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Sergei Eyes Cinema, Magazine Article Sept 2017

Sergei Eyes Cinema, Magazine Article Sept 2017

THE BALLET PRODIGY SETTING HIS SIGHTS ON CINEMA

 

TEXT – Jessica Hundley
PHOTOGRAPHY – Collier Schorr
STYLING – Alister Mackie

 

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 the fiery performer is ready to rise again

 

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 Chapelle 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 behavior 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. The long time top student at the prestigious Royal Ballet Academy, at age 19 was 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.

ballet prodigy setting sights

“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 realised 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. So 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.”

ballet prodigy setting sights

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, a language that everybody understands. It’s a powerful tool to open people’s minds. It’s some 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.”

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. And 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 rumoured 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 the 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, however, 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.”

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 realised 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. Self-obsessed and self-aware, he speaks his mind, for better or for worse. He is 27 in 2017 – beautiful, famous, volatile and complex. And there is more to come. More dance, more art, more self-exploration. “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. Because 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. And confidence is very important, because it gives you spirit. If your spirit is not broken – nothing can take you down.”

Telegraph Article, November 30, 2017

Telegraph Article, November 30, 2017

Sergei Polunin: how the bad boy of ballet found salvation from drugs and self-harming

 

By Celia Walden 

 

Sergei Polunin is telling me about pain. There’s the emotional pain ballet dancers grow up with, explains the 28-year-old Ukrainian dancer, actor and model known as “the bad boy of ballet” – “the sense of being imprisoned by your own body” – and the physical pain that’s a daily reality. “Because when you’re not dancing, you’re always in some degree of pain. And I’ve danced since the age of three, so when I’m not exercising my body seizes up. Which means all day is spent wondering when I’ll be able to dance again.”

 

Polunin created a sensation in 2012 when he abruptly quit the Royal Ballet at the age of 21. Hailed as the new Nureyev, he had become the company’s youngest ever principal two years previously and had been a member of the Royal Ballet School since the age of 13. His antics offstage attracted almost as much attention as his sublime performances on stage, with rumours abounding about missed rehearsals and wild partying. When he quit, by walking out of rehearsals one day, he tweeted mysteriously, possibly mischievously, about wanting to buy some heroin and declared he would not be returning to Covent Garden. The dance world was left reeling.

 

Looking back on that period now, Polunin says that pain had acquired an addictive quality that had come to define his life. Most of the 22  million people who watched him dancing to Hozier’s Take Me to Church in a David LaChapelle-directed video that went viral on YouTube two years ago will have noticed that, along with 17 tattoos, his torso is covered with scars, the most prominent of which are a set of wide red stripes he calls his “tiger scratches”. These are a result of a “scarification” the dancer has previously described as a “warrior-like practice”. But today, he sees these as the acts of self-harm that they were – and proof that he was caught in a downward spiral that nearly ended his career.

 

 

salvation sergei polunin
Sergei Polunin quit the Royal Ballet aged 21 CREDIT: RII SCHROER

 

“I’d been carving shapes into myself with razor blades ever since I was a kid,” begins Polunin, who is back in London rehearsing for the world premiere of his own company Project Polunin’s Satori next week: a triple bill that includes a new seven-minute ballet, First Solo, the London premiere of Kasyan Goleizovksy’s Scriabiniana and the world premiere of Satori: “a story of reawakening” co-created by Polunin. He is mild-mannered and courteous with imploring eyes and a wide, frank smile. “When I was 14, I’d draw scorpions on myself, and as I got older I realised that it released endorphins in the same way that having tattoos did – so that the pain would make me feel high for two days afterwards. Acid is the easiest way to do it,” he says blithely. “And it’s actually less painful than using razor blades, because skin is amazing stuff – it’s very hard to scar it – so you cut first and then put acid in the wound.”

 

As a form of rebellion, tattoos are as obvious as it gets (“in my mind they represented free people,” Polunin says poignantly). Ditto the drugs he lost himself in for months: “And I took everything imaginable,” he admits. “Not because I was addicted, but because I was trying to find answers, and I thought the drugs would help.” The cutting, however, was addressing something at the very core of Polunin’s torment: a need for the former infant prodigy from the impoverished Ukrainian town of Kherson, who felt the weight of his entire family’s hopes so acutely, to be more than just “a tool”. “I needed to remind myself that I was alive and here, me: that I exist. But the idea that to feel something you have to cut yourself, that you’re not really existing unless you’re feeling that pain…” He shakes his head. “I was in a very low place.”

 

salvation sergei polunin
‘I was in a very low place’: Polunin in London, 2017 CREDIT: RII SCHROER

 

At first, while at the Royal Ballet, Polunin enjoyed the “bad boy” brand. “I even played up to it. And there were offers coming in from musicals and America.” But soon he was struggling to cope. “Because I didn’t know what to do with the attention, it all started to slip away and that began impacting on me in a negative way.” Now, though, Polunin is shocked by the lack of support he received from his industry.

 

“It’s not like in the sports world, where they have managers and publicists. There isn’t even a union. And we’re not earning anything like the kind of money sportsmen earn – I can tell you for sure that even principal dancers can never stand a chance of buying a property in London,” he assures me, which does seem surprising. “But are we any less talented than sportsmen? Any less impressive to watch?”

 

With no support system to help him out of the hole he had dug, Polunin left the UK in 2012 for Moscow and the Stanislavski Music Theatre. “Doors were being slammed in my face,” he says. Stanislavski was “the only place that would take me”. “And that was the most dangerous point for me,” he goes on. “Because at that age you don’t listen to anybody. But thank God I still had the discipline of going to class, and that gave me the structure I needed to get through. If I hadn’t had that, if I hadn’t had dance…” he shrugs. “Really ballet saved my life.” It wasn’t until 2015 that the fog started to lift, and David LaChapelle’s video is still more powerful when you know that while it was being filmed, Polunin was making one of the biggest decisions of his life: whether or not to leave ballet behind. “It was nine hours of crying. Because for a long time when I asked myself how I would feel if I was told I could never dance again the answer was just ‘relief’. And actually I would sometimes pray that an injury would mean it would all be over.” And yet at the end of those nine hours dancing in an empty barn the sunlight streams through “and I was clear then that I had to come back and dance. Not because anyone was telling me to or because I wanted something in exchange for it, but for the pure joy of it.”

 

salvation sergei polunin
Polunin in Steven Cantor’s 2016 film Dancer

Now that Polunin doesn’t take drugs or drink any more, “I feel so totally, totally… awake,” he says, breaking into his childlike smile. He has dabbled in acting a bit – “It’s like being a child again – and like with sport there is such a team spirit,” he says, and as well as appearing in Steven Cantor’s heartbreaking documentary, Dancer, he has also landed roles in big-budget films like Kenneth Branagh’s current all-star adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express and next year’s spy thriller, Red Sparrow, alongside Jennifer Lawrence.

 

Mainly though it’s all about doing things on his own terms. He wants to use his celebrity “to change things – because it gives you so much more power.” He has also set up a management agency that will enable dancers to work independently of home companies and theatres.

 

But it’s the mixed media Project Polunin that looks set to be his life’s work – even if the first show, which premiered at Sadler’s Wells in March, was a critical flop. “I want to create a platform like YouTube in which artists are given the freedom to create,” he says. “And there should be so many more movies with dancing involved – just look at the success of Bollywood and film La La Land. We need to unite the two mediums.”

 

Project Polunin’s Satori reunites Polunin with Natalia Osipova, the former Bolshoi ballerina. The two have been in an on/off relationship since partnering in Giselle in 2015.  Polunin once tried to remove her tattooed name from his knuckles after a fight. The Brangelina of ballet are very much together now, he tells me – “having someone who has had a similar journey together is so important.”  Although marriage is still an alien concept to him, Polunin lights up at the idea of one day becoming a father. “That would be crazy amazing. And I really hope that kids will be drawn in by Satori, because that’s what it’s about: returning to the purity you have before life breaks you. Kids have that capacity for wonder that we need to try to retain as adults.”

I defy any grown up watching Polunin dance not to feel the most basic, childlike wonder, but as I wish him the best with his project and urge him to maintain spurious “bad boy” elements, if only for the brand, there’s a moment’s awkwardness. “You want me to storm out, don’t you?” he sighs.

 

If he wouldn’t mind…

 


 

Sergei Opens Up To Frivolette

Sergei Opens Up To Frivolette

Sergei opens up about “Murder on the Orient Express”, Johnny Depp and dreams of playing Spider-Man

In the Kenneth Branagh’s film “Murder on the Orient Express” one of the roles – Count Ruldoph Andrenyi – was performed by the 27-year-old dancer Sergei Polunin, former premier of the Royal Ballet in London and the Moscow Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater, guest soloist of the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater and the Bavarian Ballet. Polunin opens up about his debut in the feature film, dreams of playing Spiderman and popularizing the ballet.

Your first scene in the “Murder on the Orient Express” – is a fight scene, and very spectacular. Did you take martial arts lessons specifically for filming?

– No, the dance helped. Not everyone knows, but in fact, Bruce Lee was a champion in ballroom dancing before he started kung fu. Therefore, if you want to study martial arts, it would be good to be able to dance. It was very easy for me: the movements were staged, and I invented a turn in midair. The difficulty was that there was not enough space on the set – and i had to think how to miss hitting someone.

– In this scene, by the way, you are a dancer, who is being bothered by people with cameras. If people come up to you on the streets, what do you do?

“On the contrary, I perceive it very well, it’s very pleasant.” It is an exchange of good energy – when people come up to talk, take a picture. Not with a flash.

– There is a feeling that some details of your role are written off from tabloid articles about you: a closed, gloomy hero, with hobbies on the edge.

– I based it on myself, because I did not know any other way to create a character, except to go deeper into my relationship, my feelings. And when we built the character, Kenneth Branagh (the director of the film “Murder on the Orient Express”) asked questions, and I got this character out of myself.

– You often said in an interview that good should be as aggressive as evil. In this film, good takes revenge on evil and literally kills it. Do you represent this aggressive good?

– Yes, and in fact, I always fight with myself, [to understand] how much it must be aggressive. Because evil – for example, terrorist attacks, war – it is so strong now that the world is in imbalance, it is more bad than good. And if the good will passively sit and smile, it will never restore balance. And I think it must be aggressive – as much as it takes to restore balance.

– This is a question how to determine it

– Yes, therefore, you see, in all films, superheroes never kill [the villains], but put them in jail.

– In the “Murder on the Orient Express” villain are killed. This, in your opinion, you can justify?

“Still, I would not kill.” I would scare him and put him in jail.

– Did you take acting classes for a role in the film? Or only on the stage with the director?

– Well, you either have acting [abilities] or you don’t. I think this is very difficult to study. Still, it’s easy to understand if there’s your presence in the picture or not. I can very quickly adapt to the costume, to what’s around, to the characters, so I did not have to learn acting skills. But speech is something that I still need to know. For many years I was just silent, it was difficult for me to say something. Well, you are not talking, you are dancing. They say something to you, and you reproduce it with your body. So it was difficult to start talking, to start using these muscles also.

– It seems that you are one of the most talkative and sociable dancers, and this happened before the movie.

– A documentary film (the film “The Dancer” by Steven Cantor about Sergei Polunin came out in 2016) helped, because I needed to communicate with the public, to promote, and it started the process. When I went to America [to present the film], I had three shows every day for two weeks, and before each – or after – it was necessary to speak and answer questions. And in just three weeks I became more confident.

