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Ballet Legend Sergei Polunin, A 2016 Interview

Ballet Legend Sergei Polunin, A 2016 Interview

Ballet Legend Sergei Polunin

An Interview With Ballet Legend Sergei Polunin 

By Lauren Sanderson

 

Throughout Sergei Polunin’s career he has been branded a rebel, compared to James Dean and been nicknamed the ‘bad boy’ of ballet but who is this legendary dancer?  We grab five minutes with the dance sensation to find out.

How did you feel when you were first approached to do Steven Cantor’s documentary Dancer?
I didn’t really know how it would turn out. At the beginning I knew I wanted to film in different countries and show the beauty of different cultures, but I honestly didn’t know where it would lead.

Did you expect the documentary to receive such a big reaction?
I had no idea.  I was so surprised how well people reacted and I’m really happy how it turned out. It was all down to an incredible team and an incredible producer, Gabrielle Tana, who became my guardian angel.

The dance you performed to Hozier’s Take Me to Church was supposed to be your final dance, what made you continue?
The dance went on for nine hours and during this time I had a lot to think about and I was sure I was going to give it up. I knew I wanted to stop dance and do something else but Take Me to Church was extremely emotional and I began to think about what and who I’d be leaving behind. I started to think that maybe I’m missing something, maybe there is still something left to explore. Afterwards I went back to Russia and danced for free for a couple of months to remind myself of the reason I’m dancing.

Dancers are seen to have a clean body image but you have a lot of tattoos. What was the influence behind them?
When I was a kid I always used to draw on myself and I knew I was going to have tattoos. I liked and respected people with tattoos especially people who had them on their face or their hands because they represent freedom to me. They’re not the type of people who would judge others. In ballet school there are really strict rules and one of those rules was no tattoos so I guess I’m breaking the dance norms but it feels right to me.

When you were younger what did you aspire to be?
I always wanted to be a boxer.

You’re seen as the ‘bad boy’ of ballet, did you set out to create this image to defy the norms?
I definitely played on it. It was more for the media and I decided to play along with it but it actually made my life more difficult because nobody wanted to work with me afterwards. It was difficult because the big companies would rather work with someone safe and predictable. I was essentially digging my own grave.

Do you feel like the media has played a big part in where you are today?
Definitely. Especially the internet and YouTube.

What’s been your biggest challenge to date?
I have so many goals. It’s hard sometimes because I still want to dance, I still take class’s everyday but I also want to study acting and I want to choreograph work. I’m creating my own company called ‘Project Polunin’, to help dancers with their careers and hopefully help to move dance forward.  I’m also going to be in a movie. It’s a challenge because there is so much I want to do but it’s extremely exciting.

In the documentary you mentioned that while at the Royal Ballet you felt you’d reached your potential with the company and always strived for more, is that still the case?
Right now I’m in the position where I wanted to be when I was 19. Back then it was the media that made me out to be a bad guy instead of listening to what I was really saying. I also forgot to listen to myself about what I had originally set out to do, but now I’m back doing what I intended to do and believed in. Creation stimulates me and there are so many exciting things to look forward to as an artist. I’m in a good place; I just wish I didn’t have to go through such a long journey to get to it.

You mentioned you are going to be in a movie, that’s exciting! What type of movie is it?
It’s a big Hollywood movie, but I can’t give too much away. It’s going to be very interesting!

Do you see yourself heading for Hollywood?
If it was my choice yes! It’s definitely where I want to go.

What things other than dance inspire you?
At the moment movies really inspire me. Mickey Rourke is a big inspiration in my life and I also love Johnny Depp. It’s more about who they are in real life than who they are on the screen.

Are you looking forward to your trip to New Zealand next year?
I’m coming over to dance with Natalia Osipova who is a Principal at the Royal Ballet. I’m so excited! I also love nature, I think it’s one of the most important things in our lives and I’ve heard that New Zealand is a beautiful country.

Do you have any advice for any budding dancers out there?
I’d say get a manager or an agent and I’d also say work really hard but make sure you experience life.

What do you think the future holds for Ballet?
Dance is so important to everyone because it’s an international language, every country understands it. I think a big change is coming. I’m hoping that the industry will reach the same level as sport or cinema and it’s definitely possible! Football wasn’t at the level it’s at now 15 years ago. Watch out for something big!


Thanks to Vendetta Films and 818 Entertainment for making this interview possible!
Dancer is out now, screening at selected cinemas.

Poetry In Motion

Poetry In Motion

A collection of original poems written by Pam Boehme Simon (me) that were inspired by the visual and visceral tsunami evoked by Sergei Polunin when he dances (or just stares into the camera), and the videos that go with each.  A few quotes from other random folks as well…

 

 

Exquisite Torture

 

“This is about ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, and the exquisite torture he endures, yet embraces.

In no other art form is the artist so much the medium in which he works as in dance.

A dancer so divine no longer belongs to himself but to the art. He is a prisoner of, and to, the art form which he himself helps create.

In this prison, the dancer languishes, yet revels. It can not be denied or forsaken.

So, gloriously, the dancer throws himself into the exquisite torture.”

– Pam Boehme Simon

 

Visages De Sergei

 

“His high caliber power, strength, and ballon is belied by the beautiful vulnerability in his eyes. Through clear, blue clerestories witness the joy, the sadness, the torment, and the exultation of the artist.”

– Pam Boehme Simon

 

Dream On

 

“Are you a divine human? Or a human-esque deity?

Either way, we would keep you on the wooden pedestal where we come to worship. When the curtains part and you are bathed in the light of our admiration, our hearts soar.

I dream that your heart is with ours. For a soul so beauteously gifted, ballet should not catch and pinch. What you have given ballet, I dream is returned to you many times over.

I dream that what we see as you dance upon the pedestal, mirrors your happiness of being.

