak or act.’

Even just the way Sergei says ‘good luck’ can make me feel much better

Perhaps we can rewind a few months for the sake of this interview, I joke. I am not sure my humour translates. She has previously admitted that, due to their similar temperaments, she and Sergei have been known to clash.

‘We are two strong characters and at times this creates friction, but you learn to make compromises and to find ways of not arguing with your partner,’ she explains. ‘Sergei is a very fiery and emotional person, but he is emotional in a different way to me. I can’t quite explain it. We are different people, of course…’ She trails off, and I get the sense she is wading through verbal quicksand here, resisting the Brangelina-isation of them as a couple, while glorying in the loved-up state she has found herself in.

She doesn’t care what others might make of their relationship, she says. ‘I am sure there were people who had something to say on the matter, but I am not concerned about it.’

And though she is a self-confessed hot-headed leading lady, Natalia reveals that, when dancing with Sergei, she enjoys letting him take control. ‘As a very strong person, I have always tended to take the lead, but with Sergei, it is he who leads.

‘That is the dynamic that works best for the two of us. As a female it’s an interesting feeling and state of mind when the male can take charge on stage. It has been something new for me and I like it.’

passion de deux
 Natalia and Sergei performing in Run Mary Run by Arthur Pita, specially commissioned for them, at Sadler’s Wells in June

‘We are at a different point in our relationship now. We are very solid and open with each other. We understand that work is work and we both have to make professional decisions. We wouldn’t restrict ourselves to only dancing with each other, because it wouldn’t be the best decision for our careers.’

But wouldn’t she feel jealous watching Sergei dance with another? ‘On a personal level, it would be bad to see him with someone else, but professionally, no,’ she insists. ‘I am very lucky that I am not and never have been a jealous person.’

This trait must have come in handy when Natalia’s relationship with her former boyfriend, Russian ballet star Ivan Vasiliev, broke up shortly before she moved to London and took up with Sergei.

The pair had been the golden couple of the Bolshoi, but rumour had it (supported by Vasiliev’s own admission) that he left her for a younger dancer – ballerina Maria Vinogradova, to whom he is now married. (This scandal was referred to as ‘the Bolshoi love triangle’.)

‘I don’t listen to any gossip,’ Natalia says curtly. ‘Ivan and I have a good relationship. We are in close touch. We don’t see each other often, as we live in different places, but when we do it is very warm and fine. We have danced together since we split and I would happily do so again.’

For the moment, though, Natalia remains focused on dancing with Sergei in the independent Sadler’s Wells production, which represents a departure for her as a classically trained ballerina.

Staged in three parts, it involves a lot of strutting and shimmying, with costumes that could not be more unlike the restrictive, conservative ones worn in ballet.

The pair entwine themselves seductively in distressed jeans and T-shirts, perfect for showing off Sergei’s extensive collection of tattoos. ‘The less I wear, the more comfortable I am, so I loved this costume,’ says Natalia.

‘It felt so much lighter and freer than ballet clothes. The best part has been working directly with brilliant choreographers and creating amazing poses together. My body has had to get used to using different muscles, but I am loving it.’

And how does she feel about her paramour’s tattoos? ‘Actually, I like them,’ she giggles. ‘I think they reflect his personality quite organically. I am not planning to get any myself,’ she adds hastily. ‘I don’t think they would be suitable on my body.’

Lovers on stage and off, dancing their hearts out in denim, and a male lead who could be described as ‘a bit of rough’… comparisons to my favourite film, Dirty Dancing, are impossible to ignore.

Does Natalia feel a bit like Jennifer Grey to Sergei’s Patrick Swayze? ‘I love that film. It’s very iconic, but for some reason I never made this association.’

Like Dirty Dancing, Natalia Osipova and Guests, as the performance is titled (I wonder how Sergei feels about that), is about love.

‘It is set in the 1960s and about two people who are in love; the male character dies and she continues loving him [in one scene she tries to pull him from the grave]. It is deeply romantic, about love that surpasses death – not just love, but loyalty; about a woman who thinks she’ll never be able to be with anyone else.’