– And it came in handy on the set?

– Yes, everything comes in handy. I generally began to engage in acting before the cameras in photo shoots. I already knew that I was using it to play movies. [In photo shoots] there were times when you are given small tasks to portray emotions – sad, funny, and I used the fashion industry for practice. Then clips and some commercials. After this many years of practice, you are already understand that you can not without a camera, you are used to it.

– By the way, you also acted in parallel in another film – “The Red Sparrow”. And you also played a dancer there?

– Yes, and not a very good person. And the agents and people I work with are not sure that this is good for my career.

– Who would you like to play again?

– Honestly, I would have missed something if I had not been involved in the motion in the film. That is, just playing me would not be so interesting: when there is a fight or a dance, when you use two very powerful tools, it adds something. And just [acting] – I do not know.

– It is clear that physically ballet is a thousand times more complicated than an acting game, but what is the emotional load? What is harder?

– Emotionally more difficult, I think, a film. In the movie, the emotional concentration must be very strong, because 12-15 hours you have to be all the time in one moment. You at this time can shoot from different angles, and you must always be in the moment. Dance is more meditation, you can get lost in it. The body itself works, the memory stays in the muscles, not in the head, and then you do not think about anything. Sometimes you can even forget the movements if you thought. [Acting and dance] – two different extreme. Now if they were combined in one, then it would be a balance suitable for me.

– That is, maybe you are a militant hero, if you like fights so much?

– A superhero, maybe? I like Spiderman and Batman very much.

– What was it like to be in the same movie with Johnny Depp? You called him one of your favorite actors.

– Yes, that’s how you always put a bar and grow up, you want to be some kind of person or something like him. Johnny Depp was one of those heroes, I had posters in my room. When I met him, of course, I wanted to learn from him, I always looked at him, wanted to be there, peeped as he played his scenes.

– Such a star composition – Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer and others – helped you learn some new secrets of acting?

– All the actors behave differently, prepare differently. Someone can joke-joke, and then – bang and played a scene! And someone is constantly immersed in yourself, preparing. Someone is talking to you, joking, but still it is clear that he is all in his character.

– Have you chosen any strategy for yourself?

“I do not know yet.” I really enjoy being in the movies, so sometimes I maybe relax too. Then I think if it’s worth it, you need to be more organized. For example, in “Red Sparrow” I was more concentrated, but there I was alone on the set, and there was more dancing. Here [in “Murder on the Orient Express”] everyone was together, joked, told stories, it was interesting, and at some point I began to feel very relaxed.

– In recent years, you are moving quite consistently towards pop culture: a clip, an advertisement, a documentary and now a feature film. This, in your opinion, somehow helps to popularize the ballet?

– Yes, and this is the main function that I want to do – popularize. Do not aggravate [the ballet] while doing it, but pour a good product into a wide culture. To people who can not buy a ticket to the theater, they could see it at home on TV or watch a performance at the stadium. That is, so that such high art as ballet could see everything. Why only “elite” can enjoy such art?

Dance is an important language that you do not always know, but you understand it, you feel it. This conversation is not a brain, but a soul, and this communication is at some very high level, that words can not be explained. I danced before I went, I think, many children are dancing. The dance is always in us – we dance in clubs, we dance at a wedding, we dance at home. Dance is always present in our life, and ballet is simply a more refined, spent dance.

– Do you think the situation is changing? At the same clip Take Me to Church got 20 million views.

– In fact, ballet has always been popular, but it is very closed. It’s unhealthy. it’s important to bring it to TV, to cinemas, you need to use it. And in the films, I believe there is a future for the dance, because virtual reality is our next step, and the dance in it works best. I believe that Disney and other big corporations will soon start using dance, because it works. And the children understand it best.

– You said several years ago that there is not enough respect for the dancer as a profession in the theatrical industry

– I would not say yet that the situation is changing. Dancers are always ready for anything. Because they really believe in the profession, they are so learned. But they need protection – they are agents, they are managers, they do not have it.

– How could you find this protection in the person of agents if you had problems with reputation after the Royal Royal Ballet (in 2012 Polunin left the Royal Ballet because of a conflict with the leadership, while working in the theater, the dancer opened a tattoo parlor, English tabloids wrote about his enthusiasm for parties and drugs”)?

– Yes, there were obvious problems, but I had agents who are interested in cinema. And I assembled the team with the potential for the cinema, but this team works for the ballet as well.

– You were compared to Mikhail Baryshnikov more than once: a dancer who also started moving towards cinema in the same way after his success abroad. And in a dramatic theater, like Baryshnikov, would you like to play?

– I wanted to, and I see this combination of dance and theater. I would really like to try, there are already ideas, there are projects – one soon I would like to organize with [the actor and director] Grigory Dobrygin. This is my dream.

“Will this happen in Russia?”

“I do not know yet, but it certainly will.” It is the combination of two arts, and this will give new opportunities for dancers, because they can do both dance and theater. Everyone has a dream to play.

 

Prince Of Ballet, Sergei Polunin

Prince Of Ballet, Sergei Polunin

For EuroNews

by Elena Karaeva   25/10/2016

Sergei Polunin picked up the crown of the ballet prince many years after she fell out of the weakening hands of the dying Nureyev. Like the legendary defector, completely changing the classical ballet for several decades ahead, Polunin reluctantly fits into the framework of the troupe and creative decisions that do not belong to him. Gifted with plasticity and extraordinary physical strength (he was engaged in gymnastics before deciding to devote himself entirely to the art of Terpsichore), at the height of his career, he decided to try himself in an adjacent theatrical art and become an actor.

“It seems to me that it makes sense to try myself in different spheres of art. Including, and then to be more precise in the work, when you are working on the creation of new choreography. ”

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This clip, a collaboration of Polunin and the famous photographer David Lachapelle, became the record holder in the number of views of a ballet composition.

“I wanted to make a video for this composition of Hozier. I wanted to go to Hollywood to study there in an acting school. It was very difficult for me, I cried almost half a day. I was completely emotionally wrung out, at the limit of physical strength.”

There is a documentary film dedicated to Polunin called “Dancer”.  Its main theme is Polunin’s rebellion against the rules adopted in today’s ballet.

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“In a large company, you at the very best a repeat someone written before you. This is the maximum for which so strangely understood creativity is calculated today. Dancers are reduced to props, to costumes, to scenery. I do not want to put up with this any longer. And I’m talking about it directly and openly.”

The Tao Of Sergei

The Tao Of Sergei

The Tao Of Sergei

By Pam Boehme Simon.  Gathered from information told to interviewer Olga Zhyzhko for Vogue UA.

Tao
noun \ˈdau̇,ˈtau̇\
1. guiding principles of all reality
2. the rational basis of human activity or conduct

 

The most important quality is Love.  “If you treat everything with love, your world becomes different.  You see everything in different colors.”

A worthy goal is to re-invent a world without money.  “Then people can do what they want and not be dependent upon money.   Artists do not need money to create, and they don’t believe in money.  It is possible to do everything without money.  People need to believe that.  It would be good to see the world like that, so that people will do what they believe in.”

Emotions and energy.  “I always give positive emotions.  Even when I’m in a bad mood.  It must be pure energy.  I think it’s a conversation between the spectator and the artist on a subconscious level.  Both spectator and artist are exchanging energies between them.”

Happiness.  “I am coming back to the feeling of happiness and being carefree.   I think it’s important and I don’t understand why people have to change, why, when we become older, we find it necessary to change.  Why can’t we stay in the same state of purity and correctness?  Unfortunately, the world is made like this:  it is changing you.  But that’s not right.  People who don’t have the right vision and dreams did it.  It is necessary to change it and live happy.  We forget that we need to live happily.  We always invent problems and concerns.  And children don’t.”

Meeting Sergei

Meeting Sergei

The Ballet Association is a group of enthusiasts supporting the Royal Ballet company with regular meetings and interviews with dancers and other company members. The group holds an annual dinner to which Royal Ballet dancers are invited. Contributions are made to the Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School.

In 2009, the Ballet Association invited Sergei Polunin to their January meeting.  This is the report of that meeting.

Meeting Sergei Polunin, Soloist, The Royal Ballet

Interviewed by David Bain

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church,
London, 14 January 2009.

Upon meeting Sergei, DAVID BAIN WELCOMED Sergei Polunin and began by asking how he got into ballet.

Sergei is from a city with no ballet history in the Ukraine.  His mother put him in a little ballet school when he was three. He did that for six months. The following year he began gymnastics which he did for two years. By the time he was six he decided to do it professionally so went to a professional gymnastics school doing studies from 8 a.m. to 12 and gym training from 12 to 6 p.m. He’s been used to hard work from an early age. Sergei enjoyed it a lot.

The pollution was bad and wasn’t good for his lungs where he trained so his mother suggested he go back to his little dancing school. When he was three his mum had donated a little carpet to the school and he found it still there on his return. His friend was auditioning for the Kiev ballet school and his mother thought it would be a good idea to move there. She was a guiding force in his ballet career but always asked if he wanted to do it. So aged nine he joined the Kiev school with two friends. At this point he’d never seen a ballet. He’d only done classes up till then which he enjoyed as he loved training and working on his body. The first ballet he saw was a local Ukrainian version of Carmen which he much enjoyed.

He was in Kiev for four years and was two years younger than the others in his class. Originally all his friends at gymnastics were smaller and he said he wanted to stop growing which he did! When he got to the ballet school everyone was taller. Initially his teacher said he saw potential but he didn’t have such a great body because of his gymnastics. He was put in a class with older students but he’s always liked older people as they were more interesting so it was no problem for him to be the youngest in class.

One memory from Kiev school was going to the theatre and being put in the opera.  He also did acting and modelling class which he couldn’t understand but his mother thought it all helped with the ballet. At age 12 she thought they should move again.  They went to Leningrad where he auditioned and was accepted but said he didn’t want to take up the place. He didn’t say why but it was because he felt more scared of academics (which he’d heard were difficult there) than ballet, and wanted to stay in the Ukraine. The following year his mother decided they should all move to London by which time his father was working in Portugal and his grandmother in Greece to support Sergei in Kiev.

A couple of weeks later his father sent him an application form for the Royal Ballet School.  It was completed and returned. They heard nothing for a while and then the reply came that they were very happy to accept Sergei and underneath was written the sum of £32,000. Because they didn’t understand English they thought he’d been accepted but would have to pay that amount which they couldn’t afford so they gave up on the idea. But a couple of months later when the form was translated they realised that the Royal was looking for sponsorship for him for that amount.

It was really down to his teacher’s dog that his application went forward. The dog met his English teacher on the street and the humans started to speak as a result of which his sponsorship was found. His mother remained in the Ukraine when he came to England where he was the only foreign student in his class at White Lodge. Aged 13 he went straight into the fifth year so once again everyone was much older. But it was a great and enjoyable change for him – he’d always wanted to go where there were boys but the opportunity had never come up as he was always with his mother.

At White Lodge there were six boys in a room having fun and he got used to it very quickly and didn’t miss home after a week. From the dance perspective the difference in Russia was that you are made to do things.  Here you have to be self-motivated.  That makes you a stronger dancer as no one pushes you if you don’t do it. Some Russians fall apart because of the pressure but here the facilities are wonderful.  But you have to know where you want to get to. Some of the boys weren’t perhaps pushing themselves. David said here that Steven McRae had commented that he had been surprised that some didn’t put in the effort – did he find that? Sergei thought they generally worked hard.