And finally, I dream the flickering spark that stirred you to discover your offerings, flares bright once more so that the shackles and weights you have come to know burn away, leaving you with the release and euphoria given you by ballet in the beginning.”

– Pam Boehme Simon

 

Rarest Spun Heaven Metal

 

“Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now.” – Alex, A Clockwork Orange

 

The Agony and the Ecstasy

 

“Dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life.” – Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy

“One should not become an artist because he can, but because he must.” – Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy

 

Dancing Star

 

“You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

 

Rebel

 

“Sergei channels his idol, James Dean. But with his brooding good looks, and the white hot intensity with which he completely destroys the stage, Sergei is the truer rebel.

Outspoken, and silent. Disciplined by ballet, but branded with a wild streak. Bound to the earth, yet consistently defies gravity. Can’t find bliss in the dance world… can’t breathe without it.”

– Pam Boehme Simon

 

For No One

 

“He left dance. He had danced for everyone…except himself.

Until the fire inside his soul began to die. But the ember was still warm.

His body and soul still longed to dance despite his mind’s objections. They fought against each other until raw emotion took over and banished the doubts.

Now purged, a new wind blew and the ember sparked. Now he knew. He had to dance. He must dance. But now, for no one… except himself.”

– Pam Boehme Simon

 

On the Eighth Day

 

“…and on the Eighth Day, the gods created a magnificent gift in the form of flesh, bone, muscle and sinew.

Beauteous to behold, within lives a soul, heart, spirit and passion equal to the instrument the gods so blessed him with.

So perfectly balanced is each exquisite aspect that he is capable of transcending mortal bounds and is free to move and dance with the elements of nature.

Earth, wind, fire, water… he imitates each at will…. and, we are thrilled at the sight.”

– Pam Boehme Simon

 

Breathless

 

“Breathless… as he dances. Breathless… as we watch.  He leaves us breathless with his raw emotion and flawless technique. Breathless that we are so blessed to witness him in his prime.

Future generations will envy us.”

– Pam Boehme Simon

Sergei x Rankin + Freeze Frame

Sergei x Rankin + Freeze Frame

Sergei x Rankin + Freeze Frame

From the moment that Rankin first photographed famous, enigmatic ballet dancer Sergei Polunin he was left wanting more. Enamored by his rock ‘n’ roll, rebellious spirit, extraordinary physical prowess and of course, unbridled talent Rankin set his heart on creating a film that captured all of this. And after months of conversations, brainstorming and scheduling conflicts it has finally come to fruition.

The photographer, who made his name on style magazine Dazed & Confused, said: “I shot him in my studio, so I first met him as he walked on set. I’d heard about him and done my research. But seeing him was a real wow moment.

“He’s so physical, but there’s also a deeply internal thing that really comes through. I got such a buzz that day and I instantly knew I wanted to work with him and feature him on Hunger TV. I think I got a bit of a crush on him.”

Stills Gallery from the video

(To see the actual video, scroll to bottom of article)

​Polunin joined the Royal Ballet in 2007 and was promoted to principal at the end of the 2009-10 season, aged 19, but walked away from the company after only two years. The heavily tattooed star, 28, who owns a tattoo parlor in Camden, still dances in his Project Polunin performances but has moved into the film world, appearing in Kenneth Branagh’s Murder On The Orient Express. He also has a role in a forthcoming drama about Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev defecting to the west during the Cold War.

Polunin said the video, which sees him dance to music by art rockers Husky Loops, “captured the feel of a live performance and can create that magic.”

Rankin said: “I would love to work with him again. But I’d like to do something totally different. Maybe along the lines of a comedy. He’s really funny, plus he’s an actor as well as a dancer, and I’d like to bring this out.”

The result is a mesmerizing and powerful collaboration that sees Sergei bring his internal tension to the screen, directed by Rankin and soundtracked by alt-rock trio Husky Loops’ “Tempo”. An assault on the senses the two and a half minute film leaves you breathless, and like Rankin, wanting more. Enjoy!!  Want more Sergei videos?  Find the greatest Sergei playlist on YouTube here.

Text contains excerpts from Hunger TV and Evening Standard

Itinerant Balletomane Reviews Young Sergei

Itinerant Balletomane Reviews Young Sergei

Itinerant Balletomane reviews young Sergei and the veteran blogger is blown away

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sergei Polunin at the Stanislavsky Theater

I am completely starstruck.  Last week I saw Sergei Polunin perform twice with the Stanislavsky Theater – first as Basil in Don Quixote and then as the Prince in Swan Lake.  I’ve obviously heard a lot about Polunin.  For the non balletomanes out there, he was made a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet at the age of 20, making him their youngest principal ever. After two years, he unexpectedly quit the company.  A few months later, he signed on as a principal with the (respectable but still not nearly as famous) Stanislavsky Theater in Moscow.  You can read an excellent article about him here.

itinerant balletomane reviews young sergei
Natalia Somova and Sergei Polunin in Swan Lake

Lucky to catch him

Since his move to Moscow, Polunin has become a more elusive dancer to see, and I obviously felt very lucky to catch him in two performances. I was especially eager to see if he lived up to any of the hype. The answer is that he completely surpasses it.  I really have never been so impressed by a dancer. The thing that strikes me most forcefully about him is his enormous charisma.  Whenever he is onstage, he draws the eye to him.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that he has a beautifully intense stare, but he has much more than that.  In every moment he is performing he is fully present in the role.  Every gesture no matter how small is done with acuteness and power. This is especially potent in his portrayal of the Prince in Swan Lake, a role that has to anchor the ballet’s narrative without having much opportunity for solo dancing.  Polunin’s prince begins somewhat lost and disaffected; his ardent love for Odette seems to give him something to hold on to in life. His eyes follow her across the stage, and he runs to her as though drawn by some outside force.  