As a very strong person I tend to take the lead, but with Sergei it is he who leads

Given that Natalia commissioned the three pieces – each one written for her by a top choreographer (such is her star quality, they presumably jumped at the chance) – I can’t help but think that this gives an insight into the depth of her feelings for Sergei.

Having initially said that she didn’t want to discuss him, Natalia has let the word ‘we’ creep into her speech when discussing the man with whom she has shared a stage and now a life and a home.

‘We love Japanese food,’ she says in response to my question about what she likes to eat. ‘We just like to go to small local restaurants, nowhere fancy.’

 On a perfect weekend, ‘we like to walk around the canals in our neighbourhood of Little Venice and maybe visit London Zoo. We spend as much time outdoors as we can. We like to lie in bed as long as possible first, though, to feel fresh. Ideally, I would lie in until about 11am.

‘We like to cook together, although I am not a very good cook. Sergei is much better than me. He cooks mostly.’

It all sounds very domestic. Do they want children? ‘I think that should be the aim for every woman. That’s my point of view,’ says Natalia, somewhat cryptically. ‘We know each other’s families very well now too; there are good relations between the families.’

It was, in fact, through family that the two came together. Natalia is exceptionally close to her parents, who still live in Moscow, and tries to visit as often as her schedule allows.

‘I feel a huge responsibility to make them proud and pay them back for the sacrifices they made to allow my ballet career to happen. They were not well off – my father is an engineer and my mother doesn’t work – but they always found a way to give me opportunities, whether it be taking me to the theatre or finding money for dance lessons.’

Initially, Natalia was not drawn to ballet. She started out as a gymnast and it was her parents – presciently spotting her greater potential for dance – who insisted that she make the transition. ‘I wasn’t happy about it at first,’ she recalls, ‘but gradually I got used to it, and now I am so happy that I made that change and so grateful that they insisted.’

When Natalia was due to appear in Giselle in Milan in 2015 and her partner fell ill, it was her mother’s idea that she contact Sergei to see if he might stand in, so she sent him an email.

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 Natalia and Sergei in Run Mary Run

‘He had at the time gone off by himself.’ (In a strop, so it was said, after spiralling into unhappiness and cocaine use, to explore a freelance career as a dancer/actor/model.) ‘My mother had seen him dance and suggested he might be a good pairing for me in this role.

‘That’s how it all started. I knew of his excellent reputation as a dancer. And as to his other reputations…it was his dancing that I chose to focus on and that made me write to him,’ she says diplomatically.

And was it love at first sight? ‘Yes. From the first meeting there were very strong feelings. We both understood there was something special.’

This attraction was palpable – and their performance so widely acclaimed that they will reprise the roles in a production of Giselle in Munich this month.

‘It was very emotional dancing with Sergei that first time,’ Natalia reminisces. ‘We came together as individuals, with our own experiences, and something a bit magic happened. I think the audience could feel it. It was emotionally very charged. I think they had a great time watching us in that show. Giselle is so romantic and will always be my favourite ballet.’

Natalia leads a highly regimented life as a dancer, with long days of rehearsals and few breaks. She has, like most top ballerinas, been dogged by injury. ‘This is part of my professional life and something I have to live with, but my injuries aren’t giving me too much grief at the moment.’

Though only 5ft 5in tall, with tiny bones, she feels that her body is oaf-like by dancing standards. ‘It has been a challenge,’ she sighs. ‘I have to be very strict with what I eat. I have nothing made of flour and no sugar. I eat mostly salads.’


Fashion failsafe For a red-carpet event, it has to be Alexander McQueen.

Film to curl up in front of I love Francis Ford Coppola and The Godfather, and Sergei’s favourite actor is Mickey Rourke, so we try to watch anything he is in.

Plan B I would be a painter. I love getting my paints out and am thinking of doing a course soon.

Style inspiration I love the actresses from bygone French cinema; I particularly admire Fanny Ardant.

Listening to Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald and Otis Redding. We have a record player and their songs sound best on vinyl.

Go-to countries Israel was beautiful and fascinating. And Beijing has pandas – my favourite animal – in the zoo. I missed rehearsals to look at them.