Sergei, who is now 19, went to the Upper School when he was 14, still the smallest boy. The facilities were amazing and his teacher, David Peden, was very supportive and helped him a lot. They had fun and went to the Prix de Lausanne and Russia together. He’s a very funny guy and Sergei thought his own technique would never improve as they were always laughing in class! As he was so young he stayed longer than usual in Wolf House, which was normally for first year students. This was a good decision by Galina.  Otherwise he would probably have gone out every night getting up to mischief!

David relayed a story told him by Joan Seaman who with her friend was watching Sergei in class. Her friend said afterwards that the teacher, David Peden, was always picking on Sergei.  Joan said quite rightly that that was because he was the one with talent. Sergei said that in private they were good friends but in class it was different and David would pick on him and put him down in front of the other boys. In his first year at the Upper School aged 14 Sergei did Don Q variation with the Russian school who joined them for a school performance.

The previous year Sergei had also won the Grand Prix. He’d also achieved gold in a competition in the Ukraine and was looking forward to a week of rest when on day four someone invited him to go in for the competition. Normally it’s hard to get a US visa but somehow it appeared within 24 hours!

He went on to New York and danced the Acteon solo and Nutcracker and a contemporary piece by himself and a Ukrainian friend which had been created for the Ukrainian competition on the actual day. At the time it was only half finished, he didn’t really know the music and this piece had no name. His mother had mentioned high emotion and his friend thought that was a good title. He just went ahead and danced it almost making it up as he went along. A very famous choreographer asked him where the piece came from as it was very unusual choreography! For the Grand Prix he worked on it and changed the name.

Although he won the Grand Prix he didn’t accept an offer to go to ABT2 or the main company as the Royal offered him a place. It was a very hard decision to make. He was told it was easier to make progress at ABT whereas he’d be in the corps at the Royal but he thought he would try the Royal which proved the right decision as the following year he was promoted. Just before the Grand Prix he’d won the Prix de Lausanne where he went with his teacher who was very strict and wanted arrangements to be precise, emphasising that Sergei mustn’t be late arriving.

On the first morning they were sitting on the bus thinking there were 30 minutes to go.  When they arrived at a beach, they realized they’d taken the wrong bus! With five minutes to go they caught a taxi.  Sergei put on a number and ran in front of the judges. It was very hard as everything has to be just so – classes, rehearsals, contemporary, classical and a perfect performance for the judges. Teddy Kumakawa was the last dancer from the Royal to win. Sergei said he hated competitions but they were important for a dancer to succeed. He knew he had a contract with the Royal when in the Ukraine with broken foot. Disagreeing with the teacher, Sergei jumped as high as possible to try to get his attention and landed badly. He was in Upper School for three years.

Sergei joined the company in 2007. He was thrown on as Bronze Idol in Bayadère when he felt his body wasn’t really ready. In the third act he didn’t know there was a screen in front of the stage. During the stage rehearsal Sergei jumped right into it! After that he wasn’t used for ages so was a bit upset.

Sergei had a meteoric rise in the company. At the end of his first season he was in Dances at a Gathering which was very prestigious. It took a year to get the role. He’d learned it as cover and a couple of weeks before the performance he was told he was doing the Brown boy, a big role. It was wonderful and he really enjoyed it. Rehearsing was difficult but the performance was great. He then began to wonder if he’d be promoted to First Artist or not when he heard he’d been made Soloist which was amazing.

Sergei has done both roles in Nutcracker.  Once as the Prince which was more his style, and also the Nutcracker which is much harder. He’s now rehearsing Solor in Bayadère.  It is a much more interesting role. Acting skills are required which he finds less easy than dancing.

David thanked our guest for a fascinating evening. It was great to host a young dancer who had done leading roles in his first/second years with the company. Anyone who thought there might not have been enough to talk about was quite wrong! It was a great experience.  We all looked forward to following his upward progression over the next few years.

Report written by Liz Bouttell, corrected by Melissa Hamilton, Sergei Polunin and David Bain ©The Ballet Association 2009.

Reflex (Czech Republic) Article 2017

Reflex (Czech Republic) Article 2017

The famous dancer Sergei Polunin: “I ripped off the Russian coat of arms on the arm shortly before the annexation of the Crimea”

Marek Gregor

Sergei Polunin (27 years old) is today a world superstar. At the age of 19 he became the premier of the Royal Ballet in London, but left this famous scene in less than three years. Despite the fact that Polunin limited his performances to the public to a minimum, he still races over the stage with such ease that the audience grows numb with delight. He deserved a lot of nicknames: Bad guy, James Dean of the ballet, Embodiment of the jump beyond the edge. Recently, he begins to embody one more of his dreams – to become an actor. Recently, the shooting of the film “Murder in the Orient Express” was directed by Kenneth Bran, where Polunin played along with Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Penelope Cruz.

The general public noticed Polunin at the end of 2014 in a video for the song of the Irish singer Hosier Take Me To Church, shot by photographer David Lachapelle.Stunning jumps and pirouettes of the then 24-year-old dancer, covered with tattoos and scars, today scored 20 million views on YouTube. Paradoxically, Polunin was also attracted by the Air Force channel, which co-produced the biographical documentary “Dancer”. At the end of May, the film will be shown in Czech cinemas.

Polunin was born in 1989 in the Ukrainian city of Kherson on the Black Sea coast in a Russian-speaking family. At the age of 13, he was accepted into a ballet studio at the Royal Academy in London, and almost immediately began talking about him as a future star. At the age of 19 he became the premier of the Royal Ballet, the youngest in its history. But less than three years later he left this scene, and the media began to write about his unbridled lifestyle full of parties, alcohol and cocaine. He himself admits that he often reinforces the strength of various substances before the speeches: “Then I do not feel pain, I get drunk, and often I do not even remember how the speech went,” says Polunin in artlessly in a documentary film shot in 2012-2016.Two months ago in the British capital the premiere of a large-scale performance Project Polunin was held, on which Sergei Polunin worked together with his girlfriend Natalia Osipova. The dancer appeared before the Prague public on May 1 at the National Theater in the Dancer Live program.

Reflex: You are from Ukraine, lived and worked in London for a long time, and then performed in Russia. You spend a lot of time in Los Angeles and just returned from a tour of Japan. Where do you feel at home?

Sergei Polunin: I often return to London, and despite the fact that this city I like and every time amazes me, I do not consider it my home. So, if you are asking about this, Ukraine is probably the closest thing to me.

– After in 2012 you left the Royal Ballet in London, a year and a half you danced in Moscow and Novosibirsk. Finally, shortly before the annexation of the Crimea by Russian troops, you left. On the hand of one of your hands you have a tattoo in the form of a coat of arms of Russia, on the other – of Ukraine …

– I ripped off the Russian coat of arms shortly before what happened, as if I had a premonition of what would happen. I put the Ukrainian coat of arms later. Anyway, I think that it’s time for these two countries to get closer again.

“It will probably take some time …”

– You’re right. I would like to help to establish contacts. In Russia I am familiar with influential people. In Novosibirsk, where I lived for a while, people of art, especially ballet, have the privilege: they meet people who usually do not intersect with each other. You talk with the head of the police, the head of the mafia, the head of the largest company – in general, with all who have power … In Ukraine, I especially do not have dating, so long … So I’m going there to return.

– On the Russian expansion, Czechs, we also left quite fresh memories. It has not even been a hundred years since the troops of the Warsaw Treaty countries occupied us under the Soviet leadership. Were you horrified when the war started in the east of Ukraine?
– I’m from the Russian-speaking part of the country, and there are absolutely the same people as those who live in Russia. In addition, I think that, for example, even between Russia and America there are no special differences. I am firmly convinced that we must cancel the borders. I’m tired of showing visas everywhere, and when I’m somewhere I do not care how it’s called: Europe, the Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine or the USA …

– You say that you do not feel at home in London, but you live there with your girlfriend – the soloist of the Royal Ballet Natalia Osipova. What do you think about Braxit?

“It’s not what I wanted again.” In general, everyone in my environment is unhappy with this.

– Could you compare the conditions created for the art of ballet in different parts of the world? In the documentary film Air Force “Dancer” you say that dancers in London can not afford to rent an apartment, and that they live four or five together in one apartment …

– When I danced in London, none of us could afford even a normal dinner. I plowed like a horse. I was a soloist, but I could not buy a car, not to mention extravagant things. The same thing begins in Russia. Previously, it was customary to give an apartment to those who are part of the troupe. However, they renounce unlimited contracts, and the contracts are prolonged for a year, including at the Bolshoi Theater and Stanislavsky Theater. It is not easy for a person to live in Russia. In the same way as the dancer of the Royal Ballet. In my time dancers there received a thousand pounds a month, and the first year as a soloist I was paid two and a half thousand.

“Was that the main reason for leaving the Royal Ballet?”

– Yes and no. Money did not interest me so much, I was young and did not need them especially. But it seemed strange to me that dancers are rarely seen on TV. I asked myself why they do not appear, for example, in advertising? I think that this is due to the ballet policy. We were constantly told that agents are bad people, that they will only suck money out of us. Today in the world of ballet, several directors of ballet scenes decide everything. And who else should protect our interests, if not our agents? If you can not be seen in the media, you do not earn enough money, then you can easily be manipulated. I think that dancers (not only considering the time spent on training) deserve the same recognition as, for example, actors, not to mention athletes. So it seems to me a long time ago, but the idea that I should change everything, came to me only after talking with David Lashapel. He asked me: “How is it possible that you do not have your own manager? For example, opera singers have their agents in different countries, then why should not they have the stars of dance? “So recently I created my own project …

– Do you mean Project Polunin?

– Yes. I even came into conflict with my own employees. They told me: “What are you doing? Why do you want to pay more for the dancers, although they usually get paid 300 pounds a week? “Yes, that’s the standard, but that’s why none of the star dancers even can afford to buy their own apartment even at the end of their career.

– The premiere of Project Polunin was held in London two months ago. You returned to the London ballet scene after five years. When you left, they wrote about you that you behave riotously, that you can not be relied on. How did they receive you now?

 

– I was personally helped by the video Take Me To Church. Before that, strange rumors were circulating about me.

– It is known that people of art can behave wildly, and promoters and the public are attracted.

“But this does not apply to the ballet world.” If you behave this way, then you go against the system. People who organize ballet events, that is directors of theaters, do what is beneficial to them, and not what is good for speakers. Two hours after I spoke with the director of the Royal Ballet, he made a statement that I was an unreliable dancer, and yet I did not even realize at the time that I was leaving … In addition, after many years in the UK, they canceled my visa, that to me, a foreigner not from the European Union, has created great problems. Suddenly I was in the country without a residence permit, although I lived there for almost ten years. I thought that I would go to New York, but there were afraid of fairy tales about me, so in the end I was delighted when I received an invitation from Russia. Recently in Japan they asked me about this again, saying: “You are a real professional.” This is a strange “half light.”

– In the final part of Project Polunin, you dance with Natalia Osipova in a composition called Narcissus and Echo. Is this about you?

“That’s what London criticism thought. Honestly, it was not even my idea. The play is based on the idea that different artists fulfill their own desires. As for the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus and Echo, this desire was fulfilled by Ilan Eshkery (a London composer who collaborated with David Gilmour, Annie Lennox and Amon Tobin, for example, is the author of music for David Attenborough’s documentary films, and now he is preparing a large-scale ballet project with Polunin and Lashapel – Ed. Ed.) . Eshkery has long wanted to write music on this topic. My project was born quite difficult, because I had to work together several “ego” together. Yes, do not laugh, to unite so many personalities so that together they work very well – this is probably the most difficult thing that I had to organize.