Dramatic intensity with textbook-perfect technique

Polunin’s solo variations combine this dramatic intensity with textbook-perfect technique.  I’ve seen a lot of impressive male dancers here in Moscow. Many of them seem to lose a sense of their character and of the audience as soon as they have to perform impressive jumps or turns.  Polunin never turns off the artistry. So many other male principals land with the greatest of care in order to avoid falling over or take an extra step. Doing this takes concentration you can see on their faces. Polunin simply lands on the ground perfectly and moves into the next step or pose.  He draws us with him in a torrent of movement. His technique does not fixate, even though that technique is beautiful. In addition to having amazing height on his jumps and beautiful turns, Polunin also boasts an arabesque and a back attitude that most ballerinas would kill for.

Nureyev comparison is apt

I’ve heard Polunin spoken of as the next Nureyev and the comparison is apt.  Sadly, however, this is a Nureyev without his Fonteyn.  Both evenings I saw Polunin performing with Natalia Somova, who just isn’t cutting it on this level.  She can be sweet and charming, but she lacks charisma and simply doesn’t have the same level of technique.  In addition, sometimes their partnership seems strained.  In particular, there was a disastrous pair of flying fish dives in Don Quixote, during the second of which Polunin didn’t manage to tip Somova over at all, and they ended up sort of hugging standing up.  I’ve seen videos of Polunin paired with other people and doing it brilliantly, so I assume that this is not an inherent flaw in his dancing, but I’m not enough of a dancer myself to tell who’s really at fault.

My favorite ballet orchestra ever

The wonderful partner that Polunin does get at the Stanislavsky is its beautiful orchestra.  Having been to five ballets at this theater, I am now prepared to dub it my favorite ballet orchestra ever. It is better than New York City, better than the Bolshoi, and miles better than the Royal.  Felix Korobov, the chief conductor, likes a fiery brass section and a quick tempo.  He always manages to bring out a full and lyrical sound.  Even so when he tampers with the music to fit the choreography.  The instrumentalists are a dream, particularly the French horn section and the harpist.  Sadly I can’t name them because they’re not listed on the website. Everything in the ensemble provides the emotional background for Polunin’s portrayal.  I know that the orchestra isn’t the reason Polunin moved to this theater, but I deeply wish it were.

So, in sum: see Polunin at the Stanislavsky (especially in Swan Lake), but hope with the rest of us that they persuade some wonderful young ballerina to move to the company.

Stanislavsky Theater, Don Quixote, June 14, 2013.  Music by Ludwig Minkus, Choreography by Alexei Chichinadze, Kitri: Natalia Somova, Basil: Sergei Polunin, Conductor: Anton Grishanin

Stanislavsky Theater, Swan Lake, June 20, 2013. Music by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Production by Vladimir Burmeister, Odette/Odile: Natalia Somova, Prince: Sergei Polunin, Evil Genius: Nikita Kirilov, Jester: Dmitri Zagrebin, Conductor: Felix Korobov
Posted by blogger 
The Not-Quite-Full-Length “Giselle,” with Sergei & Natalia

The Not-Quite-Full-Length “Giselle,” with Sergei & Natalia

The Not Quite Full Length Giselle

In 2015, Natalia Osipova was scheduled to dance Giselle in Milan and for various reasons had found herself without a suitable partner. Her mother suggested she contact Sergei Polunin who, despite his erratic form, remained a prodigious natural talent with a pure classical line and soaring jump that would make a superb foil to Osipova’s own blazing intensity. Warily, the ballerina sent Polunin an email. And when, to her surprise, he agreed to partner her, she found he was nothing like the enfant terrible she’d imagined. “He seemed very genuine, I could feel that he was a kind person, someone I could trust.”

It was while rehearsing Giselle – the most romantic ballet in the classical repertory – that the couple fell in love. For Polunin, the experience of dancing Albrecht to Osipova’s Giselle was more than a romantic epiphany. He’d become so dissatisfied with ballet that he was thinking of abandoning it altogether yet, he says, “When I danced with Natalia it was wonderful. I was a hundred percent there, it was real for me and now I would love to dance with her all the time.”

The Not Quite Full Length Giselle video

Giselle, The Ballet

Act I

The ballet opens on a sunny autumnal morning in the Rhineland during the Middle Ages. The grape harvest is in progress. Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a young nobleman, has fallen in love with a shy, beautiful peasant girl, Giselle, despite being betrothed to Bathilde, the daughter of the Duke of Courtland. Albrecht disguises himself as a humble villager called “Loys” in order to court the enchanting and innocent Giselle, who knows nothing of his true identity. With the help of his squire, Albrecht hides his fine attire, hunting horn, and sword before coaxing Giselle out of her house to romance her as the harvest festivities begin.

Hilarion, a local gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle and is highly suspicious of the newcomer who has won Giselle’s affections. He tries to convince the naive Giselle that her beau cannot be trusted, but she ignores his warnings. Giselle’s mother, Berthe, is very protective of her daughter, as Giselle has a weak heart that leaves her in delicate health. She discourages a relationship between Giselle and Loys, thinking Hilarion would be a better match, and disapproves of Giselle’s fondness for dancing, due to the strain on her heart.

A party of noblemen seeking refreshment following the rigors of the hunt arrive in the village, Albrecht’s betrothed, Bathilde, among them. Albrecht hurries away, knowing he would be recognized and greeted by Bathilde, exposing him as a nobleman. The villagers welcome the party, offer them drinks, and perform several dances. Bathilde is charmed with Giselle’s sweet and demure nature, not knowing of her relationship with Albrecht. Giselle is honored when the beautiful and regal stranger offers her a necklace as a gift before the group of nobles depart.

