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“The Cheek Of It” A Telegraph article from 2012

“The Cheek Of It” A Telegraph article from 2012

Sergei Polunin: the ballet cheek of it

The shock departure of the Royal Ballet’s young star has rocked the company.

cheek of it
‘I got some sick tattoos’: Sergei Polunin, pictured in ‘Rhapsody’ at the Royal Opera House  Photo: Robbie Jack

Where were you when you heard that Sergei Polunin had left the Royal Ballet? I was just about to take my seat at a studio performance at Covent Garden where London’s balletomanes were huddled miserably in the aisles, open-mouthed with dismay at the news. His colleagues were equally nonplussed – “he was fine yesterday”, said one.

Reports of a ballet world “in shock” might sound like overkill – nobody died, for heaven’s sake – but the sudden loss of this extraordinary young star was proving hard to bear and almost impossible to fathom. Why on earth was he leaving? Where would he go? And (the show must go on, after all) who could they possibly cast in his place?

Polunin’s unprecedentedly abrupt departure was front-page news, but the 22-year-old star has long been food for headlines. His teenage debut as the snorting, tiger-slaying hero in the 1877 melodrama La Bayadère prompted comparisons with the young Rudolf Nureyev and, for once, the hype was justified: the same supercharged classicism; the same haughty sensuality; the same instinctive mastery of stagecraft.

Polunin’s silky technique, drill-bit pirouettes and cat-like jump were a credit to his schooling, but his most exceptional qualities were not learnt in the studio. Even at 19, he knew how to infuse every step with motive force and give a gesture dramatic weight. Ballet’s princes spend a surprising amount of time standing about shooting their cuffs and generally looking spare but Polunin has only to tilt his chin or wave an imperious hand to take total command of the stage. Nobody taught him how to do that (if they knew the formula, they’d bottle it).

Young Royal Ballet soloists often bemoan the years wasted while they blush unseen in the chorus but Sergei Polunin’s prodigious talent meant he was fast-tracked through the ranks. At only 19, he became Covent Garden’s youngest-ever male principal dancer and began systematically working his way through the great roles of the repertoire – to universally ecstatic reviews.

Adulation, rapid promotion and regular crowds at Floral Street’s stage door could easily turn a young dancer’s head and result in preening, self-regarding performances, but if Polunin was vain he didn’t let it show on stage. He never consciously stole a scene and soon proved a considerate and versatile partner. In the five short years since his graduation he has been paired successfully with almost all of the Royal’s female stars – Lauren Cuthbertson, Sarah Lamb, Alina Cojocaru – but the most exciting match was made last October with the Spanish dancer Tamara Rojo in Marguerite and Armand.

The one-act piece had been tailor-made for Margot Fonteyn and gorgeous, pouting new arrival Rudolf Nureyev by Frederick Ashton in 1963 but Rojo and Polunin made the ballet their own. Rojo (who ought to know) is unstinting in praise of her new partner. “Dancing Marguerite and Armand with Sergei was one of the most wonderful experiences of my career,” she told me yesterday. “He is a truly special man and I really hope I get to share the stage with him again.”

Her audience felt the same way, electrified by the urgency and naturalism of the two stars; many happy hours were spent in games of Fantasy Ballet, re-casting every revival with this thrilling new partnership. Their admirers hungrily scoured the schedules and crowded the blogosphere: when would the pair be dancing next?

It looks as if we’ll all have a long wait. Tuesday’s resignation was “with immediate effect” and he will dance none of his scheduled debuts: no Oberon; no Romeo; no La Sylphide; no A Month in the Country. This cruelly abrupt departure leaves a lot of disappointed ticket holders (his dates were all completely sold out) although it remains to be seen whether London’s well-bred ballet-goers will be moved to stamp or boo when he takes his bow at a boy’s own ballet gala, Men in Motion, at Sadler’s Wells tomorrow night, directed by Ivan Putrov, who also left the Royal Ballet in less than ideal circumstances.

A riot at the Wells is unlikely. For the moment the mood of the fans is one of baffled disappointment (“Now I know how it felt when The Beatles split up,” wailed one), all struggling to comprehend how anyone blessed (or burdened?) with such a unique talent and given every opportunity to nourish it should cut and run with so little consideration for his teachers, his fans or even his own career. He had the Covent Garden repertoire in his pocket, the ballet world at his feet – what the hell happened?