– Does David Lachapelle have a big “ego”?

“Perhaps you will not believe me, but he did not seem to me” egomaniac “, although everyone around him was terribly afraid. Our cooperation was born thanks to the manager Gabriel Tana and David Lachapelle’s assistant Milošu Garajde, who in 2014 on the opening day of David in London, it occurred to make a video together for the song Take Me To Church.
– The moment when at the London hotel Claridge’s Lachapelle offered you cooperation, you described it as follows: “I was completely at the bottom and lost. Then there was a dark streak in my life. I hated the ballet and knew that this would be my last dance. There was no doubt about that. “ And suddenly the world famous photographer invited you to take part in the Hawaiian island of Maui …

“He’s a great person, and working with him was incredibly easy.” He could listen well to the needs of the dancer. We still keep in touch. And we value each other’s opinion.

– Did Lachapelle become the man who opened the door to you in Los Angeles for Hollywood film producers?

– Rather, I was approached by the fact that he took a video for Take Me To Church with me. This video really helped me. At parties in Hollywood, it happened that I was approached by some famous director or actor and said: “I’m incredibly glad to see you, my wife told me about your video.” It was the same way in London, where I suddenly began to be taken again. Representatives of the Air Force wanted to participate in the already created film “Dancer”. In fact, it’s incredible: one such insignificant thing, like a four-minute clip, and all of a sudden there’s so much …

– Recently you starred in the movie with Johnny Depp. What is it like to change the ballet scene to the world of movie cameras?

– Movies are a wonderful environment. When I left the Royal Ballet, I asked myself a natural question: what next? I did not want to be just a dancer. Five years ago, Gabriela, the producer of the film Dancer, offered me to study at an acting school, but then I still did not want to completely abandon the dance career. And now, about six months ago, there was such a chance, literally from nowhere … I even acted in two American films at once. It’s hard to say which one is better. In the first, in the “Red Sparrow” with Jennifer Lawrence in the title role, I played a dancer. At the same time, I was approached by Kenneth Branagh with the proposal to star in the film “Murder in the Orient Express” (a new version of the many-time filmed detective Agatha Christie, with the release of the film scheduled for the fall of this year-Ed.) Along with Johnny Depp. I was a man who really wanted to be an actor but did not have any training.On the first day I came to the playground and already in the first scene that was filmed on the train opposite Willem Dafoe, and next to Derek Jacoby, Pfeiffer, and for me –Penelope Cruz, they did not know that this was the first real movie scene for me, such legends! Kenneth simply said: “We’ve started!” And I played without preparation, as if they were thrown into the water like a four-year old child and said: Swim! “Only then did I realize the huge difference between ballet and actor’s acting in the cinema, where every slightest movement means incredibly much.

– Probably the only famous dancer who achieved success on the screen is Mikhail Baryshnikov.

“But he was still a dancer.” I want, that someday I was considered not a dancer who plays, but a real actor … I already received the following excellent proposal. Acting makes me happy and helps to develop in ballet – I hope you will not be indignant, if I say so – to the industry.

– You say that acting makes you happy. And what makes you unhappy?

– When nothing happens. It’s horrible. When one day I have nothing to do, I’m depressed. I need to be constantly busy, fighting for something …

2012 Article “A Dancer’s Demons”

2012 Article “A Dancer’s Demons”

A DANCER’S DEMONS

Why did Sergei Polunin walk out on a golden career with the Royal Ballet? Julie Kavanagh goes to Kiev and Moscow to talk to him, his parents and his mentors

Cover Story – The Economist 1843

JULIE KAVANAGH | SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2012

ON JANUARY 24TH this year Sergei Polunin “woke up fine” and went to work. He was to spend most of the day at the Royal Opera House, rehearsing the climactic duet in “The Dream” in which he was to make his debut as Oberon. Anthony Dowell, who created the role, was coaching Polunin, and his Titania was the Romanian ballerina Alina Cojocaru—an exquisite artist whose harebell delicacy on stage belies a ferociously exacting temperament in the studio. Polunin was in an unreceptive mood. He had just left his first serious girlfriend, the Royal Ballet soloist Helen Crawford. “This was the second day and it suddenly hit me. Two years we were together and I’d really got used to her.” Cojocaru was not happy either. Frederick Ashton’s Nocturne pas de deux is a masterly rendition of the battle of the sexes, the new accord between the Fairy King and Queen enacted in mirror-image movements in which the two dancers must find total reciprocity of technique and emotion. There is also a notorious stumbling block when the ballerina is rotated by her partner like an open compass as her torso jack-knifes under her extended leg. Cojocaru made it clear to Polunin that he was not helping.

“I thought one more word and that’s it. I held tight, trying not to cry. And then my head flew off.” He announced that he was leaving, which Dowell took to mean leaving the room for a few minutes. But Polunin meant for good.

For the Royal Ballet his sudden defection was something of a backhander. After nurturing this extraordinarily gifted Ukrainian boy through both its junior and senior schools, the company made him a principal at 19 and gave him roles which most of his colleagues could only dream of. Oberon was to be followed a few weeks later by his Romeo debut, beamed live to cinemas around the world. The main impact, though, was a sense of loss. A dancer like Polunin comes along once every two or three decades; at 13 his potential was so evident that his teacher would pull up a chair and study him during class. “He’d say, ‘Sergei, show them how to do a rond de jambe.’” To see him demonstrate a movement is to see a blueprint of perfection. Watching him back then at the junior school, where my son was a pupil, I was reminded of home footage I had come across while researching my biography of Nureyev. It was of the teenage Baryshnikov, who was also a living lexicon of classical ballet, articulating academic steps in ways which could hardly if ever be improved. Polunin has it in him to be the heir of both stars, adding Nureyev’s feral impulse to Baryshnikov’s phenomenal virtuosity and clarity, while introducing a youthful masculinity of his own.

The 13-year-old boy I remember being touchingly grateful when we took him out for a pizza was now, at 22, the youngest-ever star of one of the world’s great ballet companies. And yet he was ricocheting out of control. It was partly the usual rebelliousness you expect at this age, combined with the accelerated trajectory of his career. But you could sense something more, some other motor for his behaviour, that lay beyond the arcane world of balletomanes. That was one reason why, within days of his departure, the story went global, picked up in America by the Huffington Post, the New York Times and the Daily Beast.

Polunin went to the dressing room he shared with two principals. “Just sitting. Hiding.” He kept ringing the administrator’s office to ask to see the director of the Royal Ballet, Monica Mason, but got no reply. “I was there maybe three hours. Nobody came.” The idea of leaving the company had been preoccupying him for months, and the management was aware of “rumblings”. His mother had told him that if the Royal Ballet valued him they would have given him a permanent visa and an apartment; he was always being invited to guest abroad but not given permission because he was leading the repertory in London. He had even given in his notice a year earlier—also following a break-up with Helen Crawford. “They promised a lot of things, raised my salary. It was a really, really big jump. I told them I wanted to do movies, and they said they’d sort it out. But there wasn’t much of a change. So now, with situation in life not good, I thought it was the perfect time to go. This time I hoped they’d let me.”

In the end he headed along the corridor to Monica Mason’s office, suddenly feeling frightened. “He was very emotional when he first came in,” she says. “But as we spoke he quietened down.” Polunin thought it would be easier for her to accept his resignation if he said he wanted to give up dancing altogether. He told her he had been pushed into ballet from the age of three and had no real passion for it. “Is there anything we can do to keep you?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

Mason had championed him, but their rapport was professional. She wasn’t aware of the latest break-up with Helen Crawford, and this meeting—which he recalls lasting 20 minutes, she double that—was the longest they had ever spoken. “Sergei can be very restless. I’d known him come in and talk for ten minutes and then stand up and go. He’s quite mysterious and unfathomable. He doesn’t seek advice or let people get close to him, and yet he’s adorable. He’s never rude, and he has a kindness and gentleness in him. It’s very easy to get very fond of him.”

As Mason talked, she could not help wishing that she could tie him to a chair and keep him in her office for 24 hours until he had calmed down and realised what he would be losing. “His talent is so rare that one would have done anything to keep him. But he was adamant. I said, ‘Well, darling, where are you going now?’”

“I don’t know.”

“Sergei, please let’s talk again tomorrow.”

“No, no, please. I’ve decided.”

“Are you going to pack up your things?”

“No, I’ll do that another time.”

HE WALKED OUT of the Royal Opera House feeling an intense “breeze of freedom”. And he did have a plan—to go to New York. He reckoned he would be paid far more as a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT), whose short seasons would free him to earn more around the world; in rehearsals he had encouraged Anthony Dowell to talk about his own ABT break from the Royal Ballet (“I was researching”). He went back to Archway, the corner of north London where he had been sharing a room with a schoolfriend, the dancer Jade Hale-Christofi. He sat on the bed. “I thought, ‘So, now what? Call ABT?’”

Insecurity was setting in, but not for long. Two hours after the company’s announcement (“Principal Sergei Polunin has resigned from the Royal Ballet with immediate effect”), there was a message on his mobile from Alexei Ratmansky, former director of the Bolshoi, now resident choreographer at ABT. It was a week before Polunin returned his call: he was keeping his options open. That night his mobile kept ringing and he received hundreds of texts, tweets and e-mails.

One of the few calls he took was from another Ukrainian former Royal Ballet principal, Ivan Putrov. He was organising a “Men in Motion” programme at Sadler’s Wells in which Polunin was due to appear three days later. Ten years older and trained at the same Kiev school, Putrov had been something of a mentor to him, and when Polunin went back to Kiev in school holidays he would often spend evenings with Putrov and his mother Natalia Berezina-Putrova, a ballerina turned teacher. “He liked my cooking,” she told me. “Vanya would go somewhere, and Serezha would stay and talk, or watch videos I showed him of dancers. When he came to rehearse at Sadler’s Wells I asked how he was feeling. ‘Harasho,’ he said. He was ‘fine’, like he always was. I thought he was making a big mistake, but he was happy because he was free.”

The Royal Ballet made it known that Polunin would now be performing without a work permit—a situation which again made news. While he went to dance in Japan for a week, Sadler’s Wells stepped in to help, securing an “Exceptional Talent” visa which allowed him back into Britain. In return, he agreed to a second “Men in Motion” programme on March 13th, and to help Putrov publicise the next programme in a series of interviews—or at least that was the intention. Putrov’s attempts to limit journalists’ questions to “Men in Motion” failed: all anyone wanted to know was “what made the ballet dancer jump” (Huffington Post).

After one such interview, I went with the two dancers to get something to eat. Instinctively solicitous, Polunin offered to carry my bag. With their long unruly hair, expansive Slavic posture and ten-to-two ballet walk, they made quite an impact, and a trio of girls turned round and giggled as we reached the restaurant. When Putrov ordered pasta and a glass of wine, and Polunin chose ginger ale and a chocolate brownie, there seemed far more than a decade between them. As there did again when they talked about the role of Romeo. Polunin was relieved not to be dancing him: “He’s not me. He’s romantic, insipid.”