Last meal on earth Spaghetti – because that is what I have to deny myself as a dancer.

Alternative dance partner Carlos Acosta is a genius and it is the greatest honour to dance with him. When I first joined the Royal Ballet he took so much time to make me feel welcome. He has a magnetism and a talent that is unsurpassed. 

Having a man in her life who understands the sacrifices required of her must make things easier? ‘I don’t know any different because my boyfriends have only been from the dance world, and it seems to have worked out pretty well so far,’ she says coyly. ‘It’s a nice feeling to be with someone who understands.’

Natalia once said she found pre-performance nerves so bad that she wanted to run away. Having Sergei by her side makes a difference.

‘With age, I have got better at managing the nerves. Now I know how to not let it get to that point. I arrive at the theatre much earlier and spend some time on the stage, living the life of my character before the show. That is really helpful.

‘ It’s such an individual state, so even Sergei can’t always help me, but it is great when he’s there beside me. He can try to calm me down. Even just the way he says “good luck” can make me feel much better.’

When I ask if Sergei would consider a return to the Royal Ballet, as some have speculated he might (it would, after all, make sense with her there), Natalia will only say, ‘I can’t answer that. It is a question for him. But he is an outstanding dancer and I think it would be really interesting if he did decide to.’

Either way, the pair intend to partner on stage as much as possible – even if not exclusively. ‘We want to find a way to do more together,’ Natalia reveals, sounding for a moment a bit too smitten, and then correcting herself.

‘I mean, I would like to think that of course we are professionals, so we would dance our best with anyone. It shouldn’t make a difference, but…it is such a special feeling to dance with the person you love.’

i-D Magazine Shoot & Interview 2013

i-D Magazine Shoot & Interview 2013

Sergei Polunin for i-D Magazine

Intense, charismatic and wildly talented, Sergei Polunin is covered in tattoos, can party like the best of us, and is changing the shape of ballet as we know it.

Sergei Polunin is not your typical prim and proper, principal ballet dancer.

It’s midnight in Moscow when we speak to him and he’s just finished performing his lead role in the premiere of La Bayadère, a dramatic ballet about love, jealousy, noble warriors and cruel princesses, but he’s about to dance to a different tune, as he gets ready to hit the strip. “I’m a night person, I like night more than day,” he explains, in a seductive Ukrainian drawl, after telling us his usual bedtime is 6am. You’ve probably seen his name in the paper recently, along with the phrase “ballet’s bad boy” and a picture of a skinny but muscular, half naked man with scarification on his chest.

Youngest ever principal dancer at the age of 19.

The 23-year-old earned his tabloid headline when he dropped out of The Royal Ballet School less than two years after becoming its youngest ever principal dancer at the age of 19; he disappeared just days before the opening night of his London Coliseum show, Midnight Express, and was totally open about dancing on stage while high on cocaine. But, as only the incredibly beautiful and incredibly talented do, he got away with it; the world of showbiz “blasé’d” over those “tombé’s” and welcomed him back.

Sergei is a dark and brooding mix of beauty, adrenaline, rebelliousness and nonchalance.

Now he’s part of the Stanislavsky Moscow Music Theatre; his mentor is the Stanislavsky Ballet’s director, Igor Zelensky, and every dancer in the world wants his role. Known for having a strange ambivalence towards the art form he has dedicated his life to so far, Sergei is a dark and brooding mix of beauty, adrenaline, rebelliousness and nonchalance, who has fascinated and enchanted not only the dance stratosphere but the mainstream press and the fashion world too.

Q:  What do you do for fun, when you’re not working?
Drinking! Drinking and smoking, like normal people. Going to restaurants, having a cigarette, having a drink. I spend a lot of time with Igor Zelensky. He’s like a father figure, you know. He’s lived through everything and he knows what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s nice to have a person you can trust.

Q:  Does Igor go out drinking with you?
Not so much, he tells me what’s right, I’m the one who goes a bit crazy!