The villagers continue the harvest festivities, and Albrecht emerges again to dance with Giselle, who is named the Harvest Queen. Hilarion interrupts the festivities. He has discovered Albrecht’s finely made sword and presents it as proof that the lovesick peasant boy is really a nobleman who is promised to another woman. Using Albrecht’s hunting horn, Hilarion calls back the party of noblemen. Albrecht has no time to hide and has no choice but to greet Bathilde as his betrothed. All are shocked by the revelation, but none more than Giselle, who becomes inconsolable when faced with her lover’s deception. Knowing that they can never be together, Giselle flies into a mad fit of grief in which all the tender moments she shared with “Loys” flash before her eyes. She begins to dance wildly and erratically, ultimately causing her weak heart to give out. She collapses before dying in Albrecht’s arms. Hilarion and Albrecht turn on each other in rage before Albrecht flees the scene in misery. The curtain closes as Berthe weeps over her daughter’s body.

Act II

Late at night, Hilarion mourns at Giselle’s forest grave, but is frightened away by the arrival of the Wilis, the ghostly spirits of maidens betrayed by their lovers. Many Wili were abandoned on their wedding days, and all died of broken hearts. The Wilis, led by their merciless queen Myrtha, dance and haunt the forest at night to exact their revenge on any man they encounter, regardless of who he may be, forcing their victims to dance until they die of exhaustion.

Myrtha and the Wilis rouse Giselle’s spirit from her grave and induct her into their clan before disappearing into the forest. Albrecht arrives to lay flowers on Giselle’s grave and he weeps with guilt over her death. Giselle’s spirit appears and Albrecht begs her forgiveness. Giselle, her love undiminished unlike her vengeful sisters, gently forgives him. She disappears to join the rest of the Wilis and Albrecht desperately follows her.

Meanwhile, the Wilis have cornered a terrified Hilarion. They use their magic to force him to dance until he is nearly dead, and then drown him in a nearby lake. Then they spy Albrecht, and turn on him, sentencing him to death as well. He pleads to Myrtha for his life, but she coldly refuses. Giselle’s pleas are also dismissed and Albrecht is forced to dance until sunrise. However, the power of Giselle’s love counters the Wilis’ magic and spares his life. The other spirits return to their graves at daybreak, but Giselle has broken through the chains of hatred and vengeance that control the Wilis, and is thus released from their powers and will haunt the forest no longer. After bidding a tender farewell to Albrecht, Giselle returns to her grave to rest in peace.

About my video

“Giselle” Sergei Polunin & Natalia Osipova, not quite full length ballet

Ballet: Giselle

Choreography: Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot

Music: Adolphe Adam

Albrecht – Sergei Polunin

Giselle – Natalia Osipova

Performance: Milan 2015

Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer. Famous for his “once every hundred years” talent, he has incredulous elevation and impeccable technique. From an early age, he displayed glorious dramatic range. Home videos of him as a tiny boy improvising to Pavarotti are very foretelling. At age 20, he became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer.

Ballet gained an unprecedented new awareness when he danced in Hozier’s viral video ”Take Me To Church.” People who never would have never paid any attention to ballet began to watch the tattooed phenom. He is generally attributed with bringing ballet to the modern common man. Classical, yet cutting edge, Sergei starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign and has put his mark on many other promotions.

Sergei is a much sought after model and actor. Fashion designers love his breathtaking physique and brooding good looks. He has garnered only positive reviews for his acting. His appearances include Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Orient Express, the biographical documentary Dancer, The White Crow, and Red Sparrow.

If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing to my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/PamBoehmeSimon and “like” my playlist “Sergei Polunin, Graceful Beast” as well.

For additional videos and more, visit my fan site at https://sergeipoluningracefulbeast.com or my blog at https://pamboehmesimon.com

This is a ballet | балет iMovie by Pam Boehme Simon.

Thank you for watching.

Another Man

Another Man

“RUSSIAN PRODIGY Sergei Polunin HAD SOARED TO THE SCORCHING HEAVENS OF BALLET. BUT, TORMENTED BY ITS SUFFOCATING STRICTURES, HE WALKED AWAY FROM THE WORLD OF DANCE AGED JUST 24. NOW, WITH DEMONS FINALLY CONQUERED AND HIS SIGHTS SET ON CINEMA, THE FIERY PERFORMER IS READY TO RISE AGAIN.” – Another Man magazine, issue #25

Sergei Polunin seems like a creature from another time, an era of fairytale, when the thin silk that separates myth from reality was at its most fragile. It’s as if he has stepped directly through the veil, from a place where darkness is lit by flames and hooves echo across cobblestone.

He seems completely out of place, here, in Los Angeles, in midsummer 2017. He moves like a pale ghost through the sunburnt crowds hunched over their phones along Hollywood Boulevard. Tightly muscled, tall but still delicate somehow, he exudes a romantic, Byronic kind of elegance. He’s beautiful, but in the way of silent movie leading men – Valentino, Keaton – a face of angles and extremes.

It is only when he finally sits down in a red leather booth in the city’s oldest restaurant (Musso and Frank, circa 1919) that he seems to have arrived in the kind of present that suits him. A tuxedoed waiter takes his order; the wood table glows with polish, there are fine linens, real silver. Polunin smiles, looks around and nods approvingly. Then he takes a breath and, in softly accented English, begins to tell his story.

“It started with Take Me to Church,” he says quietly, “suddenly, people’s whole approach, their whole behaviour changed. I realised that maybe… that I can possibly change something. That I shouldn’t be a weak person who quits. And I realised that something might be done that – if I quit – is not going to be done. So that’s how it all began.”