Dame Monica Mason, licking her wounds at the loss of her biggest star during her final season as the Royal Ballet’s director, is refusing any comment beyond a rather terse press release. Polunin himself is not taking calls and even his inane tweets (“I got some sick tattoos”) have dried up. It’s tempting to look to his rags-to-(relative) riches background for answers but it’s a career path that many performers share.

Born in the small town of Kherson in the Ukraine, the young Polunin started out as a gymnast, but the switch to ballet (aged eight) led to an audition with the Kiev State Ballet school and a move to the big city, where he shared a one-room apartment with his mother (who has yet to see him dance professionally). A video audition led to a sponsored place at the Royal Ballet School followed by a job with the company and a new life in London.

Was it all simply a case of too much too young? He’s clearly a complicated and contradictory character. He wanted every role he could get, then complained of feeling “constricted”, demanding to be released for lucrative guest appearances (“that is where you make good money”). Polunin is hardly the first dancer to want to make the most of their golden years. If this was the problem, it’s a pity he and Monica Mason weren’t able to thrash out a compromise before it came to this.

And where will he go? He was hinting at New Year that 2012 would be “controversial” and he’s unlikely to have made such a major decision on a whim but, if there is a grand plan, it was still unvoiced 24 hours after the shock announcement. First thoughts as we stood chattering in Covent Garden’s basement studio were that he might have been lured to St Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky ballet. The company, bankrolled by fruit magnate Vladimir Kekhman (alias “Mr Bananas”), recently poached the Bolshoi’s star couple Vladimir Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova for vast sums and a flexible contract, but it seems hard to believe that a hip Ivy-goer like Polunin would want to retreat back East. The word on the street (well, Floral Street, anyway) is that he may be thinking of dancing for American Ballet Theatre – not exactly a step up.

At the time of writing the young star was holed up in darkest Holloway, in the bedroom above the tattoo parlour he co-owns. Google “Sergei Polunin” and the word “tattoo” comes third in the list of suggestions. There is a school of thought which insists that the tattoo count is in inverse proportion to IQ. Sergei Polunin has lots of tattoos (all masked at vast expense by the make-up department).

Dermal decoration is pretty rare in the ballet world, so much so that one company insider mistook the bear claw “scar” that runs across his chest for a horrific instance of “self-harming” – which I suppose it is, in a way. The giant crucifix tattoo on that beautifully muscled forearm is hardly the smartest choice for a man whose body is on constant display (there’s a lot more topless ballet than you’d think). Most ballet dancers don’t even dare sunbathe in case it’s wrong for a role. My spies tell me the latest acquisition, done by a rather confused Russian tattooist, reads: “I am hwo I am” (let’s hope he got a discount).

And how will the Royal Ballet manage without him? Don’t let the “Dream turns to nightmare” headlines depress you too much. Re-assigning his performances is the least of the Royal Ballet’s worries. Dancers come and go, injuries happen, understudies rejoice. Steven McRae will dance Polunin’s Oberons as well as his own in The Dream (very nice, too) and hungry young soloists will be jumping a little higher and landing a little neater in morning class, buoyed up by that ill wind.

Meanwhile, as the dust settles, a fellow critic assures us that it’s “no great loss”. Perhaps. But when I look at those pictures and re-run those ballets in my mind’s eye, it feels like a very great loss indeed.

Very Detailed Article of the “Departure” 2012

Very Detailed Article of the “Departure” 2012

The Economist | 1843 | The Economist Unwinds

COVER STORY

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

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”. 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.

demons

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


 Additional reading by Julie Kavanagh

BALLET’S BRIGHTEST STAR

JULIE KAVANAGH | APRIL/MAY 2016

Why Natalia Osipova is the world’s most exciting ballerina

Uptown Funk – Sergei Gets Funky With Bruno Mars!

Uptown Funk – Sergei Gets Funky With Bruno Mars!

While watching Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and other stars of the silver screen “dance” to “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, the other night, it occurred to me that it would be great fun to do that for our Sergei! And, what a kick it was! Hope you get as much enjoyment watching as I did making.

So, on a light hearted note to the end of the year… Merry Christmas to all my dear, dear new friends, and to Sergei and his remarkable family and loved ones. May 2018 be kind to us all.

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.  He is the founder of Project Polunin.

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 blog at: https://kindergiggle.blog/ or my fan site at https://sergeipoluningracefulbeast.com

This is a ballet | балет iMovie by Pam Boehme. Thank you for watching.