“I think he’s very strong,” said Putrov. “Maybe he’s searching for something he can’t yet find.” Unlike Polunin, Putrov was mature enough to realise that a performer can change the interpretation of a role to suit himself. He has a voracious appetite for books and London culture, but Polunin, despite every encouragement, has never taken an interest in much except Hollywood movies and the music of Jay-Z. Another striking difference is their attitude to their families in Ukraine. Both are the only children of divorced parents. Putrov is in almost daily contact with his mother, even taking his laptop into the studio when he rehearses so that she can give him corrections via Skype. Polunin’s mother has not seen him on stage since he was a child, and keeps up with what he’s doing through his fan sites.

They are in regular contact, though, and Polunin had arranged for me to see his mother in Kiev. As her birthday was the day after our meeting, I was surprised he had no present for me to pass on. He did peel off several £50 notes from a slab of cash—for his mother and also some for his father, who lives in Kherson, south-eastern Ukraine, where Sergei spent his early years. What about getting her a card to put the money in? He shook his head. “When I was a child, she would force me to hand-make cards, so there’s no way I’m going to make an effort now.” I thought of the moment in Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” when she gets a birthday card from her daughter—a folded paper with a drawing of a smiley face—and tears it up, telling her it’s not good enough. Polunin says of his mother: “She was always criticising me, and so when I came here I decided, ‘Never again are you going to watch me.’”

WITH HER GENTLE manner and strained, desolate face, Galina Polunina seems about as fearsome as Dasha, her son’s elderly Persian cat. They share a room in an ugly, Khrushchev-era concrete block, a long metro-ride from central Kiev. There is a double bed, an exercise bike, a huge flat-screen television, a display of ornaments and pictures, but no books. I sit on the sofabed where Sergei sleeps when he visits. After he left to train in England in 2003, Galina, who was only 35, fell into a long depression. Gradually, she made a life for herself in Kiev, where she now works as a wardrobe mistress at the opera house. She is not bitter about being unable to share Sergei’s success, knowing that her dreams for him have rebounded on her, but her eyes fill with tears when she says, “He keeps the memory of my strictness.” Her consolation is a trove of memories—a rich archive of photographs and videos recording every stage of Sergei Polunin’s young life.

He was born in Kherson in 1989, an energetic baby, so pliable that the midwife who delivered him exclaimed with alarm when she manipulated his limbs. He was walking at ten months, sleeping very little, and always on the move. “Serezha was like Spiderman,” says Galina. “He’d climb up the wall of the corridor and do somersaults over the sofa.” Her husband, Vladimir, was away in Moscow earning money, so it was left to Galina to find some kind of physical outlet for Sergei. He took his first dancing classes at three, but lasted only a few weeks as it was winter and he caught cold waiting for the trolley bus home. A year later, he was picked to join an afternoon gymnastics club. Galina tutored him herself for the entrance exam to a school renowned for its high standards—but he had not long been accepted when his gym coach told her that pupils wanting to advance would have to go to a nearby school, where the timetable was synchronised.

Academically, it was far inferior, but she made the decision to move him. “His teacher said to me, ‘You’re crazy—why?’ But this was a hard time for Ukraine. Conditions were horrible. It was hard to find nourishing food and there were problems with electricity and hot water. In the evenings we used to wash in the water I kept in a bowl on the stove. Even a good education couldn’t help you to make your way unless you had important government links. As a professional sportsman he stood a better chance.”

Between 8am and noon the six-year-old Sergei would attend School No 16 in a pedestrian street in an old part of the city, and then he would walk through Lenin Park to the gymnasium where he trained until 6pm. “I don’t remember eating.” In the evening he caught the tram home on his own, passing St Catherine’s Cathedral, where Potemkin is buried. Kherson’s football stadium is behind the gym, but Sergei never watched a match or even kicked a ball with the boys in the yard. There was no time and he had no energy. “Sometimes when he got back, he’d just fall down from exhaustion,” says Vladimir. “We’d help him undress and put him to bed. Galya was buying red caviar, just for Serezha, to make him special sandwiches for strength.”

Video footage of him at the gym shows a skinny seven-year-old whose innate dancer’s posture makes him stand out in a line of 25 boys. As he exercises on the double bars, his knees touch his nose, and he slides into 180-degree splits. His remarkable plasticity had particularly impressed his coach. “He was very good at stretching and did things very clearly,” says Anatoly Nikolaevich Yarushev, a short, wiry man with glinting gold fillings. “He has light bones, so he was a jumping boy and he loved taking risks.” Yarushev claims that only 3% of pupils go on to make a career as gymnasts, and at the time he reckoned Sergei could become what he calls an “international master of sport”. Galina was more ambitious still. “This is the mother of a future Olympic champion,” a smiling Vladimir remarks on camera, which was exactly what she had in mind.

The battle began. “Serezha’s first word to any suggestion was ‘Niet’. I would try to explain why he needed to do something, but he always fought back.” He was 12 when she began entering him in fortnightly competitions. “I hated them. The feeling of pressure, and my mum there watching and telling me off afterwards for not being serious enough.” Yarushev became the dominant male figure in Sergei’s life. When Vladimir returned home from Moscow, his son greeted him by saying, “Mama says that Anatoly Nikolaevich is my father now.”

The Polunins’ marriage had never been stable. They were both 20 when they met: she was a pretty blonde seamstress who had left technical school at 16, and Vladimir, romantically good-looking with ice-blue eyes, was a porter in a bread factory. Galina was his first girlfriend, and when she fell pregnant he agreed to marry her. With a baby to look after and hardly any money, they divided their time between their two families, but living with in-laws proved too much of a strain, and when Sergei was three they divorced. “I can remember my father saying goodbye as if he’d never see me again.”

A couple of years later they remarried, but with Vladimir returning from Moscow for only a few days every four months, life for Galina was far from easy. “Volodya was very soft and didn’t support me. If Serezha was naughty and I said, ‘I’ll tell your father’ he’d just laugh. As a partner, husband and father, Volodya wasn’t the man I needed. He was always sweet to Serezha and would give him money, which we didn’t have, to get a taxi instead of the tram. It was their little secret, and I was the bad one.” Again, Amy Chua’s book comes to mind. “I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore,” Chua told her mild-mannered American husband, who believed that their daughters’ childhood should be fun. Galina saw it as her duty to prepare their son for a brilliant future—even at the cost of forfeiting his love.

When Sergei was nearly eight, he caught pneumonia and one of his lungs stopped working. Three months of summer holidays and six weeks in hospital failed to cure him. “The hospital told me there was nothing more they could do,” says Galina, who was so frightened that she took him to a healer—an ex-tractor driver, said to have acquired psychic powers after being struck by lightning. “He took eggs from a bin and rolled them around my body,” Sergei remembers. “I guess he was taking the bad energy away.”

Two weeks later (“ten times of rolling eggs”) his health was restored and he returned to the gym. Young gymnasts who had been inferior to him were now far better, which demoralised him so much that his mother decided to give ballet another try. “When he came the second time, it was very different,” says his teacher, Galina Ivanova. “I could see what sports training had done for him—the incredible looseness, wonderful jump and strong feet. It was obvious that he’d had a male coach because it had given him character. He was also really disciplined.”

Galina was determined to get Sergei out of Kherson. “I saw that most of the kids spent their time on the street. The older ones would teach the little ones to smoke and do bad things. That was the lifestyle.” Both she and her friend Ludmilla, whose son Arthur was in Sergei’s dance class, wanted their boys to audition for the ballet school in Kiev; and Galina Ivanova, who would be entering her adopted son Erick, volunteered to prepare and chaperone them. “The night before the final round I couldn’t get Serezha to bed,” Galina Ivanova remembers. “While the other two slept, he kept practising a clapping sequence over and over again. It was fanaticism.”

Among the staff on the audition panel was Tatyana Mihailovna Martynenka. “Usually in the third round when the children improvise a piece, you still see very simple things, but when Sergei began dancing to a Pavarotti aria it was something truly outstanding. He had an extraordinary feeling for music and such rare natural co-ordination. It was the first time I’d ever seen a boy with such gifts and I had tears in my eyes as I watched him.”

The Kiev school accepted all three Kherson boys. Erick would become a boarder, while Sergei’s mother, Galina, agreed to take a room in Kiev to look after both Sergei and Arthur. Their husbands volunteered to pay for their keep by finding better jobs. On August 30th 1999 Galina arrived in Kiev, knowing nobody, with just $50 to last the first term. She had found a room on the 15th floor of a tenement block near the school, where for six months they had no television or washing-machine. Slowly money began arriving from Portugal, where the two fathers had moved to work on construction sites. For the next ten years Vladimir sent his wife and son cash he earned as a builder during the week and as a gardener at weekends. Galina’s mother also sent money from Greece, where she had found a job as a carer for an old woman.

Kiev’s State Choreographic Institute is a 1960s eyesore stuck way out in a rough suburb. Galina rarely took the boys into the centre—“We had no money to do anything”—and Sergei spent evenings in their one room with his toy soldiers and PlayStation. After a year, Ludmilla moved to Kiev to make a home for Arthur, and for the next four years Sergei was alone with his mother. Galina would walk him to and from school along a busy road and through a park notorious for its muggings; accompany him to extracurricular music and drawing lessons; tidy up after him in the boys’ changing room. “As soon as he arrived, he’d drop his bag, jacket, jeans on the floor. He’s always been very disorganised. The teachers didn’t like me being there, but I told them, ‘I’ve come to help you.’”

She often watched rehearsals and while knowing little about ballet, could tell when he wasn’t doing his best, and would lecture him afterwards. His old teacher, Galina Ivanova, believes her presence was reason in itself for Sergei’s half-heartedness. “All kids lose 50% of their performing qualities when the mother is in the audience,” she says. “But I never thought of Galina as a despot. She could tune Serezha like a violin.” He remembers only the hostility, particularly during homework sessions, when he claims his mother would cuff him on the head to get him to focus. “I think I may be dyslexic or have ADD or something, because I could never concentrate. I loved history—wars and Caesar and the Mongolians—but I never took schoolwork seriously, and my mum got called in lots of times. I was always the joker in class.”

In the studio he was the star. His teacher, Eduard Borisovich, would tell the boys, “ballet’s not a man’s job if you’re not a principal”, and anyone who wasn’t good enough would have to inform his parents that there was no point carrying on. Borisovich’s strictness bordered on sadism, his physical discipline brutish. “I was all right because I was the best,” says Sergei, the only pupil to whom Borisovich had ever given five marks out of five.

He was continually picked by the girls’ teacher, Tatyana Mihailovna, to partner her prize students in school performances, and she arranged extra coaching for him with a former principal, Nicolai Priadchenko. “He was beautiful on stage,” says Mihailovna. “Very sophisticated, very elegant, and he was passing this on to Sergei. He gave him a sense of characters with real emotions.” They worked together on classical variations, sometimes until ten at night; in Galina’s home videos you can see that Sergei was partnering girls on stage with convincing danseur noble decorum and the arrogance of a ruttish young stag. When he was chosen to dance the virtuoso showpiece “The Forest Song”, he was approached afterwards by Ivan Putrov’s father, a ballet photographer, who told him that his son had danced the solo ten years ago and was now performing at Covent Garden. “I think that’s what gave my mum the idea.” Galina sent photographs and a videotape of Sergei to the Royal Ballet School, and in the winter of 2003 he received an invitation to the final audition in London. In his case the test class was just a formality. “I walked into the room and saw the physique, the presence, the proportions,” says the director, Gailene Stock. “Before he’d even done a plié I thought, ‘That’s it.’”