For those who don’t know who Polunin is, there’s a simple introduction. Go to YouTube, type in his name and step back in wonder. At last tally, there were 20,860,577 views of a video, directed by photographer David LaChapelle and backed by Hozier: Take Me to Church captures Polunin’s last dance, his farewell (at age 24) to ballet, an art he’d studied since the age of four, an art to which (as he tells it) he had sacrificed both his childhood and his family. In the video, Polunin takes traditional ballet and turns it into catharsis. He seems to hover in the air, to float, to fly. His body is lean, nearly naked, covered in tattoos. His face shows a mix of emotion: vulnerability, frustration and, finally, elation. It’s intoxicating to watch.

“IT STARTED WITH TAKE ME TO CHURCH…SUDDENLY, PEOPLE’S WHOLE APPROACH, THEIR WHOLE BEHAVIOUR CHANGED” – SERGEI POLUNIN

In the 2016 documentary Dancer, Polunin’s story is chronicled in all its mythic rise-and-fall glory. It goes something like this: born in relative poverty in the Ukraine, he was crowned a ballet prodigy soon after he took his first steps. His mother, father and grandmother did everything in their power to put him in the best schools, offer him the best possibilities.

This meant separation, his parents’ eventual divorce, Polunin on his own in London as a pre-teen onward. He was the top student at the prestigious Royal Ballet Academy and aged 19 selected as the youngest principal dancer ever of the Royal Ballet. He was feted and celebrated, critiqued and acclaimed. His rebellions were tabloid fodder. His victories were breathtaking. To watch Polunin dance is to be awed. But it was all too much, a fast build to a dramatic end.

On 24th January 2012, just two years after joining the company, Polunin announced his resignation, claiming loudly that, “the artist in me was dying”. There was a sojourn to Russia, a series of demeaning TV competitions, and eventual tutelage under renowned artistic director Igor Zelensky. There was success and there was turmoil. Finally in 2014, Polunin decided to call it officially quits. He met up with Chapelle in a sundrenched Hawaiian church to film Take Me to Church and to take what was to be his final bow.

Except it wasn’t.

another man sergei polunin another man sergei polunin

Take Me to Church gave me the opportunity to experience collaboration,” Polunin explains. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what it is. That’s how it should feel.’ And suddenly, I wanted everybody to experience that. I wanted to create movies about dance, and create more pieces like that because I realized that it’s very, very important to crossover, to share ballet with everyone.”

Instead of ending his career, the video ignited it. Polunin found a whole new audience, the vast world watching from their computer screens. The piece went viral – and so did Polunin. “I had quit ballet, but I realised that was weak of me. That what I needed to do was share ballet,” he says.

Polunin became an overnight internet sensation. The comments poured in, people from all over the globe confessing their admiration, thanking him for the inspiration. He and Chapelle had touched something deep. And Polunin began to rethink his retirement. “I started to see that the ballet establishment had to be broken. Ballet is stuck. It’s the only art form which didn’t evolve and it lost a few things – because the best directors, best musicians, they work where the biggest output is, where you can reach bigger audiences. Ballet is very closed and it’s for elitists – it shouldn’t be like that. I think everybody should enjoy it.”

“DANCE IS IMPORTANT. IT’S THAT LANGUAGE THAT EVERYBODY UNDERSTANDS. IT’S A POWERFUL TOOL TO OPEN PEOPLE’S MINDS” – SERGEI POLUNIN

Since the Take Me to Church phenomenon, Sergei has formed his own foundation, the Polunin Project, with an aim to bring ballet to the masses. “It’s a spiritual-like experience,” he says of ballet, “and it’s possible I think to transfer that. I’ve been trying to bring dance closer to people, to wider audiences. That’s why we created this project, to move, in any way possible, dance forward.”

“We have the photographers, the music people to collaborate and to create art. And as well I want to create movies about dance. I think it’s very, very important to crossover. Ultimately, my vision is ballet has to open up to agents, to managers, to TV, to videos, to Netflix, to YouTube. Because I don’t see why people who cannot afford a ticket can’t watch it at home. You watch sport at home. Once a week to watch ballet would be, I think… transcendent.”

Despite this enthusiasm for dance, Polunin is still very much the rebel when it comes to defying the ballet establishment. His much talked about exit from the Royal Ballet still obviously hits a raw nerve. He bristles when talking about his experiences with the more conservative aspects of the art. His voice grows lower, tense.

Dancers work 11 hours a day, six times a week. When I was working as a principal dancer that was the hardest I ever, ever worked. And you will finish your career after 10 years.” Polunin points to his head, smirking, “because after 10 years you might start thinking. And realising that it is maybe the worst job to be in. The money is low. Crew get more money. Musicians get unions. And everywhere dancers get treated with the least respect. I still haven’t worked it out. The approach to dancers is like to kids. I never see stage people talk to musicians that way. But with dancers it’s okay to do that.”

Polunin checks himself and softens. “But ballet itself – it’s important. Dance is important. It’s that language that everybody understands. It’s a powerful tool to open people’s minds. There’s a subconscious thing, a connection we all have. Kids dance before walking. It’s our truest nature of being. It’s true spirit.”

He pauses. “And then, slowly and slowly, as we grow older, we get more and more baggage and life changes you. We are more scared of things, more fearful. So how to eliminate that? We have to go back to how we were as a kid, because that’s our truest nature. And with ballet, that is how I’m trying to come back to this state of mind. Because that’s the purest state. Tribes dance. Every country has a national dance. In the clubs we dance, we dance at weddings. Dance is a language. It’s a language that we need, like music, to survive.”

another man sergei polunin another man sergei polunin

This is how Polunin talks, at 27 years old. In part because he was raised in ballet, amid structure, discipline, beauty and philosophy. He grew up, matured, became a man, within an older art. A more refined one. And despite his issues with the constrictions, the rules, the exhaustion, and the exploitation, ballet has formed and shaped him – not just his body, but also his mind, his way of thinking and being.

