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His Own Words – Sergei Polunin

His Own Words – Sergei Polunin

His Own Words – Sergei Polunin

Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer and a former principal dancer with the British Royal Ballet, before suddenly resigning in 2012, after only two years in the position. Polunin has a reputation for wild behavior, earning the nickname the “Bad Boy of Ballet.” He has recently gained more popularity following his performance in a music video choreographed to Hozier‘s hit single “Take Me To Church.” The music video was part of a larger Steven Cantor documentary on Polunin, Dancer, which premiered in 2016.

SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION

Polunin was born Sergei Vladimirovich Polunin on November 20, 1989 (Sergei Polunin age: 27) in Kherson, Ukrainian SSR, to Galina Polunina and Vladimir PoluninFrom the age of four, the future dancer excelled in gymnastics classes. At age eight, his studies shifted towards dance, and he spent four years at the Kiev State Choreographic Institute. Polunina, in an interview with the New Yorker, suggests that pushing her son towards dance was his best shot for a better life. “In my life, the choices were between salted cabbage and marinated cabbage,” she said. “I wanted him to have more of a choice than that.” The extent to which she wanted her son to succeed was so extreme that she moved with Polunin to Kiev, causing the family to split up in order to make ends meet. Polunin’s father sought work in Portugal, while his grandmother became a maid in Greece, all to support his growing career.

In 2013, Polunin was accepted to the White Lodge, the Royal Ballet’s junior school in London, at the age of thirteen. At first devastated that they would not be able to afford the tuition, Polunin still attended largely in part from a grant given by the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation. Unfortunately, this meant that Polunina had to stay in the Ukraine, leaving behind her teenage son. Faced with his family’s sacrifices and the mounting pressure to succeed, Polunin became a star pupil. “In school, I knew I could not fight, could not mess up, because I would be thrown out,” he told Uinterview. “And then when I was twenty-one, I wanted to do all the things I missed out on.” He did enjoy the freedom of the two thousand acres of parkland surrounding the school, saying he felt like he, “Was in Harry Potter.” Polunin’s success was such that his teachers advanced him a full two school years ahead.

SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: THE ROYAL BALLET AND RESIGNATION

Once in the senior school, Polunin’s discipline began to dissolve. While still excelling in his studies, the rising start experimented with drugs. By 2009, he was the first soloist at the Royal Ballet; by 2010, he came principal dancer, the youngest ever in the company’s history. He also earned his title of “Bad Boy” at this time, using cocaine to heighten his adrenaline rush and tweeting about late night parties and tattoos. In an interview with Uinterview, Polunin talked about his experience of getting a tattoo, which was strictly forbidden by the Royal Ballet. “Oh you think I’m bad, I’m going to prove [to] you I’m the baddest [sic],” he recalled. “I always drew on myself, always knew I was going to have a tattoo, and tattoos represented freedom to me.” He was forced to cover his new tattoos with makeup. On January 24, 2012, after growing dissatisfaction with his career, Polunin stepped down from the principal position, telling BBC that he felt, “the artist in me was dying.” Looking back on the dancer’s decision, documentarian Steven Cantor offered his thoughts to the New York Times about Polunin’s motivations. “It became clear that he was dancing as hard as he could to get his family back together. Then his parents got divorced, and I think he felt, what am I dancing for? He just lost his will and went off the rails.” Polunin only recently allowed his mother to see his performances in person; he originally forbade her to do so.

SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: IGOR ZELENSKY

As a result of his bad reputation, Polunin had difficulty finding work with other companies. However, in the summer of 2012, he was invited to Russia by famous dancer Igor Zelensky, under whom he would train and become the principal dancer for The Stanislavsky Music Theatre and Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. On Zelensky, Polunin has referred to him as a surrogate father. “Nobody would listen to me, there wasn’t any real conversation going on,” Polunin told Uinterview. “And that’s when Igor appeared.” Polunin reveres Zelensky so much that he has gone as far as to tattoo the name of the artistic director on his shoulder.

His time with Zelensky was not without controversy, however. In April 2013, after preparing for the principal dance role in director Peter Schaufuss’s Midnight Express, Polunin, along with Zelensky, quit days before opening night. Despite his superior also leaving the troubled production, many considered Polunin to be “depressed” again.

SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: HOZIER AND DANCER

Still frustrated at the seemingly dead-end to which his dance career had led him, Polunin encountered film producer Gabrielle Tana, who at the time had optioned Julie Kavanagh’s (the author behind his New Yorker profile) biography of Nureyev to be turned into a biopic. Polunin was not chosen for the role, but Tana pushed him to seek further collaborations in film. “I thought it was not just a compelling narrative but also the opportunity to capture someone brilliant in the prime of their career,” Ms. Tana said in an interview with The New York Times. “We didn’t really know what it would be, and Sergei was very wary at first. We were scared we would lose him.”

Tana suggested he work with American photographer and dance documentarian, David LaChapelle. Polunin ultimately decided to use the collaboration as his farewell performance to the dance world. LaChapelle suggested the then-relatively-unknown song “Take Me To Church,” by Hozier. Polunin would then fly down to shoot the music video in the empty chapel-like filmmaker’s studio in Hawaii. A longtime friend and fellow dancer, Jade Hale-Christofi, choreographed the piece. The music video would later become the centerpiece of large documentary work, Dancer, started in 2014 when Tana approached filmmaker Stephen Cantor. Dancer premiered in the Fall of 2016.

Following the worldwide success of Polunin’s Take Me To Church video, he has since decided to return to dancing. He continues to dance with Stanislavsky company and the Novosibirsk Ballet.

SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: PERSONAL LIFE

Polunin has been dating ballerina Natalia Osipova, who is a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, since mid-2015. The pair has performed together in Russell Maliphant‘s Silent Echo, as part of a program of contemporary works. He has received numerous accolades for his performances, including the Prix de Lausanne and Youth America Grand Prix in 2006. He was named Young British Dancer of the Year in 2007.  In 2014 he was shortlisted as the best male dancer at the National Dance Awards in the U.K.

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This article was published by Uinterview on December 19, 2016.
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The Not-Quite-Full-Length “Giselle,” with Sergei & Natalia

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

The Not Quite Full Length Giselle

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

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

The Not Quite Full Length Giselle video

Giselle, The Ballet

Act I

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

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

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

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

Act II

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

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

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

About my video

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

Ballet: Giselle

Choreography: Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot

Music: Adolphe Adam

Albrecht – Sergei Polunin

Giselle – Natalia Osipova

Performance: Milan 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for watching.

Sergei And His Giselles

Sergei And His Giselles

“Sergei And His Giselles” featuring Sergei Polunin / Сергей Полунин with Svetlana Zakharova, Roberta Marquez, Natalia Somova (please forgive the misspelling of Miss Somova’s last name in the video credits), Diana Vishneva, Kristina Shapran, and Natalia Osipova.

The ballet Giselle was first performed in 1841 with Italian ballerina Carlotta Grisi as Giselle. Staged by Marius Petipa with music composed by Adolph Adam, and choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, it was an instant success.

The ballet is about a peasant girl named Giselle, who dies of a broken heart after discovering her lover is betrothed to another. The Wilis, a group of supernatural women who dance men to death, summon Giselle from her grave. They target her lover for death, but Giselle’s great love frees him from their grasp.

The Wilis are particularly haunting characters. They are the spirits of virgin girls that died before they married. These creatures were very popular in Romantic era ballets. Led by Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, they gain their power in numbers as they effortlessly move through dramatic patterns and synchronized movements, and control the stage with their long tulle dresses and stoic expressions.

Although still appearing ethereal, watching the Wilis sweep the stage creates an eerie mood that builds as the ballet continues and they enclose on Albrecht. They are ruthless and hateful of men because they have all died of a broken heart. Giselle finds forgiveness in her heart for Albrecht, but she knows the Wilis will not do the same. Their goal is clear and they are relentless on their quest.

The Wilis are one of the most iconic characters in Giselle. They leave an imprint in the viewers mind as they dominate the second act.

Please subscribe if you like my video: https://www.youtube.com/c/PamBoehmeSi… and thank you for watching. Please feel free to share! Visit my blog at http://kindergiggle.blog for additional videos and more.

Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer famous for his “once every hundred years” talent, his incredulous elevation, his impeccable technique, and glorious dramatic range. He brought an unprecedented new awareness to ballet when he danced in Hozier’s viral video ”Take Me To Church.” He starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign, and is a much sought after model and actor. He has appeared in such films as Murder On The Orient Express, Dancer (a documentary of his life), White Crow, and Red Sparrow.

Please consider subscribing to my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/PamBoehmeSi… and “like” my playlist “Sergei Polunin, Graceful Beast” if you were pleased.

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

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

Thank you for watching.