Q:  Have you ever gone to work hung over?
If I don’t want to, I just don’t go in. It’s my choice and my director understands me, so it’s great. I try to practise as little as possible because it’s kind of a waste of time if you’re a professional already. Sometimes I only do one rehearsal before the ballet and I’m ready to go. It’s a bit unusual because in London, for example, you rehearse for a month, but here in Russia it’s much quicker and the result is the same. For La Bayadère the whole company was doing it for probably two months, rehearsing hard. I just did it for a week and it was a big success. I like spontaneity in the performance, so I don’t over-rehearse it. I like little surprises. It keeps me interested in the ballet. You give everything to the audience, but you need to keep yourself interested as well because if you don’t like what you’re doing, then it’s hard to keep going.

Q:  Do you ever get nervous?
Not anymore. I try to enjoy the show now. You have to live your role, you have to get over it and carry on. It’s your life and you have to enjoy it. That way you don’t get nervous about steps, you’re just living the character.

Q:  You mentioned before that you wanted fame because it opens doors. What would you want to do with your fame?
I don’t really like my own dancing, so it’s very hard for me to stay interested in something I don’t really like myself in. I can’t watch myself in anything.Film is definitely interesting, but I don’t believe in myself [enough] for that. I do get offers and maybe I will get there, but you need to have faith, you need to like yourself doing it. There are so many different things you can do in life; life is interesting in general. Even going into the army… I think that’s what men should do, that’s how it used to be. But then you have to think, “What will I miss out on if I go there?” While you’re young, try a lot. You have to do as many things in life as possible. When you get older you start to get scared of things, you know, you get a family and you start to think more. When you’re young everything is open for you.

Q:  The fashion world has sort of taken you in, is that something you’re interested in?
It’s definitely a different world, it’s interesting, but you need to have another job. I don’t think it’s a man’s job to do just that. You have to be somebody and then do that on the side. I don’t think it’s a man’s job to just be pretty! I like it when it’s a boxer doing fashion, or a footballer, you have to be somebody. A lot of people wouldn’t agree with me, but that’s what I think.

Q:  This is The Collectors Issue of i-D, do you collect anything?
Girls! I’m joking. What else do you collect as a man?!

Q:  Have you ever broken anyone’s heart?
No, I take care of people and I love people.

Q:  Has a girl ever broken your heart?
Yes. In London I was with a really nice girl from my company. You know, you get used to the person… I had to leave London. I did love her.

Q:  Do you use that experience when you dance?
Yes, definitely. I think it’s very important to use your experiences and it definitely shows on stage, one hundred percent. You imagine different people and it brings different feelings out, so it’s important to have as many experiences as possible and then show them to the audience. Giselle was one of the first ballets where I used those feelings. [When you] break up with a girl, for you it’s like she’s dying, and when she’s dying during the ballet, it really helps you to show the right feelings. It probably takes two or three days to get over the emotional bit of ballet.

Q:  Do you think it’s easier to dance light-hearted ballets like Coppélia?
I hate happy ballets! I hate showing happiness in ballet. I think it’s very stupid. I like more emotional, sad, maybe evil characters, but definitely not happy ones. I mean it’s a positive energy coming out of me, but it doesn’t have to be happy ballet.

Q:  If you could dance with any girl in the world, who would you choose?
Madonna! She’s interesting… I’m joking, I don’t know. I’ve never met her.

Q:  Do you collect anything else?
Yeah, I collect tattoos, I’ve got probably fifteen or sixteen. The one with the tiger scratches on my chest was the first one. I had the tattoo and it wasn’t very good, so I had to cut a little bit of colour off, so it became half scratches, half tattoo. It’s like scarring, you just cut it off.

Q:  Was it painful?
No, not really.

Q:  What’s your favourite one?
Probably Igor’s face on my shoulder!

Q:  What was his reaction to that?
He didn’t say anything…

Q:  Are you happier now?
Yes, everything’s going well. I love Russia. As long as I have Igor Zelensky by my side everything is going well!


Prior to landing his first campaign as the face of Marc Jacobs Menswear FW14, Sergei Polunin was shot by Sølve Sundsbø for the winter 2013 issue of i-D Magazine.