The dedication he has to share dance with the world, is also a reflection of the stubborn perseverance he learned from many years and countless hours committed to his craft. It is because of this perseverance that, today, Polunin is not just surviving, he’s thriving. He’s dancing all over the globe, performing just the past evening for thousands at Los Angeles’ legendary Hollywood Bowl.

Now he’s moved into acting as well – he’ll be appearing in not one, but four upcoming films, among them the spy thriller Red Sparrow with Jennifer Lawrence, the Agatha Christie classic Murder on the Orient Express and in the highly anticipated biopic of legendary ballet bad boy Rudolf Nureyev, White Crow. Directed by Ralph Fiennes, the latter film was rumored to star Polunin as his infamous predecessor, but today Polunin quietly explains there have been some changes in casting. He will say only that, “I’ll do whatever they need me to do for the film, the very best I can do it.”

“I’m learning a completely new skill and that’s very exciting,” he says of acting, “and acting is not just acting. You learn about yourself. That’s what I think is special about it. Before I thought acting was like, ‘Oh, I learned a new skill.’ But no. It requires a much deeper understanding of existence and of being human, what it is to be human. You are really searching through your own memories – you have to really know who you are. Going into childhood memory.”

“I’M PREPARED TO DESTROY EVERYTHING I HAVE TO HAVE THAT OPPORTUNITY TO FEEL FREE” – SERGEI POLUNIN

What Polunin also seems to enjoy about acting is the collaborative nature of it, the family of artists necessary to make a film. “What I really loved is being together,” he admits. “It’s working with others. It’s not like you’re by yourself doing something. You are a team. You’re one with the camera, you’re one with the director, you’re one with your co-worker, so it’s like you are creating together. You feel like you are a part of something, rather than doing it all by yourself.” He pauses and thinks for a moment.

“I want to be able to feel freedom. I never want to be owned by anything and be stuck with anything. It’s like this…” he reaches down and picks up a heavy silver knife in one hand, clutching it tight in his fist and pointing to it. “We think if we let go of a person, let them free, they’re going to disappear. But you don’t need to clench and suffocate people. It’s on many levels – on the parenting level, on working level, on friendship level, on a social level. It’s important to push that boundary. What I’ve found is that by letting go of a person, letting them free, he’s still yours, but there is a still a feeling of freedom.”

Here Polunin stops and turns his fist over, opening his fingers up, slowly, dramatically. The knife rests gently on his open palm. Polunin smiles broadly. “It’s a feeling of freedom,” he says again, “that’s what’s important. That’s what I always fight for and I’m prepared to destroy everything I have to have that opportunity to feel free. Everybody wants to control or own. I’m against that. I felt like I was owned for so long. I was looking to feel freedom. When I quit Royal Ballet… it would be amazing if I could have stayed and found that feeling of freedom. But instead, I destroyed everything and went all the way down, to be able to climb up.”

another man sergei polunin another man sergei polunin

Polunin shakes his head. He looks suddenly older, wiser: “For many years, I had a negativity in me, and I never used to be like that. It’s just that life takes a toll on you and then you start. And it’s comfortable. Being negative is very easy. Being bad is easier. It takes a lot of strength to be on a good path and that, for me, was a conscious decision. Let’s go up. Sometimes I went down and I just had to rebuild, build, build. Slowly regain. With Take Me to Church, kids were watching, were being inspired and I realized that this inspiration I was giving them, this positive message, was a stronger tool than trying to destroy things. I had to learn not to destroy because you’re hurting people around you. Even now I’m always on the verge of destroying things.”

Polunin trails off… a shadow passes his face. Then, he shakes it off, looks up and grins. And he is young again, joyful, the shadow gone.

Spend time with Polunin and you realise what defines him most is this earnestness – emotion and truthfulness always moving across the surface for all to see. He speaks his mind, for better or for worse.  Self-obsessed and self-aware, Polunin, at 27 in 2017 – is beautiful, famous, volatile and complex. And there is more to come. More dance, more art, more self-exploration.

If your spirit is not broken, nothing can take you down

“You always have in life, different paths. And you choose,” he says, “But for me it is always choosing to be an artist before anything.  What is more important than art? Without it, we’d be nothing. We’d have nothing. The artist – he creates a building, he designs a car, a rocket. The world needs an artist’s vision. Who would we be without the artists to design our clothes? Or make music? And the thing is, I think art is in everybody. It’s important for people to be creative. To sing, to dance. You need creativity because creativity gives you confidence.  Confidence is very important, because it gives you spirit, and if your spirit is not broken – nothing can take you down.”

TEXT:  Jessica Hundle
PHOTOGRAPHY:  Collier Schorr
STYLING:  Alister Mackie

Hair Matt Mulhall at Streeters; Make-up Laura Dominique at Streeters; Set design Andrea Cellerino at Streeters; Photographic assistants PJ Spaniol, Will Grundy; Digital technician Stefano Poli; Styling assistants Reuben Esser, Rhys Davies, Steph Francis; Retouching Two Three Two; Production Sylvia Farago Ltd.

Mayerling “Love Deaths” Still Haunt

Mayerling “Love Deaths” Still Haunt

mayerling
Mayerling Lodge as it appeared in 1889. Photo: Public Domain

One of Sergei Polunin’s greatest roles is that of Crown Prince Rudolf in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s “Mayerling.”  He drew rave reviews for his pristine ballet technique and innate talent, but even more so for his emotional torching of the stage.  Many fans, while adoring the ballet “Mayerling,” are a bit lost when it comes to understanding the story.  It is a tragic tale that is based in fact.  The Mayerling deaths were real, and happened to real people.  

The Mayerling deaths

For more than 100 years, the mysterious “love deaths” at Mayerling, a village just southwest of Vienna.  They have gripped the imagination of the world and provided the raw material for many a play, film and even a ballet by Sir Kenneth MacMillan for The Royal Ballet.
The year 1989 marked the centennial of the Mayerling tragedy.  It was observed with the publication of books and articles analyzing the incident, the details of which were purposely obscured at the time the events occurred.