If You Fall, I Will Catch You

If You Fall, I Will Catch You

“If You Fall, I Will Catch You” Sergei & Natalia.  They are ballet superstars and real life companions.  The two met in Milan in 2015 when Sergei stepped in for an injured partner.  While performing “Giselle” they fell in love.  The pair have been close ever since.

Choreography: “Silent Echo” by Russell Maliphant

Alternative Music: “Hachiko” by The Kyoto Connection with permission under license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

 

If you fall, I’ve got your back…

The pair support each other as friends and professionals.  Sergei Polunin & Natalia Osipova are there for each other.  Literally and figuratively.  Onstage and off.   Out and about, attending events, bouncing ideas around at rehearsals, joining in on performances.  The stunning couple have a special bond without a doubt.

 

I you fall sergei polunin natalia osipova kiss
Sergei & Natalia

 

If you fall sergei polunin natalia osipova
Sergei & Natalia

Who Is Sergei?

Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer.  Famous for his “once every hundred years” talent, he has incredulous elevation and impeccable technique.  From an early age, he displayed glorious dramatic range.  Home video of him as a tiny boy improving to Pavarotti are very foretelling.

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

Sergei is a much sought after model and actor. Fashion designers love his breathtaking physique and brooding good looks.  He has garnered only positive reviews for his acting.  His appearances include Murder On The Orient Express, Dancer, White Crow, and Red Sparrow.

 

If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing to my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/PamBoehmeSimon

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

“Passion De Deux” Natalia And Sergei

“Passion De Deux” Natalia And Sergei

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

passion de deux
Natalia Osipova with Sergei Polunin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

passion de deux
 Natalia and Sergei in Run Mary Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NATALIA LOVES… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fan Reviews Sergei’s Satori

A Fan Reviews Sergei’s Satori

This review appeared on the Official Sergei Fan Club Facebook page.  It was so beautifully written and so specifically detailed that I immediately felt it needed to be a part of this collective.  Upon asking permission, Maria Swardt graciously consented.  Thank you, Maria.

Text:  Maria Swardt
Featured Photo:  Aleksandra Muravyeva

December 13, 2017

PROJECT POLUNIN – SATORI

I have never been an unconditional fan of anyone as I believe change is the only constant. Yet, to my surprise, after being at the London Coliseum on December 9th and 10th I understood the ones who say “I love Polunin, no matter what.”
I flew from Barcelona to London with the only purpose of making a dream come true – I wanted to see Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin dancing together. I came back home yesterday feeling as if a lightening had struck me, turned me inside out, upside down. As if what mattered up to December 8th is no longer important. That’s how I feel, exaggerated as it may sound.

Saturday December 9th, Polunin was on stage for seven minutes with his FIRST SOLO, premiered in August in Switzerland. An explosion of strength, passion, precise movement and technique. Beautiful music, poetry and great choreography. The stage was too small for so much talent!

After that, SCRIABINIANA – the bodies of ten dancers, pas de deux, expressed so many feelings, so much beauty! They were excellent, perfect I should say. Their bodies spoke to the audience through every single movement. It was delightful and powerful to watch them. And then came Polunin and Osipova and as they danced, perfection turned into love. They absolutely complemented each other as if their bodies were the last two pieces needed to finish the puzzle. The ultimate beauty!

Last, SATORI – Very interesting, beautiful, clever “mise-en-scène”, if that can be said for ballet, great choreography and direction. It somehow reminded me of Le Cirque Du Soleil, don’t ask me why, and I really enjoyed it. Tree of life, mother, little boy (sweet Tom Waddington), shadows,fears and demons, woman/lover/saviour and the troubled seeker. Although SATORI is a Japanese Buddhist word for Awakening, to me it is a homage, a public love letter to Natalia Osipova. She saves him and shows him the meaning of Love, Forgiveness, Dance and Life. He is grateful, thankful and shows it to her. He has found himself, doesn’t need to seek out any longer. They can both rest, naked, in each other’s arms. This is how I understood it. Lovely performance. Very real too. As usual Osipova was brilliant and perfect! But gosh, what a responsibility to be your lover’s saviour!
Great applause at the end.

I was happy to see quite a few children in the audience. Beauty makes people’s hearts better and it’s a good idea to start at a young age.

Sunday December 10th, several wonderful pas de deux, a solo by a really, really good Cuban dancer, Miguel Altunaga, who got a huge round of applause. After that, “Take me to Church.” That’s when I started crying and haven’t been able to stop since, on and off. Cathartic effect. Very needed I believe! The lady sitting next to me, at the Coliseum, was very kind and handed me a perfumed tissue, very useful indeed!