The ballet star won notoriety in 2012 after disappearing from The Royal Ballet School just days before the opening night of his London show. Sergei has since go on to dance with The Stanislavsky Music Theatre and Novosibirsk State Academic Opera in Russia.

In the profile for i-D, when asked about modelling, Sergei said “It’s definitely a different world, it’s interesting, but you need to have another job. I don’t think it’s a man’s job to do just that. You have to be somebody and then do that on the side. I don’t think it’s a man’s job to just be pretty!”



Sergei Sells 2,000 Tickets In 4 Minutes

Sergei Sells 2,000 Tickets In 4 Minutes

The world-renowned personality of contemporary ballet will present two choreographies at the Slovak National Theatre in September.

A rare opportunity to see his mastery first-hand comes with the Slovak premiere of the film Dancer, in which US director Steven Cantor captures the exceptional career of this man and explores the luck he had and the price he paid to become “the James Dean of the Ballet”, the SND wrote in a press release.

After the screening of the film and a performance of Polunin, a discussion with him will follow, exploring his views on dance and the ups and downs of his life, hosted by the producer of the evening, Milosh Harajda.

“As soon as I saw the premiere of Dancer in London, I contacted the producers and wanted the distribution rights for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, especially as the latter country neighbours his homeland, the Ukraine,” Harajda said for SND. “I knew the audience in Slovakia would appreciate his life story in a different way and this was confirmed on the day when we launched the sale of tickets; 2,000 of them were sold in four minutes, which is an historical record for the Czech national theatre,” he summed up.

From Ukraine to top ballet ensemble(s)

Sergei Polunin was born in 1989 in Cherson, Ukraine, and started ballet aged four. From the age of eight, he attended the State Choreographic Institute in Kiev. From the age of 13, he has been living in the UK, where he became the youngest member of the Royal Ballet, London at 19, and was appointed the lead at age 23. Since then, he has shocked the world several times, for example when he announced that he would stop dancing to pursue an acting career, only to change his mind and remain faithful to ballet.

His last piece should have been the video directed by US photographer and music director David La Chapelle to the song Take Me to Church (by Hozier), which, to the contrary, only boosted the global fame and prestige of Polunin.

The performance in Bratislava’s SND building on September 26 is (apart from a later gig in London) his only live dance this year the Slovak National Theatre informed. This is his first performance in this country.

We Have Been Given A Treasure, Thank You Tatyana!

We Have Been Given A Treasure, Thank You Tatyana!

I would like to thanks Tatyana Kaya for helping answer a question so many Sergei Polunin fans have had for ages now.  He mentions often that he does not take class with other dancers.  He prefers to do a typical Russian ballet barre and center himself, every day.  Alone in his solitude, using classical music, rap, or nothing at all.  As dancers, dance teachers, and fans, we have wondered what exactly this class consisted of, and now, thanks to Tatyana, we have a much better understanding.

Here is the video in question, and I shall include Tatyana’s translation below.  Enjoy!!!


“To tell you the truth, they (exercises) are always boring. So, you take 4 moves forward, 4 moves aside and 4 moves back, and the same things on another side. Then sit in plié, but try to be firm to avoid over-extention. If you get injured by over-extention at class, your audience won’t see you then (laughs). Take care of yourself! So you sit in plié, then on another side (he moves), then you move your leg a bit higher. I do it like “cross type”. And repeat on another side. And ‘rond des jambes’ is the most difficult because here you should throw your leg higher without toughening them.

Then I do this type of stretching and if I do this, then I’m ready to perform. Then ‘fondu’ – forward, aside and back, and turn to another side. I want to note that there is no need to strictly follow ballet body positions – the way classic dancers do, because it clamps you. If you just exercise, you are already an alive human being. Music (rock or rap) also helps you to unleash yourself. So you should show not hide yourself on the stage, but many people clamp themselves unfortunately. I mix classical (as I’m good at it) with artistic and many other styles, just the way I want it.