On Jan. 30, 1889, Crown Prince Rudolf, archduke of Austria-Hungary and heir to the Hapsburg crown, was found dead in the imperial hunting lodge at Mayerling, in the Vienna Woods, about 15 miles from the capital. Beside the body of the 30-year-old prince lay that of his mistress, the Baroness Mary Vetsera, 17.  Both had been shot.

mayerling

Prince Rudolf

Rudolf was the son of Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria and the famously beautiful and infamously melancholy Empress Elisabeth. Young Rudolf seemed to be a very different type than his cold and calculating father.  He developed an early passion for the natural sciences, liberal politics, and a somewhat more delicate sensibility in general.

By the time Rudolf was wed to Princess Stephanie of Belgium in 1881, he had already established the other habit that would appear to be his undoing.  He had a certain weakness for the ladies.  In fact, he allegedly brought a lover with him to his wedding.

Within a few short years, the marriage devolved into a relationship of mutual tolerance. Rudolf’s womanizing, drinking, and more recently acquired drug habit took over his life, apparently leading him in a downward spiral.

Seventeen year old Mary

Mary Vetsara on the other hand, appeared to be a young woman very much smitten with the prince. The 17 year old baroness, however, was not Rudolf’s first choice for his suicide pact. He actually attempted to convince another woman, a prostitute named Mitzi Caspar, to die with him. She declined his offer.

Mary and Rudolf left Vienna for the hunting lodge in Mayerling on January 29th, 1889.  The prince claimed he wanted to do a bit of hunting the following morning. Sometime in the night, Rudolf shot and killed Mary, and then turned the gun on himself. When the staff came to the door in the morning, the bodies were discovered.

A massive cover-up operation followed.  The royal family attempted to pass off Rudolf’s death as one of natural causes.  They tried to hide Mary’s body entirely.

Suicide?

A finding of murder was out of the question.  Rudolf, after all, was heir to the throne. At first there was even no mention of suicide, out of fear that the church would not permit a proper burial. Rudolf’s death was attributed to poison at the hands of his enemies, or to natural causes.

Because Rudolf was unhappily married to Princess Stephanie of Belgium, no public mention was made of the teen-age baroness. Her body was spirited away and secretly buried.

Finally, the emperor informed the Pope that Rudolf had committed suicide in a “deranged state of mind.”  The Pope then allowed Rudolf a Catholic burial in the imperial vault in Vienna.

Mayerling mystery

The mystery gave rise to much speculation about the circumstances surrounding the deaths. Much of it emphasized the romantic aspects of Mayerling. Not until years later did the details became widely known.  But because the incident had been so shrouded in secrecy and deceit, conflicting versions endure.

For instance, Clemens M. Gruber, an author and opera archivist, published an account called “The Fateful Days of Mayerling.”  In Gruber’s view, Mary’s angry relatives forced their way into the lodge and Rudolf drew a revolver, accidentally shooting the baroness. He is then said to have been killed by one of her enraged relatives.

Another writer, Gerd Holler, who is also a physician, says in his book, “Mayerling–New Documents on the Tragedy 100 Years Afterward,” that Rudolf had arranged an abortion for Mary, who was reputedly three months pregnant. Holler contends that she died in the process and that Rudolf committed suicide.

Attempts to exhume the body of the baroness for examination have been blocked by members of her family.

Murder?

Empress Zita, who died at the age of 96 in a Swiss convent, argued that Rudolf was murdered by French political enemies of his father. She was the consort of Karl I, the last emperor and grand nephew of Franz Joseph.

Most scholars now prefer the version offered by historian Brigitte Hamann in her book, “Rudolf, Crown Prince and Rebel.” Hamann, who took part in a recent international conference on the incident at Mayerling, said in an interview:

“He was a poetic young man and brooded a lot. He was ill with syphilis and felt guilty that he had infected his wife. They had no children. The reason for all the confusion was the cover-up by the Imperial Court…  The fact is that Rudolf was a very nervous, sensitive man who flirted with suicide more than once.”

According to Hamann, the Baroness Vetsera, who was in love with the increasingly despondent Rudolf, was more susceptible to the love-death idea.

“There is no question,” she said. “Rudolf shot the girl and then himself.”

Their end brought about the end

Rudolf is buried in the Habsburg family crypt in Vienna, and Mary’s body lies in a modest grave in Heiligenkreuz, Austria.

Rudolf’s death left Franz Josef I without an heir, leading to the succession of Franz Ferdinand whose assassination in 1914 kicked off the hostilities of WWI, and effectively led to the end of the Hapsburg dynasty.

After the deaths, the emperor ordered the hunting lodge at Mayerling razed, and the area was transformed into a Carmelite church.  A small museum houses artifacts related to the deaths.  The Carmelite nuns there still pray for the souls of Rudolf and Mary.

This is a blog post by Pam Boehme Simon that includes excerpts from a March 19, 1989 article by William Tuohy, a Times staff writer, and a atlas travel article featuring the Mayerling Hunting Lodge.

1000 Degrees Of Sergei

1000 Degrees Of Sergei

1000 Degrees Of Sergei

As some of you know, I find the relationship between dance and music fascinating.  By simply changing the music, identical steps and choreography take on a completely different nature.  It is so much fun to discover the differences the music can make in the tone, the mood and the overall feel of the piece.  There is a particular video of Sergei Polunin that I love to “play” with.

The video is “100º Celsius,” a ballet by Emil Faski.  It was performed by Sergei and Kristina Shapran during an episode of the “Big Ballet’ or “Bolshoi” television show.  It was a ballet competition show that Sergei entered upon arriving in Russia after leaving the Royal Ballet.

He won.