Dream Becomes A Nightmare, Polunin Quits Royal Ballet

Dream Becomes A Nightmare, Polunin Quits Royal Ballet

The Dream becomes a nightmare: Royal Ballet’s youngest ever Principal quits a week ahead of show

 

The youngest male dancer ever to be made a principal with the Royal Ballet, abruptly quit the company.

Ukrainian Sergei Polunin, still only 21, rose rapidly through ranks within two years of joining the Royal Ballet from the Royal Ballet School and was promoted to top rank in 2010 aged only 19.

The sudden departure of the man labeled ‘Covent Garden’s most remarkable male discovery for years’ has shocked observers.

dream becomes nightmare
Resigned: Sergei Polunin, 21, makes his first appearance on stage after resigning from the Royal Ballet earlier this week

dream becomes nightmare
Statement: Monica Mason, director of the Royal Ballet

Dame Monica Mason, the director of the Royal Ballet, said in a press statement:

‘This has obviously come as a huge shock. Sergei is a wonderful dancer, and I have enjoyed watching him tremendously, both on stage and in the studio, over the past few years. I wish him every success in the future.’

A source at the Royal Opera House, where he had been due to star in The Dream, added:

‘This is a total bolt out of the blue. Sergei was rehearsing right up until today. We are upset, but more than anything we are shocked.  He has never suggested that he was unhappy. Today he spoke to Monica Mason and simply said that he wanted to resign.  He just said he didn’t want to dance here any more.’

Polunin had given no indication in rehearsals that anything was amiss.

This week the dancer wrote on his Twitter page: ‘Just have to go through one night!!! then will make my next moves.’

In recent interviews the young star has indicated that he wants to do more dancing around the world and has been feeling constricted by his London timetable.

He has said that world galas are where the money is – and has also revealed that he is both tattooed and the co-owner of a tattoo parlour.

He was also due to dance two full-length ballets with the rising British ballet star Lauren Cuthbertson, as Romeo and the Jack of Hearts in a production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

He also had leadroles scheduled in all the remaining programmes of the season, notably La Sylphide with Sarah Lamb and a much-anticipated debut with Cojocaru in Ashton’s delicate Russian tragedy A Month in the Country.

dream becomes nightmare
Shock: Sergei Polunin announced his resignation from the Royal Ballet Company this week

dream becomes nightmare
Prodigy: After a recent performance of Ashton’s Rhapsody The Arts Desk’s critic Judith Flanders wrote that he might be even better than Baryshnikov, for whom the ballet was created

Born into a poor family in Kherson, Ukraine, Polunin joined the Royal Ballet School at the age of 13, sponsored by the Nureyev Foundation.

A talented gymnast who originally dreamed of entering the Olympics, he swiftly proved to be outstanding in ballet and joined the Royal Ballet at only 17.

‘Attending the Royal Ballet School was a big escape for me,’ he said in The Telegraph.

‘I didn’t miss home at all. In Kiev I shared a room with my mum for four years; suddenly I was in a dorm with six other boys at White Lodge in Richmond Park – I felt like I was in Harry Potter.’

All the top roles have been laid at his feet by Dame Monica, but it was evidently not enough to retain his interest.

dream becomes nightmare
Mystery departure: Sergei Polunin with Laura Morera at the Royal Ballet Triple Rhapsody at The Royal Opera House Covent Garden

His departure will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Dame, since this is her farewell season as director, and Polunin was probably the biggest new star discovered in her era.

This Friday Polunin joins another Royal Ballet rebel, Ivan Putrov, in an evening featuring male ballet at Sadler’s Wells.

Putrov, 31, a fellow Ukrainian, who was also considered a leading stylist, left the Royal Ballet in 2010 and hooked up with the controversial modern choreographer Javier de Frutos and the Pet Shop Boys for an ambitious Sadler’s Wells creation, The Most Incredible Thing, last year.


Parties, Tattoos, Depression, Dance.

Parties, Tattoos, Depression, Dance.

Parties, tattoos, depression, dance: the film “Dancer” about Sergei Polunin

Text:  NASTYA POLETAEVA for Blueprint

May 18, 2016

Sergei Polunin, compared with Baryshnikov, called the new Nureyev, and on the impact on the fans, he can compete with Louis Garrel.  Today the film company “Pioneer” releases a tape “Dancer”, telling the story of the pop star of ballet.  We watched the movie and recommend it for viewing, regardless of your thoughts on its subject.