Last, SATORI, once again.

On Sunday the audience was a lot more enthusiastic and the applause was louder. Lots of children too.

If you have the chance to attend the next performance of PROJECT POLUNIN, SATORI, please don’t miss it. It’s really worth it!

Last but not least: I once read Polunin believed Art belongs to everyone and should be within everybodys reach. Tickets should be much cheaper. Programme booklets should be free. Otherwise he will go on creating and performing for a privileged elite which would contradict the aim of his PROJECT.

To the ones who criticise Polunin, please give the man a break, allow him to be different and do whatever he feels like. He is STILL the best! “If you cannot help, at least do not hurt.” To the ones who are busy looking for a partner for Osipova, because you don’t like her being with Polunin, please mind your business and let her mind hers.

To the haters, there are a few on this page, please go boil your head! Like the Scots would say, Awa’ an’ bile yer heid!

 

 

2015 Sunday Times Article About Sergei and Natalia

2015 Sunday Times Article About Sergei and Natalia

Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova: A Russian pas de deux mixing love and diva complexes

sergei and natalia

Sergei and Natalia are the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor of the ballet world: beautiful, talented and unpredictable. As individuals, Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova are a box-office draw. Together — having just announced they are in love — their move into contemporary dance at Sadler’s Wells promises to be next summer’s hot ticket.

A new piece inspired by Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, with Polunin as Stanley Kowalski and Osipova as Blanche DuBois, will be danced by the pair in their first move away from classical ballet. At a press conference last week Polunin, hailed as the greatest dancer of his generation, said modestly that Osipova was the talent. He hoped to be “a good add-on”.

He certainly will be — as long as he turns up. Polunin, 25, famously quit the Royal Ballet three years ago, saying “the artist in me was dying” and later vanished days before he was due to star in a production of Midnight Express. Is Sadler’s Wells brave to be taking him, or bonkers?

“A lot of ballet companies might feel a bit nervous about bringing him in,” admitted David Jays, the ballet critic and editor of Dance Gazette. “There’s always that ‘Will he, won’t he’ frisson. There’ll definitely be a soap-opera pull to the whole event.”

Osipova, 29, has had her own diva moment. In 2011 she resigned as a principal dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet, citing “artistic freedom” as her reason for leaving. She is currently a principal dancer with both the Royal Ballet in London — where she previously danced as a guest artist in Swan Lake — and the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St Petersburg. She is moving into contemporary dance, she said, because she wants to take on a new challenge while she is at the peak of her career.

“Lots of dancers look outside as they get older because ballet is hard but it’s interesting to see Osipova doing it this early,” said Jays. “Polunin has been restless for a while. He’s experimented with different companies, been talking about breaking into films and has made a short film with David LaChapelle [the American photographer].

“Osipova has danced the big roles with classical companies so I guess she’s looking for creativity and control. It’s becoming a trend among dancers. They’re not waiting to be cast, not waiting for people to come to them. Like film stars they are setting up their own production companies and directing their own careers: with real charisma and the public behind them they can set their own agenda.”

A love affair between Polunin and Osipova can only enhance the mystique that surrounds them both. Polunin is ballet’s rock star, a tattooed, tortured soul who has been trying to “find himself” — sometimes, to his bosses’ dismay, by staying up all night playing computer games — since his stellar career took flight.

sergei and natalia

Osipova has been part of a “Bolshoi love triangle”. Her previous boyfriend, Ivan Vasiliev, the dancer known as “sex on legs”, left her earlier this year for Maria Vinogradova, a rising star. Ballet fans assumed Osipova would be devastated, but her “intimate” performance of Giselle opposite Polunin at La Scala soon after (the ballet blogger Olga Agapova said: “At some moments I felt like a voyeur, watching something very personal”) sparked rumours they were more than dance partners . The speculation was confirmed as they sat happily together in London last week.

Polunin has introduced Osipova to his mother, Galina, which indicates not just his seriousness about her but a thaw in family relationships. It was Galina who recognised her son’s talent but he hasn’t always thanked her: he has sometimes seemed resentful at losing his childhood to the grind of ballet practice.

“I would have liked to behave badly, to play football. I loved sport but my family were working for me to succeed,” he once said.

He was born in Kherson, a port in southern Ukraine, and says his poverty-stricken parents saw his talent as a way of bettering themselves. At first he showed promise as a gymnast but when he contracted pneumonia and had to take an extended break, his mother moved him to ballet classes: “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.”