Also ‘rond des jambes’, just to tell you, is always a problem for me, and I don’t know why. I can never bend my back behind I don’t know why. All the ballet dancers can bend back and I always do ‘adagio’ like this (he shows). And when teachers come they are always shocked when they see me at class because it’s all wrong. (He speaks ironically:)

I always finish my classes with ‘grand bâttement’ – when you throw your legs forward, aside and back. And now the most difficult part begins because you are a bit tired already but you are to complete your class. And you start doing the same things just with one leg – small ‘tendu’, then a bit higher, adagio – the simplest one, just to warm up your body. And ‘grand bâttement.

I never practise ‘pirouettes’, because I’m not into them, so I always have some difficulties on the stage (ironical cutie he is!), so I never try them. Then small jumps, this way (he shows), and aside, and take a 40 second pause, then go on jumping. Take a pause and jump ‘assemblée’ forward and back, then ‘jeté’ which is a must. After jeté I can dance. I never take high jumps because the body isn’t warmed up yet, but the shower always helps. If you take a hot shower after such ‘hot rock’ (he means an intensive class), then your body “activates”. So you couldn’t do anything, but then you took shower and…well, this is my usual day. – How much time does the class usually take you? – Well about an hour.”

Sergei Polunin Cast In Nureyev Drama “The White Crow”

Sergei Polunin Cast In Nureyev Drama “The White Crow”


Ralph Fiennes joins cast of his Nureyev drama ‘The White Crow’


Sergei Polunin

Ralph Fiennes has joined the cast of The White Crow, his project about Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.  Fiennes will play Nureyev’s teacher and mentor, Pushkin, who helped launch Nureyev’s career out of St Petersburg, and will also direct the feature.

As previously reported, professional dancer Oleg Ivenko will play the lead role of Nureyev.  Fellow dancer Sergei Polunin, Blue Is The Warmest Colour star Adèle Exarchopoulos and Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova are among the cast.

The production has also attached Elle star Laurent Lafitte, The French Minister star Raphaël Personnaz, Personal Shopper actor Calypso Valois and Land Of Mine star Louis Hofmann in time for its summer 2017 shoot.  Locations include St Petersburg, Paris, the Mariinsky Theatre and the Palais Garnier.

Book To Film

Two-time Oscar-nominee David Hare (The Hours, The Reader) has adapted the screenplay from Julie Kavanagh’s book Rudolf Nureyev.  The iconic dancer’s famed defection is charted in the book.  Ultimately, he was able to leave the Soviet Union and go to the West, despite KGB efforts to stop him.

BBC Films is developing the film and Gabrielle Tana is producing.  She recently produced the documentary Dancer, about prodigal talent Sergei Polunin.  Tana will produce through Magnolia Mae Productions alongside former Pathé executive François Ivernel (The Iron Lady) under his banner Montebello Productions.  Joe Oppenheimer and Beth Pattinson are the executive producers for BBC Films.

Crew include costume designer Madeline Fontaine (Jackie), DoP Mike Eley (Marley),  and composer Ilan Eshkeri (Dancer).  Igor Zelensky. artistic director at the Novosibirsk Theatre of Opera and Ballet, will oversee the classical choreography.  Tony Award winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon (An American In Paris) in charge of special choreography.  HanWay Films is handling sales and will be shopping the project in Cannes.

Simon Beresford at Dalzell & Beresford, Bryan Lourd and Joel Lubin at CAA represent Mr. Fiennes.

Change of Heart For Ballet’s Bad Boy, Sergei Polunin,

Change of Heart For Ballet’s Bad Boy, Sergei Polunin,

Sergei Polunin
 Sergei Polunin became a YouTube star, dancing to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” in a video by David LaChapelle, the photographer and filmmaker.  He credits this video with his change of heart.   Credit:  David LaChapelle/British Broadcasting Corporation and Polunin Ltd., via Sundance Selects

“Take Me To Church” Video Brings About Change

LONDON — The first image is of a man kneeling in a misty white light, his head bowed, his tattoo-covered, muscular torso swaying rhythmically, side to side. Then, we see an opera house, the audience arriving, musicians warming up. Eventually to a backstage dressing room where the dancer — Sergei Polunin — in makeup and costume, is in his dressing room, taking various pills and potions. “Soon I am going to be so high,” he says gleefully, doing quick jumps to warm up, in front of a mirror.