AFTER THE DILAPIDATION of the Kiev institute, White Lodge, the Royal Ballet Lower School in Richmond Park, must have seemed like the palace it almost is—it started life as a hunting lodge built for King George II, and has a view extending over the formal gardens to Queens Ride, Pen Ponds and beyond. It was not beauty, though, that first impressed Sergei, but the camaraderie of the dorm. “The last book I read was Harry Potter, and it was like a scene from that.” Galina had accompanied him to London for three days in March 2004, but from the start of term in late August, Sergei was on his own. Because of the standard of his dancing he had been put in a class of pupils two years older, and he was let off academic work as he didn’t speak enough English, doing twice as much ballet instead. Left on his own for hours with English linguaphone cds, he could have felt alienated, but Pippa Hogg-Andrews, the Lower School principal, does not recall him being homesick: “he fitted in beautifully.”

Sergei told Galina how tame the boys were—in Kiev he was often involved in fights—but he was determined to behave well. “Any mistakes and I thought I’d be out of the country. This was too good an opportunity to miss. I did a lot of extra work on my own. When the others went to eat, I’d practise splits and stretching and watch ballet videos—Baryshnikov in “Don Q”, Vassiliev in “Spartacus”—I learnt the steps by freezing the frames.” He thought the others must hate him for being constantly singled out in class, but my own son was at White Lodge at the time and insists that all they felt was pride. “Everyone looked up to Sergei. His dancing was insane.” Pippa Hogg-Andrews says much the same. “There was a unanimous realisation that someone with prodigious ability was in our midst, and he didn’t strut about as though he knew that.” Polite with the staff, easygoing with his peers, Sergei also had a soft spot for insects and rodents. He would rescue a wasp that someone was trying to kill, resuscitate a mouse caught in a trap or take a beetle to the safety of a tree in Richmond Park. “I believe that if you’re good to nature, then nature will protect you back.”

In autumn 2004, when he moved to the Upper School in Covent Garden, he was told that he had to spend two and a half years living in residence, instead of the usual one, because he was under-age. There was still an adolescent gangliness about him, and he had so little strength for pas de deux that girls dreaded being partnered by him. He struggled with the speed of the steps—especially the intricate footwork at which English dancers excel—and showed no enthusiasm for contemporary dance. He was told how important this was, how it would help to give him more freedom of movement, but he was only interested in classical variations, which he practised alone for hours after everyone had gone home. “The janitor used to tell me off. He’d say, ‘Sergei, I need to go. I’ll miss my train.’ Finally he complained.” When Sergei was 15, he was told that his parents had divorced for the second time. “I cried for two days. After that I decided never to let them or anyone else hurt me again.”

For his final six months at school, Sergei was allowed to move out into shared digs, where he found himself living in impressive squalor. There were plates of congealed leftovers moving with maggots; mice and the odd Chinatown rat skittering round at night; floors dotted with upturned mugs to trap cockroaches. “Two boys left because they couldn’t stand it. I love nature, so I didn’t care.” Polunin admits he went “a little crazy” at this time, experimenting with drugs and missing morning class. “Gailene told me, ‘You can leave now, or behave and stay for graduation.’” Which he did. There was no visible effect on his dancing, and at the student matinée Sergei was the figurehead, performing the Nureyev signature solo and duet from “Le Corsaire”. His schoolmate Valentino Zucchetti had 22 relatives from Italy watching the show, but no one came from the Ukraine to see Sergei. It would have meant him arranging visas for his parents, and finding separate places for them to stay. He says he didn’t care that none of his family was there, but that night he took too much ketamine, a horse tranquilliser known to ravers as Special K. “Falling into a K-hole” can leave the user not only emotionally numb, but incapable of movement—a dancer’s nightmare.

ONCE HE HAD joined the company in 2007, Polunin was fast-tracked through the ranks. He made his debut on the Covent Garden stage holding a spear in “La Bayadère”, but within weeks he was performing the show-stopping Bronze Idol solo, and a little over a year later was dancing the lead. By now, with newly acquired muscular heft and strength, Polunin had such physical force on stage that he could trigger goose-bumps even when standing still. Although he did his share of corps de ballet roles—footman, cavalier, fairy escort, Prince’s friend—by August 2009 he had been promoted to first soloist, and to principal a year later. In 2011 he was given six major new roles. It was too much too soon, leaving him no time to explore a character or discover nuances in the steps. When I saw him dance “Rhapsody”, created by Frederick Ashton to showcase Baryshnikov’s brilliance, all the crazily off-kilter tricks were there, but none of the impish grace notes. Des Grieux in “Manon” was a part he wished had been saved for later, but Monica Mason is convinced that Polunin would not have been happy if she’d held him back. “Talent must out. It was a no-win situation.” Confirming this, Polunin says that he could have done it all a year earlier, and in a four-month period when he was cast in “a lot of rubbish”, he fell into a slump. “I played games all night with Jade. I never slept and I never worked.”

But carrying the show meant that he could not have a youth. His happiest memories are of being wheeled about in his buggy, aged two, by the teenagers in the yard, who let him play with their guns. Now he began recapturing Kherson’s delinquent culture in north London’s underworld, staying up all night at “epic parties” and putting money into a tattoo parlour run by a new friend, a young man with a complex past called Anthony Lammin. Polunin’s torso is scored with tattoos from this period: references to died-young role models James Dean and Heath Ledger; random words and phrases (“I am not a Human/I am not a God/I am hwo [sic] I am”); a crucifix; a howling wolf. More unsettling, though, are the wide, red stripes of scarification that he calls “tiger scratches”. He incised these himself. “Tattoo was bad orange colour, so I cut to take the colour out.”

With no inclination to attend company class, Polunin often warmed up in a disabled lavatory at the Opera House, as this bought him an extra half an hour in bed. “There was nothing we could do,” says Mason. “They’re young adults: we don’t take a register, and we trust them to do the right thing for their physical health.” In the final two years at the Royal Ballet, he rarely bothered to jump in class, turned up late for rehearsals—“It was fine because it was me”—and gave only 20% of himself in the studio. Some partners were more understanding than others. “I have to say it’s really hard to work with Sergei,” Tamara Rojo told me. “He’s unreliable. You never know if he’s going to appear. He doesn’t sleep and so often he’s really tired. But then on stage it’s worth it. That’s where it all happens for him.”

By 21 Polunin had reached the pinnacle of his career; and it was not what he expected. “You think you’re going to be on top of the world but it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, is this it?’ There was nothing else to prove.” He began looking for ways to augment the rush of performing, relying on stimulants such as Guarana Ginseng—or stronger. “Lots of times I performed on coke. You have unlimited energy. You don’t get tired and you don’t get bored.” Colleagues turned a blind eye, because Polunin’s performances were always exciting and he filled the house, but news of his cockily provocative tweets—such as “Does anybody sell heroin? Need to bring my mood up”—had reached and alarmed his family. (He meant it as a joke, and showed it by adding another tweet 20 minutes later saying “pizza will probably do for now”.)

His upside-down clock was also taxing his home life. Until Helen Crawford, he had not sought out the company of girls. “I’m more of a guy’s guy, but she was the first girl I respected as a person, as a friend. She became bigger than family, in a way.” Nine years older, Crawford had begun thinking about having children, which was out of the question for Polunin. He decided to end things in time for her to find somebody else. “I split up because I thought it would be better for her, but I also wanted to be free.” Picturing his life in ten years’ time, he could see only domestic and professional stagnation.

“I thought if I do my best in Royal Ballet, then maybe I’ll be as successful as Anthony Dowell, which isn’t good enough for me. Because my goal is not to become millionaire, but multi-multi-millionaire. It’s why I pushed myself so hard. I always wanted to buy my family each a house, and have a street of houses which I could give to my friends. I want to help people that I like. I got involved with the tattoo parlour just to help Anthony [Lammin], because I really like him. He did bad things, but I always look at people and find like a soft side to them. My grandmother’s coming back from Greece and I need money to give her; I want to help my gymnastics teacher; I have a wish to go to Ukraine and take a boy like I was and give him a start. To achieve all this, you need money. Money is what gives you power and freedom.”

He had adopted “the Apple guy’s remark” as his motto: Steve Jobs said that if you think of each morning as the last day of your life, and don’t like what you’re doing, then you should give up now. Which Polunin did—and all in one week. As he put it: “Girlfriend, Royal Ballet, tattoo parlour: deleted.”

THERE WAS A buzz of anticipation in the foyer at Sadler’s Wells for the second “Men in Motion” programme on March 13th, and not just because Kate Winslet was in the crowd. Once again Polunin had filled the house, but he was on poor form. A new solo had been inspired by James Franco playing James Dean, and Polunin certainly looked the part in a tight white t-shirt and second-skin denims. But ten minutes of soulful emoting mixed with Soviet bravura did not merit the bombastic billing of “a world premiere”, and he messed up the ending, prompting nervous titters in the auditorium. He laughed about it in his dressing room afterwards, clearly unconcerned. “You’ll meet Anthony,” he said as we made our way to the stage door, where a good-looking black guy in his late 20s was standing apart from a cluster of fans who had waited over an hour for Polunin. After an exchange of teasing banter, Lammin went off into the night. “Did you see his scar?” Polunin asked.

Over dinner and a couple of beers, he talked about his immediate plans. It seemed everyone wanted a piece of him: there was an offer of a Nijinsky play, a new musical choreographed by Gillian Lynne, an invitation to appear on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”. Not having an agent or manager (by choice), Polunin was making every decision himself. He was already caught up on the gala circuit, with one performance scheduled in Georgia, followed by two in New York. But what he wanted more than anything was to star in a movie, and he was thinking of asking Baryshnikov’s advice about combining the two careers.

Over the next couple of months, with no company behind him, Polunin had become more conscientious about doing class. But it was on his own terms, and he would work alone in a Sadler’s Wells studio between eight and ten at night. His tweets, though, did not bode well: “Today is big party night!!! As long as my heart doesn’t give up on me.” “Charlie Sheen wish to party like us. Only gods can survive amount I take!!!!!!!! That makes me closer to a god.”

At the end of March, he called me to say that he wanted to go to Kherson. The healer who cured his pneumonia had been in touch with Vladimir and told him, “Your son should be in America.” Polunin needed to hear this for himself. It had been a decade since he had last been to his home town, and he was much missed by his family. (When I was in Kherson and showed Vladimir’s mother a picture of Sergei on my iPhone, she kissed the screen.) In his absence, Kherson had begun to flourish: there is a new four-star hotel, a pseudo Emporio Armani boutique, and on the bank of the River Dnieper, where he swam as a boy, there is a billionaire’s mansion opposite the wooden shanties of the docks. Polunin found everything else as he remembered it—even the same simmering borscht smell as he walked into his babushka’s house. He and Vladimir took a boat out on the river, and he visited the gymnasium, where he posed for photographs with Anatoly Yarushev and his pupils. When one boy arrived too late for the group shot, Sergei had a picture taken of them together, which he posted on Twitter. The point of the visit, though, was to consult the psychic. “He told me that I would get two contracts in America.” He laughs. “But I didn’t.”