In Kherson, he recalled: “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.”

His father went to Portugal to work and his grandmother to Greece to help support them. He and his mother lived in one room for four years. London’s Royal Ballet School gave him a place at 13. By 20 he was the Royal Ballet’s youngest principal.

Osipova also showed early promise: aged eight she started her formal training at a leading Moscow ballet school and at 18 joined the Bolshoi. She was named one of “25 to watch” in 2007 by Dance Magazine and became a principal dancer at the Bolshoi in 2010 — then flounced out the following year.

Polunin complained last week that directors were not letting them perform together as he would wish: “For artists it is important to feel real emotions with your partner. It is very important to always feel you see the truth in the performance.

“It is not just with us, it has always been an issue and I do not understand why. When people love to dance together the directors do everything possible to separate them. I guess it’s so you don’t have too much power. It is easier to control people when you are separate.”

Destructive Power Of Ballet Laid Bare

Destructive Power Of Ballet Laid Bare


Pointe break: ballet’s destructive power laid bare in Sergei Polunin documentary

Steven Cantor’s intimate film about the rebellious dancer exposes the pressures heaped on young prodigies – and has vital lessons for the industry

Unresolved demons … Sergei Polunin.
 Unresolved demons … Sergei Polunin. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

In Dancer, Steven Cantor’s new film about Sergei Polunin, there’s heartbreaking footage of the dancer when he was eight years old. Wide-eyed, gappy-toothed and lit by an irrepressible grin, little Sergei spins, tumbles and balances with a grace astonishing in one so young. As Polunin’s grandmother comments, “He used to dance with his heart. He transported himself right into the music.”

Nearly two decades later, as Cantor’s camera follows Polunin backstage after a show, the life has apparently been drained from him. Blank-faced and hunched, he mutters: “Every day I hope I will be injured, then I won’t have the option to dance any more.” A bleaker, darker fable than The Red Shoes, Dancer tells the story of how talent can turn from a blessing to a curse.

Something of that story became public in 2012 when Polunin, as one of the Royal Ballet’s most heavily promoted young principals, suddenly announced that he was quitting the company. Amid stories of cocaine use and his own gnomic tweets about “living fast and dying young”, the 22-year-old claimed that he’d become stifled by ballet, that “the artist inside [him] had died” and that he had to move on.

In fact Polunin moved on to Russia, where he joined the Stanislavsky Ballet in Moscow. Closely mentored by his new director, Igor Zelenksy, Polunin initially seemed to have made a fresh start – but news began to filter back that he hadn’t settled, that he was skipping rehearsals and missing shows and was again talking of leaving ballet, this time for a career in Hollywood.

It was hard get an accurate picture of what was going on. Polunin had become a magnet for journalists, and during interviews he tended to blurt out whatever was passing through his mind. With his words often taken out of context, he was frequently presented as an ungracious, lazy, confused young man with delusions of celebrity. The larger story, of Polunin’s difficult family background and unresolved demons, was less widely known. It’s this story that Cantor tries to tell in his humane and sympathetic documentary.

Cantor is a director, not a dance expert, and perhaps it’s not surprising that at times he oversimplifies his material in the service of his plot. His use of heavy rock guitar and staccato pacing to colour the scenes of Polunin’s early rebellion make the dancer seem wilder than he really was (drugs and tattoos are far from unknown in the ballet world). There is no attempt to place the dancer’s gifts or the trajectory of his career within the wider context of ballet.

Cantor’s focus, fairly enough, is all on Polunin and on the troubled and complex nature of his talent. He has accessed some marvellous film archives, which give revelatory proof that Polunin was a natural prodigy. We see him at the age of 11, his skinny limbs already shaped by a beautiful line and precocious control; we see him as a teenage student at the Royal Ballet School, leaving his classmates behind as he powers through a complex bravura variation.

But raw talent, however astonishing, may not enough be enough to nourish a career, and Cantor vividly sketches the narrative of how Polunin went from infant prodigy to angry rebel. He was born in the drably impoverished town of Kherson, south Ukraine, but while he recalls his early childhood as happy, his mother, Galina, had her eyes set on wider horizons and enrolled him first into gymnastic classes and then into ballet. As the extent of his talent became clear, she was determined to make him a star.