Dancer,” a documentary film by Steven Cantor that opens Friday, Sept. 9, encapsulates the contradictions and anomalies that have made the Ukranian-born Mr. Polunin, 26, a controversial, even notorious, figure in the ballet world, and also a viral sensation whose “Take Me to Church” video is edging toward 16 million views on YouTube.

The Prodigy

The greatest dancer of his generation.  A once-in-a-lifetime talent.  Better than Nureyev.  No, better than Nijinsky. These are some of the things written and said about Mr. Polunin, both during his years training at the Royal Ballet School, then after joining the Royal Ballet in 2007.  Soon, three years later, at 19, he became the company’s youngest-ever principal dancer, rapidly taking on most of the major male roles in the classical repertory, to increasing acclaim.

Two years later, with no warning, he walked out. In interviews, he said he was tired of boring rehearsals, the punishing discipline and the physical stress of ballet, and dissatisfied with its meager financial rewards. He talked about the tattoo parlor that he co-owned in north London, tweeted provocatively about drugs and parties, and said he wanted a change, to live a normal life, perhaps get into films. The British media, shocked and titillated by Mr. Polunin’s sudden role reversal, christened him the bad boy of ballet, and the dance press wrung its collective hands over what had gone wrong.

“I was sort of sabotaging myself,” Mr. Polunin said in an interview over lunch.  Fine-boned and soft-voiced, he ate steak with steamed vegetables, drank orange juice and seemed younger than his 26 years.  “At the time, it was kind of funny. I would tweet something as a joke, and it would hit the media.  I sort of played with the bad-boy thing, and I gave a couple of interviews where I said stupid things. Generally I was very happy with the Royal, who gave me everything. But I had worked so hard to be a principal, and when I got there, I felt, I can’t afford a car. I felt I’d been betrayed. My fantasy about being the best, a celebrity, was all wrong.”

The “Bad Boy Of Ballet”

Mr. Polunin suddenly achieved a celebrity of sorts in Britain.  The wrong sort.  Offers of work, initially pressing, slipped away.

It was around this time that Mr. Polunin met the film producer Gabrielle Tana, who had optioned Julie Kavanagh’s biography of Nureyev and was looking for dancers for the film.  Although Ms. Tana, and Ralph Fiennes, who will direct the biopic (production begins next year) decided that Mr. Polunin wasn’t right for the role, Ms. Tana was fascinated by what she learned of Mr. Polunin’s story, which Ms. Kavanagh documented in a long 2012 profile:  his difficult early life growing up in the depressed town of Kherson in Ukraine; the family sacrifices made for his career; his move at 13, speaking no English, to the Royal Ballet School; his early success and fast burnout.

“I thought it was not just a compelling narrative but also the opportunity to capture someone brilliant in the prime of their career,” Ms. Tana said in an interview.  “We didn’t really know what it would be, and Sergei was very wary at first. Therefore we were scared we would lose him.”

To Russia For A Change

By mid-2012, Mr. Polunin, who had been hoping to perform with American Ballet Theater, had moved to Moscow to dance with the Stanislavsky Theater.  Although Mr. Polunin adored working with the company’s director, Igor Zelensky, who had recruited him, he found himself once again restless and discontented 18 months later.  “It became more repetitive, more about making money, somehow for wrong reasons,” Mr. Polunin said.  “I didn’t want to be comfortable, I wanted to challenge myself.  I quit, again, not in a good way.”

To take Mr. Polunin out of the ballet box, Ms. Tana suggested he work on a new segment for the documentary with David LaChapelle, the photographer and filmmaker who had directed “Rize,” a documentary about the street dance krumping.  “I thought, fine, this will be my last dance, my goodbye to ballet,” Mr. Polunin recalled.  Mr. LaChapelle suggested Hozier’s song “Take Me to Church,” and filmed the dance (choreographed by Mr. Polunin’s Royal Ballet School friend Jade Hale-Christofi) in the bare white space of the filmmaker’s studio in Hawaii.  In ripped flesh-colored tights, his tattoos and muscles equally on display, Mr. Polunin is presented as a kind of sacrificial figure, leaping and crouching in an unabashed display of raw emotion as well as powerful physicality.