Here are my adaptations of the video, as well as the original.   Hope you get as much fun out of the “experimentation” as I did.

The Original

My Creations

“Breathless”

“Indigo”

“Moulin Bleu”

“Immersion”

Thank you Sergei, Kristina, and Emil.

 

About this post:

“1000 Degrees of Sergei”

This is a blog entry written by Pam Boehme Simon.  Thank you for reading.

Stunning Sergei, Photos From 2008

Stunning Sergei, Photos From 2008

Stunning Sergei

A Blog Post

by Pam Boehme Simon

On July  27, 2008, the fifteenth edition of the Civitanova Danza International Festival was celebrated.  Among the festivities was a dance gala called Italians Dance It Better.  Sergei Polunin performed a Ben Stevenson piece, “End Of Time,” set to music by Sergey Rachmaninov.  His partner was fellow company member and Royal Ballet principal, Mara Galeazzi.  At the time, Sergei was not yet even a soloist, however, his star quality was already very evident.  The performance took place in the Teatro Rossini in Civitanova Danza, Italy.

Photographer Manuel Cafini shot a beautiful collection of Sergei and Mara.  Enjoy!

All photos by Manuel Cafini, 2008.

Polunin “Miracle” in Ashton with Ananiashvili

Polunin “Miracle” in Ashton with Ananiashvili

Polunin Miracle in Ashton ballet with Nina Ananiashvili

Excerpts from a November 2015 review by Tatiana Kuznetsova

Frederick Ashton’s increasing popularity in Russia is shown in a new triple bill at the Stanislavsky Ballet, directed by Igor Zelensky, and starring Sergei Polunin in Rhapsody and Marguerite and Armand with Nina Ananiashvili. Tatiana Kuznetsova of Kommersant was swept away by the Marguerite and Armand, which she says has never before been so miraculously intimate in a Russian performance. It was like spying on the lovers through a keyhole, she says.

The artistic director of the Stanislavsky Theatre’s ballet company, Igor Zelensky, was at one time principal dancer simultaneously of three theatres, the Mariinsky, the Royal Ballet and the Balanchine company New York City Ballet. Since then his love for English-language classicism has only grown. He has regularly staged signature ballets of England and America on the Stasik stage, trying with mixed success to extract the right choreographic pronunciation out of Muscovite dancers.

Following on from the monumental dramas of the Scot [Kenneth] MacMillan, and the one-act lyricism and comic sketches of the American [Jerome] Robbins, we are now offered a group of the romantic poems of Frederick Ashton – the UK’s first and chief national choreographer.

One should add that the artistic director’s Anglomania is fuelled by the presence in his troupe of Sergei Polunin, with his immaculate English style: before he became the Stasik’s guest star, the young Polunin graduated from the Royal Ballet’s school and successfully danced with the company for several seasons, becoming the youngest male principal in Covent Garden’s history.

The choice of Rhapsody, set to Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini, was targeted on Polunin, with its hellishly tricky male lead role: Frederick Ashton, captivated by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s academic virtuosity and Soviet athleticism, made the ballet in 1980 specially for him.

“On a theme by Paganini” is dropped from the title with good reason – there is none of the agony of creativity or the battle against obscurantism in this optimistic work (unlike the ballet Paganini that the Soviet classicism Leonic Lavrovsky choreographed long before Ashton). The protagonist’s profession is indicated only by the lightest gesture (just a couple of times stroking an imaginary bow across an imaginary violin), and perhaps too in his romantic quest for his one muse – the ballerina, hidden among six coryphees.

But Polunin had not forgotten Paganini; he performed the pirouettes and entrechats, the explosive, whipping turns and slides with a psychological subtext that hinted at some circumstantial challenge, which actually cannot be found in this radiant choreography.

La Valse is a well-populated, opulent victory ball: the men in frock coats, the women in full dresses and tiaras, chandeliers, liveried footmen, the riotous crescendo of the finale in which the swirling of the couples, the surrendering jumps and high lifts, all reach an ecstatic climax.

In Moscow the grand triumphalism was turned into a feverish pursuit of the music’s tempi, especially as young conductor Zangiev was getting carried away by Ravelian contrasts, making the brass roared like a military band, letting the strings spread into a lyrical intimacy. The frock-coated men coped elegantly with the music’s heedless turns, but the women were noticeably panicking, spraying out obviously strained arms and frantically bobbing on the simplest balances.

So it turned out that the highlight of the “Ballets of Frederick Ashton” evening was not the premieres but the ballet in repertoire, Marguerite and Armand, on Lizst’s music, which the Stanislavsky has had in its repertoire for several seasons.

Then the miracle happened…

This time artistic director Zelensky’s choice of Marguerite was Nina Ananiashvili, former prima ballerina of the Bolshoi and many other international companies, and currently artistic director of the National Ballet of Georgia. She is 52 years old while her partner, Sergei Polunin, is 25. Yet the age difference was no problem: at the end of the day, this ballet was created by Ashton in 1964 for 25-year-old Nureyev and 44-year-old Fonteyn, taking into account the capabilities of an older ballerina.

The first thing has to be that notorious question: ‘chemistry’. If the players can’t be convincing in conveying fateful passion, the ballet is exposed as a set of stilted tableaux and some more or less striking lifts. So far, no one on any Russian stage has managed to transmit the magic of this archaic ballet.

polunin miracle

At the Stasik the miracle happened. This Marguerite and Armand forced one to forget everything about the old-fashioned direction, the naivety of the choreography, and the technical performance. It was as if it was not of the slightest importance whether the ballerina’s back was so flexible, or her legs went so high, or she had a wasp waist or not, if the love story of a selfless, tender courtesan and an ungovernable young aristocrat mesmerised you as if you were watching them through a keyhole.

polunin miracle

Photo Credit:  Kommersant




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