It was not pre-destiny, but the Euro crisis, that decided Polunin’s fate. He was due to guest in Spain with Tamara Rojo but the performances were cancelled because of lack of funds, and so instead he went to St Petersburg. His idea after that was to go to ABT, even though the director, Kevin McKenzie, had made it clear that he did not want him full-time. “Because of reputation,” Polunin presumes. “But money wasn’t good. He didn’t say a price, but I knew they didn’t have money.” Intent on making a new start, he had cancelled his Twitter account. But things weren’t going well; Polunin was unimpressed by St Petersburg, and edgy about having to wait to perform with the Mariinsky in June. “It was way more boring than when I was bored in London. It was a new city for me and I wasn’t excited by anything, really.” But while he was there, he got a call from Igor Zelensky, the new artistic director of Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theatre, who suggested they meet for a drink.

All his life—from the teenagers he played with as a toddler, to Anatoly Yarushev, his gym coach—Polunin has tended to hero-worship older males. Zelensky, a magnetic Georgian and former principal with the Kirov, New York City Ballet and the Royal Ballet, was one of the models Polunin had studied on video at school. They had spoken briefly two years earlier after Polunin appeared in a gala in Paris, but he, like many young dancers, had felt intimidated by Zelensky, a man who is reputed to be in Vladimir Putin’s orbit and has powerful oligarch friends. “He was such a huge thing for me.”

When they met in a St Petersburg bar, Zelensky’s aim was for them to establish a rapport. “He didn’t really say anything but he knew I was going to like him,” Polunin says. “As a father figure. And he was right. That’s what really convinced me. It’s him.” There were promises too. If Polunin remained with the Stanislavsky for four years, the company would buy him a million-dollar apartment; he could form a new partnership with Kristina Shapran, last year’s star graduate of the Vaganova Academy; there would be time to guest abroad; and in Moscow he would be given his own European repertory, with works such as Ashton’s “Marguerite and Armand”, Kenneth MacMillan’s “Mayerling” and Roland Petit’s “Jeune Homme et la Mort”. “We made big plans,” Polunin says.

ON A HOT July evening, I met him in a Moscow café near the theatre. Denis Simachev Shop & Bar is a favourite Zelensky haunt, a weird place with props that include an authentic American electric chair. We sat at a table on Stoleshnikov’s pedestrian street of designer shops, watching Muscovite girls circumventing its cobbles in their Louboutin heels, as Polunin joked about their “walk of shame” outfits. He ordered Tarhun, a Georgian green fruit drink, a caesar salad and a steak, and as he tucked in, I was struck not only by his physical transformation—luminous skin, shining eyes—but by how grounded he’d become. He had never thought of Russia as an option, but what needed to happen had happened. In Zelensky he has found not only a friend and mentor, but someone with a wild reputation of his own, who is nevertheless fanatically serious about his career. Polunin has also been embraced by Zelensky’s family, and would be staying with them in St Tropez in August. “Always what I needed was a person who believed in me. Like a teacher. I don’t need them to say anything. I just need their support.”

Ballet thrives on baton-passing from one generation to another. Zelensky was guided first by Chabukiani, the embodiment of heroic Soviet virility, and then by Nureyev, who called him his “little brother”. Zelensky knew all about the talented Ukrainian kid on the brink of self-destruction, and he was determined to do something about it. We met at Denis Simachev, sitting beneath a vintage lavatory cistern in one of the booths, as it was too sunny outside for Zelensky. From his gruff telephone manner I’d envisaged a swarthy, macho figure, but his hair is gingery, his complexion almost albino-pale. “I hear from people all these things about Sergei, but I don’t want to know what went on before,” he told me. “Someone like him can be ripped apart if doesn’t concentrate all his energy, emotion and testosterone in one direction. I told him, ‘In our business you really have to be disciplined. There’s nobody who parties and improves.’” Their white nights together are different, he says—“higher-quality, healthy”, by which he means fine wines and no drugs. “I can party worse than Sergei, but the next day I work.”

On July 8th, Polunin made his Moscow debut as Franz in a new production of Petit’s “Coppélia” (above). With its fake wood and velour seats, the Stanislavsky has none of the opulence of the Mariinsky or Bolshoi theatres, but the house was sold out and extra seats had been added in the aisles. Kristina Shapran, a lyrical ballerina with long slim limbs, was miscast in the soubrette role of Coppélia, and she is hardly a dream partner for Polunin as she towers above him en pointe. This, though, was his night. Never had he danced with such playful bravado, and there was something else—a heart-bursting elation so catching that the audience, craving more, was still applauding long after the house lights had come up.

Zelensky told me that the Russian minister of culture had been amazed that he managed to get Polunin. “I said it had taken money, and it will take a lot more if we want to hold young talent in this country.” But it’s still early days and he’s careful not to exploit his new star. He knows that Sergei has a good relationship with the Royal Ballet’s new director, Kevin O’Hare, who has signed him up to return as a guest next March, reprising “Marguerite and Armand” with Tamara Rojo as she leaves the company. “Of course,” Zelensky says, “he must dance round the world, but not waste energy on galas for money.” Zelensky’s priority is to make Polunin’s name in Russia, which should happen during the six-month transmission of a weekly television dance programme featuring six young couples from leading companies. “Sergei is going to be very famous here—he’s already famous from last night. And that was nothing to what he can do.”

It’s no exaggeration. After “Coppélia”, he appeared on chat shows and was praised by an eminent Russian actor, Konstantin Raikin, who said on television how articulate he was. “So at last I can speak my own language.” He had also had an offer from the Bolshoi. “Amaizing [sic] conditions, but not going to take.” he texted. “My salary got twice up as well.”

ON MY LAST evening in Moscow, I walked with Polunin to his flat. He had gone from sharing a bed in Archway to borrowing an oligarch’s cavernous, three-bathroom apartment with a security guard at the door. It’s a soulless place, but he could take his pick of the bedrooms, and the one he chose was uncharacteristically tidy, his clothes still stored in a suitcase topped with boxes of new designer shoes. Galina would be impressed. Sergei had asked her not to come to Moscow for his first performance, but she had read about his success on Google News. “I spoke by telephone with him and I feel that he is happy now and I am very glad. I love Zelensky—he saved Serezha.”

After one more performance of “Coppélia” on July 27th, he would be going to Kherson, and this time it would be different, with his mother, father, uncle and both grandmothers there. “Finally, all family together,” he told me. In Kherson, Vladimir had spoken wistfully to me about being reunited with Galina—“I see her in my dreams all the time”—and now it seemed that this could well happen. They were planning a holiday together on the Black Sea. “We know how happy it will make Serezha,” he said, “but we’re not doing it just for him.” Wouldn’t it be great, I asked Sergei, if his parents, who had married, divorced, married, divorced, were now to marry again? “Yeah,” he said with a grin. “Third time lucky, maybe.”

At his suggestion we went to dinner at the Pavilion, a restaurant on a lake renowned for adventurous Russian cuisine. After drinking several bottles of first-growth claret with Zelensky—“You get no headache, nothing”—Sergei had
developed an interest in wine, and he sniffed the cork of the bottle we ordered, detecting a whiff of cocoa. The two of them had stayed up most of the night before, sitting talking until Sergei’s energy subsided.

I told him that I’d never seen such euphoria on stage. “Please tell me that wasn’t ginseng, or worse!”

“No, no. It was me.”

“But you hate ‘cheerful ballets’. So what’s different?”

“Stage been taken away. Three months I’m without adrenalin. You get hungry for that.”

“But Sergei, in January you were thinking of giving up.”

“Yeah.” A giggle. “Yeah.”

“So this is fabulous, isn’t it?”

“Oh yeah. Definitely. I think what you saw was just hunger of person who wants to dance.”


Julie Kavanagh is the author of “The Girl Who Loved Camellias”, which won the Premio Comisso prize in Italy, and biographies of Frederick Ashton and Rudolf Nureyev.

PHOTOGRAPH by RICK GUEST

The Independent Culture, an article from November 2011

The Independent Culture, an article from November 2011

Sergei Polunin: One giant leap for British ballet

Sergei Polunin makes his debut in Manon. The Ukrainian also explains how he combines dance stardom with plans to open a celebrity tattoo parlour.

By Jessica Duchen

Tuesday 8 November 2011 00:00 GMT

He’s 21, he’s been called “better than Baryshnikov” and he has tiger scratches tattooed into his torso. Sergei Polunin, the youngest star of the Royal Ballet, makes his debut tonight as Des Grieux in MacMillan’s Manon. His extraordinary roller-coaster of a story, from rags to incipient riches, as told to me a couple of weeks ago by the lad himself, is in today’s Independent.

He’s rather lovely – intelligent and self-aware, under that youthful bravado – and I couldn’t help teasing him a little when he started talking about how he envies the street life of his former school friend back in Kherson, Ukraine, whom he encountered “walking around in a gang, looking cool”. I asked where he lives and he named a reasonably rough bit of north London. Plenty of gangs there, I said. I’m sure they’d have you, what with the tattoos and all. Fortunately he recognises that he can’t risk breaking a leg. Still, he’s already seen more of real life in his 21 short years than many of ballet (and music)’s practitioners will experience in twice that.

Stage lights, says Sergei Polunin, can conceal as much as they illuminate. Perhaps it’s just as well, because among this youthful Ukrainian’s ventures into body art beyond ballet is a simulation of tiger scratches on his torso. “Nobody really noticed my tattoos,” he remarks. “I put Sellotape or pancake make-up over them, but you’d be surprised how much you can’t see when the lights hit.”

What you can see of Polunin, the Royal Ballet’s youngest principal dancer, is mightily impressive. Long-limbed, with a radiant openness about his upper body, a spacious musicality and an apparently weightless, stratospheric jump, at only 21 he’s a persuasive candidate to be British ballet’s biggest hope. One bedazzled critic, reviewing him in Rhapsody earlier this year, even declared him “better than Baryshnikov” – praise indeed.

This season is packed with vital landmarks and debuts for him: tonight, he makes his debut in Manon as Des Grieux, the luxury-seeking heroine’s unfortunate lover. Soon there’s his first Romeo in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet and an international cinecast of The Sleeping Beauty in which he is the Prince.

Polunin looks like a young man in a hurry, but in fact he is lucky to be alive. Aged eight, he contracted pneumonia; one of his lungs stopped working and the local hospital sent him home still ill after six weeks. The condition lasted a year. “My mum tried everything,” Polunin remembers. “Eventually, I ended up seeing this guy who heals with his hands.” After 10 sessions, by hook, crook or miracle, he was better.

He was born in Kherson, close to the Black Sea in Ukraine, where initially he joined a sports school to learn gymnastics. Pneumonia ended that: “I couldn’t come back to gymnastics because the floors were too dusty for my health.” The alternative was ballet. “Some of my friends were going to dancing school and, when one of them was auditioning for a ballet school in Kiev, my mother saw an opportunity for me to do that, so we could move to a bigger, better city.

“I’d always been one of the best in my gymnastics school, so I transferred to trying to be the best dancer, without knowing anything about ballet. I learned it as a routine. And even in Kherson, which had nothing like a ballet company, they respected dancers. It was so rare for a boy to be a dancer that everyone was impressed, even street kids.”

Kherson, he adds, was desperately poor: “Everyone was living in the same poverty and there was no hot water or electricity after 6pm. I had pocket money for good marks, but at some point I had to give it away for food. We moved to Kiev with $10 in my mum’s pocket; that was all. My dad went to work as a builder in Portugal and my grandmother went to Greece to support my mum and me.” He and his mother lived in one room for four years in Kiev.