The emotion was very real.  “I cried for hours” during filming, he said.  Throughout the day, I realized I’m leaving behind everything I have learned, my teachers, the audience.  Finally, I kept thinking about my mum I’m letting down.”

“Dancer” The Documentary

It was those expectations, and the family drama behind Mr. Polunin’s actions, that became the crux of “Dancer” — a surprise for those expecting a more sensational tale.  “It became a story of sacrifice on every level,” said Mr. Cantor, an Oscar- and Emmy-nominated documentary director whom Ms. Tana approached in 2014.

“His family did anything they could to get this golden child to the top of his craft,” Mr. Cantor added.  “His father moved to work in Portugal and his grandmother to Greece.  Further breaking the family unit, his mother moved with him to one room in Kiev so that he could go to a better ballet school.”

Mr. Cantor said that he thought the extensive conversations he had with Mr. Polunin during the filmmaking process were cathartic for the dancer.  “It became clear that he was dancing as hard as he could to get his family back together. Then his parents got divorced, and finally he felt, what am I dancing for?  He consequently lost his will and went off the rails.”

Although Mr. Cantor had interviewed Mr. Polunin’s relatives extensively and shot footage in Kherson, his family-centered approach to the documentary received an enormous lift when, late in the day, the dancer’s mother, Galina Polunina, sent him “a treasure trove” of home videos.  “It’s astonishing that they even had a video camera,” Mr. Cantor said.  “They had no money, and it wasn’t common then.”  The touching footage of Mr. Polunin as a young child and outstandingly talented teenager, his desperate need to be best, his vulnerable cockiness, especially lend a new and touching slant to the well-known bad-boy narrative.

The Change Of Heart

The film also documents Mr. Polunin’s change of heart about ballet after making the “Take Me to Church” video.  Since then, he has continued to dance with the Stanislavsky company and the Novosibirsk Ballet (also run by Mr. Zelensky, who is now heading the Munich Ballet), has performed at La Scala, and has been in a program of contemporary work with his girlfriend of 18 months, the ballerina Natalia Osipova, who is a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet.  He would especially like, he said, to perform there again.

The huge online success of the video was an important factor in his decision to keep dancing, Mr. Cantor said.  “I think it made him feel he could reach people, and gave him the courage to go on,” he said.  “We had thought maybe it was the end of the story, however, it was not.”

Mr. Polunin found “Dancer” very hard to watch the first time.  “It made me feel really sad,” he said.  “But it is all true.”

Tattoos Of Sergei Polunin “A Body Of Art” The Why.

Tattoos Of Sergei Polunin “A Body Of Art” The Why.

The Tattoos Of Sergei Polunin / Сергей Полунин “A Body Of Art” His tattoos and the reasons behind them.

The many tattoos of Sergei Polunin

Interviews, still pics, and video footage of Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin and his tattoos. Documentary style video of the young phenom who went from a poverty-stricken young boy in the Ukraine to a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet in London in record breaking time.  While there he descended into a period of depression and self harm during which he acquired a multitude of body art and self inflicted scars.  He has since returned to the light and is happily dancing around the world.

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Sergei Polunin Is Groovy

Sergei Polunin Is Groovy

Groovy little moments with Sergei Polunin.

Spend a little time with this force of nature ballet star.  You won’t be sorry.

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Who is Sergei Polunin?




I see this site as an archive.  A collection of all things Sergei Polunin.  A keeping place for anything and everything having to do with this dancer, man, human being.  So far, in his short 27 years, he has turned the dance world on it’s ear more than once, and I foresee him doing likewise with anything he sets his mind to.  He is a phenomenal ballet dancer, a stunning man, a beautiful, flawed human being.  While most of us do so in the privacy of our own darkened room, he had to grow up under a magnifying glass.  He went through the crap all of us do at that age with the world’s collective eye upon him.  Yet, somehow, he was able to emerge on the other side in a pool of light, with visions and plans and a new sense of self.  As he saut de chats into his future, I give away my age as I say, “More power to you, Sergei.  Keep on keepin’ on.”

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