Everything was sacrificed to that end. When Polunin was given a place at the ballet school in Kiev his father, Vladimir, went to work in Portugal, and his grandmother to Greece, in order to pay the fees, while Galina gave up her own life in Kherson to go to Kiev with her son. At 13, Polunin won a place at the Royal Ballet School, moving to London, where he knew no one. He spoke not a word of English. For two years he apparently flourished, but his determination to be top of his class was driven not only by his own desire to do well but by the belief that, as a successful dancer, he would be able to provide for his family and bring them back together.

The family, however, did not survive its enforced periods of separation and when Galina and Vladimir divorced two years later, something seemed to have broken in the 15-year-old Sergei. Although he continued to make exceptional progress, Polunin recalls that he was very angry, very unhappy inside. He danced through his demons, but by his early 20s he had achieved most of his professional goals, and lost all his motivation. The joy had gone from his work, his family were no longer around to benefit from his success – and in any case he now wanted little to do with them, especially his mother, whom he blamed for having forced him into a career he’d never chosen.

Polunin with Natalia Osipova in Run Mary Run at Sadler’s Wells, London, in 2016.
 Polunin with Natalia Osipova in Run Mary Run at Sadler’s Wells, London, in 2016. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Some of the most revealing interviews in Cantor’s film are with the family. Polunin’s father seems genuinely regretful and shocked by the revelations of his son’s unhappiness, saying he had always been so worried about being the bread-winner that he’d failed to hold his family together.

Galina remains adamant that everything she’d done was correct. There’s a bleak, awkward conversation during which Polunin tries to explain to his mother how coerced and miserable he had felt, but she simply reiterates that he had to take responsibility for all the sacrifices the family had made for him. I hope Cantor was fair to Galina in the editing because she doesn’t come out of the film particularly well: there’s a marked contrast between the wariness Polunin shows towards her and the emotion with which he embraces his first ballet teacher when he goes back to Kherson and recalls the time when ballet was still an innocent, joyful thing for him.

I’m guessing that Cantor considered ending his film with the video for Hozier’s Take Me to Church, which Polunin made in 2015 with the artist David LaChapelle. In one of the final interviews to camera, Polunin says that the video was to be his formal farewell to ballet, that he would give up dancing and get himself a “normal life”. But events moved on after Take Me to Church went viral. Polunin became less adamant about retiring and Cantor had to be content with a less conclusive ending.

Cantor didn’t prolong the filming long enough to catch Polunin as he met and fell in love with the Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova, a relationship that Polunin claims has transformed his life. The dancer today is very different from the edgy, confused subject of Cantor’s documentary; he says that with Osipova he has learned to love ballet again and has the confidence to carve out the career that he wants. He will perform and present repertory that he believes in – this March he is premiering Project Polunin, an independent programme of new and vintage ballets, which includes some of his own choreographic input. He is also planning to set up a management agency that will enable dancers to work independently of a home company and theatre, as actors and singers tend to do.

It’s too early to forecast the success or otherwise of Polunin’s plans. In recessionary times, it’s harder than ever to fund independent dance projects (Will Tuckett’s Nutcracker recently fell victim to financial troubles). And it takes guts, good taste and rigour for a dancer to steer their own career. From the evidence of Cantor’s film, it’s impossible to know how well equipped Polunin will be for his new career; how easy it will be for him to leave his restless demons behind.

There is one other unresolved issue that arises from Dancer: what, if anything, could have been done to avert those early crises? When he first walked out of the Royal, he claimed it was the company’s fault and that there was an English “mafia” in the company intent on pushing out Russian dancers (in “Russian”, he presumably included himself).

These days, though, Polunin’s tone is far less accusatory. When I interviewed him (with Osipova) last year, he was touchingly eager to correct any idea that he had not been supported in London: “The Royal Ballet School looked after me very well, they were like my family, and the company gave me everything.” But he did want to explain how alone he had felt back then, and how unable he was to cope with his alienation and anger.

“I was unhappy [at school] and I didn’t know how to express it,” he said. “At home if you were angry you had a fight with someone, but at the school no one ever fought – you would have been thrown out. In the company I began to feel lost. I wanted to do other things, like a musical or a movie, but I was afraid of messing up. I had lived in London for 13 years – it was my home. but I wasn’t a citizen. If the director was angry with me and threw me out, where would I go? When I walked out, I think I was trying to make the worst thing happen to me, the thing I was most scared of, so that I wouldn’t be frightened any more.”

Polunin in Sylvia by the Royal Ballet in 2010.
 Polunin in Sylvia by the Royal Ballet in 2010. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

The process of self-reflection that Polunin clearly underwent in the filming of Dancer, along with the confidence he has acquired with Osipova, has brought the dancer an emotional clarity that was beyond his reach a few years ago.