Next Sergei auditioned for the Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg. It wasn’t for him, nor he for it. “They were quite excited when they saw me dance but when they heard I was Ukrainian, not Russian, they backed off,” he says. He speculates that this might be due to the school’s funding set-up. “Besides, the whole city felt wrong for me. It was very cold and, in St Petersburg general, schooling is more important than dancing. I hated school.” He is dyslexic, he says: “Homework was torture.”

Now his mother suggested London and the Royal Ballet School. His father called an acquaintance in the UK who told them how to apply. Sergei was soon invited to audition but when the letter of acceptance arrived, it was in English and they could not understand it. “We thought it said we would have to pay £32,000 a year in fees, so we decided to forget the whole thing.”

If his ballet teacher’s dog had not played with another dog during a walk soon afterwards, he might not be here now. The two dog owners talked and became friends. “This friend knew English, looked at our letter and said: ‘no, you need a sponsor, but you don’t need to pay anything yourself’.” The same friend put the Polunins in touch with UK contacts to help find Sergei sponsorship from the Nureyev Foundation.

Aged 13, he arrived at the Royal Ballet’s junior school, White Lodge, in Richmond Park. “I’d read the Harry Potter books,” he laughs, “and it felt just like that!” His fate seemed assured when he won the prestigious Prix de Lausanne in 2006; and at last he entered the Royal Ballet itself, having graduated from its school two years ahead of his age group.

Now he’s relishing the high demands of his biggest season so far. Des Grieux is a big challenge, he adds, for peculiar reasons: “I like strong characters, big steps and jumps. This role is a weak character, he’s insecure and it’s all adagio! It’s very pure. I think my dancing comes over as a bit wild, even if I’m thinking ‘pure’. The challenge is to make him interesting, without putting across the wrong type of character.”

His Manon is Lauren Cuthbertson; together they created the leading roles in Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland earlier this year and their partnership has attracted much enthusiasm. “I think our lines complement each other – we both look quite long,” Polunin suggests. “And she’s very spontaneous, which makes it exciting to dance with her.”

Nevertheless, there’s a sense that Polunin is champing at the bit. He’s had invitations to make guest appearances with American Ballet Theatre and in Russia, and wasn’t pleased to find that his Royal Ballet duties would not allow him to go. But he managed some moonlighting closer to home: last month he danced in The Phantom of the Opera when it was cinecast to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

His dream roles, he says, are “manly” characters that require immense drama; long-term, he has his eye on two MacMillan masterpieces, Mayerling’s crazed Prince Rudolf, and the dark and devastating The Judas Tree. But he loves dancing Albrecht in Giselle: “The second act is so cleverly choreographed that when you’re supposed to be at the point of death, you feel you really are.”

He’s hungry for life and experience. “I’m not good!” he declares. “I don’t do many classes. Sometimes I don’t eat all day, then have four meals between 8pm and 4am. I go to bed really late – if I just sleep I won’t have a life outside ballet. And I have this idea to open a tattoo place. I’d like to create something classy, with open windows, maybe some celebrities coming in…” He is not joking. “It’ll be 50-50 with this American guy who’s a former gangster and learned tattooing in jail. I’m fascinated by that life. Once I went back to my old city and saw my best friend from childhood walking around with a gang, looking cool. I think I missed out by never having that street life doing stupid things.”

There’s another tattoo on his lower back, he says, in glass letters: “It represents my memories being washed away by rain.” His parents broke up when he was 14. “I was very upset,” he says. “After that I decided I was never going to think about anything bad again.”

His life is literally inked into his body. Perhaps it is inked likewise into the power of his dancing.

Sergei Polunin dances Des Grieux in ‘Manon’ on 8 and 15 November, Royal Opera House (020 7304 4000)

Sergei’s Thoughts On Himself & Ballet , An Article From i-D

Sergei’s Thoughts On Himself & Ballet , An Article From i-D


“Ballet Is Dead” Sergei Polunin on the dark side of dance

MATTHEW WHITEHOUSE

 

Type the name Sergei Polunin into Google and you’ll be met with a whole array of increasingly incredulous headlines and storylines.  Sergei Polunin walks out of Royal Ballet!  Sergei Polunin opens up about drug abuse!  Sergei Polunin ate my hamster!  Okay, we made the last one up, but you get the point.  Sergei Polunin is the ballet industry’s enfant terrible, its anti-hero, its Mickey Rourke.  His star burned bright until being overshadowed by personal failings and career decisions; tantrums, tattoos and tutus.

But boy, did he burn bright.  Born in the depressed town of Kherson, southern Ukraine, Sergei overcame money issues and family struggles to became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal at 19.  Comparisons to acclaimed dancer Rudolf Nureyev followed.  Tickets to see him sold out two years in advance.  All signs seemed to point towards a fairytale future.  And yet…

Sergei was unhappy.  Unhappy with the pressure.  Unhappy with the restrictions that came with such a heavily promoted position.  In 2012, as stories of cocaine use and a volatile temper began to swirl, Sergei did the unthinkable: he quit the Royal Ballet, claiming that “the artist inside [him] had died”. He was 22 years old.

What happened next is the subject of a brand new documentary by Steven Cantor.  Following Sergei as he embarks on a fresh start in Russia, a career change in Hollywood and the intentioned last dance that ended up triggering his return from the edge – a four-minute piece set to Hozier’s Take Me to Church that racked up over 16 million YouTube views – Dancer explores what happens when someone reaches the top of their profession, only to look around and realise it’s not what they wanted.  When what first appeared to be a blessing, turns out to be a curse.  As it hits cinemas tomorrow, we sat down with Sergei to discuss the film and what, if anything, he could have done to avoid reaching the breaking point.

How did the film first come about?
It was because of the producer, Gabrielle Tana. She was doing a film on Nureyev – she’s doing it right now actually – and was trying to approach me about the role.  She was searching for ten years, you know how films are.  And she approached me and was talking to me and she was talking to other people and they said, Oh, why don’t you do something about someone who is alive now?  And she said, Yeah, that could be something interesting.  So we went into it without knowing what we were doing at all.  How do you make a documentary about someone who is alive?  And what’s the documentary going to be about?  And it took many turns.  It took any years.  Like, five years.  And it went different directions, you know?  What is this going to be about?  It took a few years to trust because I didn’t know what they were digging into.  I didn’t know the person.  I didn’t google her or anything like that.  And right at the end, they found all the footage from when I was young.  That was towards the end.

What was it like watching it back?
I didn’t want to watch it. I didn’t want to participate in what it’s going to be about…

But do you think it’s an accurate depiction?
I think it is.  It was.  There was nothing fake there, which is good.  Maybe one or two conversations where you were pushed to talk…  But it was really, in a way, therapeutic.  I’d never talked to my mum about things.  So the whole experience was really, very good for family.  We were communicating.  I was talking to them.  That was really, really good.

The film follows so many of those big moments in your life… Leaving the Royal Ballet, moving to Russia… When you were watching it back, did you ever think, God, I wish I’d done that differently?
Sometimes you do think that but it depends what state of mind you’re in, you know?  You always have two sides.  Even for the end of the documentary, it was a choice.  Do you end up in a positive way or an easy way or a crazy way?  It’s really like your choice in life.  So when I’m more positive or I’m trying to be good, I think, oh, I wish I would have done this in a stronger way.  I could have stayed in the Royal Ballet and taken off from there.  But when I’m in a more crazy state, it’s more like, Yeah! That’s great!  Because, you know, I’m not always trying to be good.  I never wanted to be a good example.  I wanted to be the bad one.  So, it depends what state of mind you’re in whether you go one way or another.

With that in mind, how imperative is it for the dance industry to develop better systems for dealing with dancers’ mental states?
For sure.  If I’d had a manager or an agent I could trust, it could have been literally a couple of words. Sergei, take three days off.  Let me go and talk to them…  Nothing so crazy was going on to not be able to deal with me or talk to me or talk to the Royal Ballet.  I literally went to the director, spoke and said, I don’t want to do this anymore.  And he was like, Okay!  Now I’ve got an amazing agent, Simon Beresford, and he said, you know, if he’d have been there, he’d have said, take a week off.  He deals with amazing actors and he said that if an actor has stress, he says, take three months off.  Take half a year off.  Go for a holiday.  Go to an island.  Be on a beach.  Come back when you’re rested.  But when you’re by yourself, you deal with it the way you think.  And all I knew was to destroy everything and try to rebuild from scratch.  But I got hooked on destroying things.  You get in a loop.  And it’s very satisfying.  You destroy and destroy and soon as you build a tiny bit, you destroy again.  So I got in that loop of not building.  Of constantly going up and down.

 Did you feel an obligation to live up to your “the bad boy of ballet” rep?
I don’t actually like the term… But I never liked perfect examples either.  I always thought the guys who society think are bad, are actually the good ones.  I don’t necessarily think they’re bad people.  They’re the ones who are willing to take all this dirt….  Society’s strange and a group of people are strange.  One person says, oh, my God and everyone else says, yeah, yeah yeah.  It’s like a chain reaction.

Why then do you think you continued to dance after the Take Me to Church shoot in 2015?
I was traveling for about a year trying to find things I wanted to do and I decided I wanted to go 100% into acting.  And the producer of the documentary, Gabrielle, said, great, we will help you with everything you want to do.  She loved me like a son and she said, I will put you into Actors Studio in L.A. and I will help you do that.  And I felt sure I was going to.  And for four months I wasn’t dancing much, just keeping in shape for Take Me to Church, which was going to be my last dance.  It was like a nine hour shoot.  And because I prepared for it to be the last dance, I got really empty.  Emotionally empty.  I had a really clear state of mind to think and somehow, I was like, I’m leaving something behind. I wasn’t big headed, thinking people need me or anything like that.  But I felt like I had something I hadn’t done yet, which I needed to accomplish.  I was working with David LaChapelle and I said, I’m leaving.  He was like, stay, let’s edit the video!  I said no, I have to go and dance.  It was a really strong urge.  And I went back to Russia for three months and I just danced for free.  I didn’t want any money.  I just wanted to know that I was doing it because I love doing it.  And after three months, I was like okay, what can I do with it?  So we started travelling again.  It wasn’t easy. Even a year ago, we had nothing.  I came over to London with no team, just me and Gabrielle.  Nobody would even listen to us.  But when David released Take Me to Church, people started to again.  We went to the theatres and they were listening to us again.  People took us more seriously, rather than just a film producer and a crazy guy.

Are things like that David LaChapelle video the future of ballet? How important is it that the art form starts to communicate on a wider scale?
I think it’s essential.  It’s not even a joke.  Ballet is completely dead.  Everything’s been done a hundred years ago.  The same ballets.  Okay, Giselle, It’s great, it’s important to keep it alive.  But would a young person go and see it?  I would never even suggest it!  Go and see Broadway, go and see theatre.  Don’t go and see ballet because it’s ancient.  So it needs to be more popular, it needs to go on TV, it needs to expand.  It’s the only art form that didn’t expand.  It’s the only art form that doesn’t have managers or agents.  It stayed closed but it’s not royal anymore.  It’s not like the Queen goes there.  So it’s kind of downgraded in that sense, but never expanded to the wider audience.  I’m not talking about dropping the standard.  I’m talking about the same standard, but reaching bigger audiences.  If it’s a good quality dance, ballet is one of the best things to see.

Dancer is released in cinemas on 10 March. A brand new ballet, Narcissus and Echo, co-created by Sergei Polunin and Ilan Eshkeri is at Sadler’s Wells from 14-18 March.




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