Student dancers and young professionals are a rarefied breed; they’ve been hot-housed to an early maturity; many have left behind their families and homes and all have developed a high degree of competitiveness and self-criticism. As with classical musicians and elite sportspeople, it’s difficult for them to admit any kind of weakness, even to themselves. If the busy teachers and staff at the Royal failed to observe that Polunin was struggling, so did most of his peers.

But this culture of stoicism makes it imperative for the dance industry to develop better systems for dealing with issues of anxiety, burnout and stress. The Royal provides excellent medical facilities to prevent and treat its dancers’ injuries. But just as society as a whole is waking up to the scope of mental health issues among the general population, so dance needs to get better at identifying the problems that can affect its performers. There are other outstanding talents that have been squandered or spoiled by a lack of intelligent nurturing – ballerinas such as Gelsey Kirkland and Bryony Brind are prime examples of those who struggled with demons and doubts. Dancers need to know that it’s OK to ask for help, and management need to create a culture where vulnerability isn’t equated with failure.

  • Dancer is released in cinemas on 10 March 2017. The premiere with a live performance from Sergei Polunin is on 2 March at the London Palladium and will be broadcast into cinemas nationwide. Project Polunin is at Sadler’s Wells, London, 14-18 March.
Sergei + Natalia, Falling Into Place

Sergei + Natalia, Falling Into Place

Sergei + Natalia

Sergei Polunin / Сергей Полунин “Falling Into Place” with Natalia Osipova

Choreography: “Silent Echo” by Russell Maliphant

Alternative Music: “Concatenate” by Damiano Baldwin with permission under license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…

Thank you for watching. Feel free to share! Please subscribe to my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/PamBoehmeSi… For additional videos and more, visit my blog at http://kindergiggle.blog or my fan site at https://sergeipoluningracefulbeast.com

Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer famous for his “once every hundred years” talent, his incredulous elevation, his impeccable technique, and glorious dramatic range. He brought an unprecedented new awareness to ballet when he danced in Hozier’s viral video ”Take Me To Church.” He starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign, and is a much sought after model and actor. He has appeared in such films as Murder On The Orient Express, Dancer (a documentary of his life), White Crow, and Red Sparrow.

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

Project Polunin Article, Harper’s Bazaar UK, March 2017

Project Polunin Article, Harper’s Bazaar UK, March 2017

SERGEI POLUNIN: BALLET’S BAD BOY OPENS UP ABOUT LOVE, DANCE AND REBELLION

Famous for his prodigal talent and volatile temper, the man behind the headlines speaks with Bazaar

 Of all the dancers in modern history, few have attracted as much attention as the alleged bad boy of ballet, Sergei Polunin; the brooding, temperamental Heathcliff of the dancing world.

His story is well told. At 19, the Ukrainian only child became the Royal Ballet’s youngest-ever male principal. Whether you follow ballet or not, his grace and strength are mind-blowing. Two years later, he quit after allegations of drug-taking and repeated bad behaviour. He covered his body in tattoos and danced while high on cocaine. He told the press that he was desperate to get injured so he would never have to dance again.

“I was upset,” he told us. “I couldn’t believe the industry could have gone so low. I worked 11 to 12 hours a day, six days a week and the money was bad. Before dancers were treated well – they were looked after; they could afford houses. Now we live like children. Dancers live in shared houses with three or four others; you don’t have enough money to buy your own flat or to pay for dinner.

“A footballer in three weeks earns what a dancer makes in a year. I wasn’t allowed to work with other dance companies – they were all so competitive with each other and art shouldn’t be,” he continued. “It’s not about who’s better at what; it’s about what you can give people. There was no togetherness. I felt I couldn’t change it, so I quit.”

Sergei Polunin performing at the Ports 1961 show – Getty
 He went to Russia to pursue ballet there, but soon abandoned that too. He ended up taking refuge at a friend’s house where he watched TV, unsure of how to occupy himself.

“I wanted to go into film,” he said. “But the press attention stopped me. I felt lost. I never had any freedom – over my whole life, there had always been people telling me what to do. And when I did finally get that freedom I had no idea what to do with it – that was something I hadn’t been trained for.”

In 2015, he starred in an awe-inspiring video set to Hoziers’ ‘Take Me To Church’, which has since been watched over 18 million times. It has been said Polunin’s breathtaking performance made ballet go viral, and it did go a long way in bringing the medium to a broader audience than ever before. It represented a turning point for Polunin, who worked with the artist and photographer David LaChapelle on the project.

“I wanted to quit ballet altogether,” he said. “But then I worked with David and saw that he chooses to work on what he likes. He gave me freedom – before I was just a ballet dancer. I didn’t want to be one thing; that’s boring. He showed me that actually I can do everything.”

While he has no regrets, Polunin says having a manager during his Royal Ballet years could have averted his crisis.

“I matured in those four years, I don’t think of it as losing time,” he said. “If I’d have had a manager or agent, things might have been different. Good mentoring makes 70 per cent of success. I felt that no one took me seriously or listened.”

Now he is back with a new dance and ballet works at Sadler’s Wells, entitled Project Polunin, which opens tomorrow, 14 March. He hopes that the show will help dancers avoid some of the stresses that he faced during his prodigious rise.

“I want to create a platform where dancers can be creative away from their day jobs,” he said. “I want them to be able to express their joy, their personalities and to have fun.

 Polunin’s large-scale ambitions are driven by the idea of democratising ballet and making it relevant to a new audience. He wants to make films about dance and to host live performances. Then there is his idea of collaborating with a big film studio to push dance. The repressed energy that left him feeling so trapped at the Royal Ballet has finally found an outlet outside of self-destruction.

“We just need to make the whole planet dance,” he said. “When you move, you’re happy. Ballet is so closed – it’s not televised and why shouldn’t it be? We have to open it up. People who can’t afford tickets should be able to watch it. You can’t not like high-quality ballet. Dance is a language that everyone understands. It’s a pure emotion where you don’t have to think. It’s like meditation; your soul feels rested when you watch ballet. We all dance and it always brings us joy. In that way, it’s more important than words. We need to stop fighting and start dancing.”

 Execution is everything to Polunin and every detail of his show has been carefully considered – from his choice of dancers right down to the costumes, which are adorned with 350,000 Swarovski crystals.

“Costumes completely change the way you move on stage,” he said. “The crystals add beauty and when you look beautiful, your energy is beautiful. It is going to look stunning.”

“When LaChapelle approached me about this project I really wanted each of these characters to feel magical and somewhat God-like – that would not have been able to happen without each and every one of these crystals,” said the show’s costume designer Brett Alan Nelson. “Every step and movement now has so much life beyond the dance, they feel un-human.”

Ballet aside, Polunin has two other great passions. The first is film, where he sees his future. Already, he has acted in two movies: the spy thriller Red Sparrow with Jennifer Lawrence and Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming Murder on the Orient Express alongside Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer.

“I was so scared I wouldn’t be good enough,” he said. “I had a real ego barrier. What if I tried it, failed and my dream was ruined? The unknown is scary, but you have to be brave. I like good quality and there is so much laziness in film. There are these movies that make millions, but why? I want to be in anything where the quality is high. Being an actor is the luckiest thing in the world to do. When I wake up now, I am excited.”

His other significant love is the talented ballet dancer Natalia Osipova, whom he first met in 2015 when they performed opposite one another in Giselle. His relationship with her caused an epiphany for him.

“For me, it was very important,” he said. “Before Natalia, I couldn’t stay longer than three days in one place, but she grounded me. When you love someone – well, it’s the essence of life. I had never had a good grounding before her. Everything else is now secondary.”

The two work together often, which – despite their intoxicating chemistry – he admits isn’t always straightforward.

“When you work with someone so much, you lose that respect,” he said. “When you know someone so well, your boundaries come down and you find yourself telling them to shut up when you shouldn’t. It’s not easy, particularly when it’s so physical and you’re so reliant on each other.”

Natalia Osipova and Polunin on stage as part of Project Polunin wearing Swarovski-embellished costumes © Drew Shearwood

Regardless of how much he clearly loves his girlfriend, if he had 24 hours to spend however he wanted, he would choose to pass them alone. Somewhat tragically, he says such occasions come up only once or twice every year or so.

“Solitude is important,” he said. “Our world is manic – we travel so much, the internet is always there and our phones are always on, so it’s important in life to be alone preferably with nature. If I could spend a day however I wanted I’d go to the ocean – water and fire is always what I need.”

Fire used to be what dominated Polunin and is key to his ambition and incredible talent. But calming, constant water might be just what he needs to survive.

‘Project Polunin’ is at Sadler’s Wells, London EC1R, from 14 to 18 March.




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