 

The documentary film “Dancer” is about the life of the ballet prodigy Sergei Polunin.  Here in Russia, ballet is very revered – perhaps even more so than in the UK, where Polunin became a star.  The “rock prince of the ballet” formulations are not applicable to the audience here (in Russia), and quotes from the interview with Sergei saying “classical ballet is dead” rather irritate us.

parties tattoos depression dance
Photo: RICK GUEST

 

Inner drama

After the movie “Dancer” we questioned “Why is Polunin so popular?”  He is an ideal Lermontov hero.  His childhood was spent in Kherson.  He studied in the Kiev ballet school, where for the sake of payment, his father Sergei had to go to Portugal and work there at the construction site.  His grandmother moved to Greece, where she was a nurse.  Viewing a tape of him at the Royal Academy of Ballet in London resulted in Polunin getting a grant.  He worked hard, even staying after classes were dismissed.  He hoped to meet expectations and reunite the family, however his parents’ relationship finally succumbed to divorce.  Admission to the Royal Ballet troupe as principal dancer at age 19 only led to nervous breakdowns, parties, tattoos, and depression.  Upon leaving the theater, Polunin took on advertising contracts, bought a tattoo parlor, and achieved fame as the “enfant terrible.”  It’s hard to believe that this cinematic story is a chronicle of just 22 years of a real person’s life.  Complex character in combination with charisma, choreographic gift, and physical beauty interested the ballet community and the press.  And, participation in the viral Hozier clip created Sergei fanatics and fans all over the world. 
parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance

Command

In January of 2012, Sergei Polunin, with a scandal and the phrase “I’m tired of receiving orders,” left the Royal Ballet troupe, where he was the youngest soloist in history.  Just at the moment when the whole world press began to write about Polunin, the British producer Gabriela Tana suggested that he become the main character of the documentary about himself.  Later, Sergei will say for that the frankness of the tape and the credibility of the crew, the merit is all Gaby’s.
parties tattoos depression dance

Stephen Cantor, the director of “Dancer”, and Gabriela Tann are both Oscar nominees.  Together Tana and Kantor filmed with the support of the BBC, and participated in its production in general.  All the familiar and people close to Polunin participated, from the famous choreographer and former classmate Jade Hale-Christopher, to his mother Galina, and choreographer Igor Zelensky.  Polunin, at the time of the decision to start filming, was only 22 years of age.

parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance

New Rudolf Nureyev?

Before leaving the Royal Ballet and covering his body with tattoos, Sergei Polunin was simply immersed in ballet.  He danced better than anyone else – so much that he was immediately transferred to the third year at a London school, and at the age of 17 he began to perform as a member of the troupe.  Polunin’s fellow students remember that he was always the best, and the ex-director of the Royal Ballet says in the film: “He was too big for supporting roles like the bronze idol. People did not look at the soloists, but at him.”  Thanks to the phenomenal technique, excellent jumps, the ideal physical form and charisma, Sergei received an offer to become a leading soloist in just 19 years.  British newspapers rattled.  After the premiere of “Giselle” they came out with headlines like “Who danced Giselle?” – Polunin so eclipsed the title performer of the ballet.
parties tattoos depression dance

People booked tickets for Sergei’s performances in two years in advance, applauded for double digit curtain calls, and waited for him at the exit from the theater.  Considering that after Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov there was not a single ballet dancer of this scale from Russia and the countries of the former USSR, Polunin was immediately dubbed their successor.  And even in a video for Dior, he appeared with a portrait of Nureyev in his hands.

parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance

parties tattoos depression dance

 parties tattoos depression dance

Take Me To Church

A sun-drenched building, talc on the floor, a tattooed Sergei Polunin in beige tights dances to “Take Me To Church” by Hozier.  At the time of this publication, the video has 19 million hits, it was viral.  When Sergei realized that he was not cramped in the Royal Theater, but in classical ballet in general, he decided he could no longer live like that.  He no longer had unconquered peaks, and he decided to end his career. To put an end to the most significant part of his life, Polunin asked friend Jade Hale-Christopher to give him a farewell dance.  Kiev, then London, then Moscow – no theater in the world gave Sergei what those four minutes uploaded to YouTube did.  Contracts (including ballet) were poured on him, people wrote letters to him and begged him to continue to dance – all this inspired him to continue his career.

parties tattoos depression dance

 

Sergei Polunin and the popularization of the ballet

Like Polunin or not, the fact remains: his name on the poster “sells” the performance better than almost any other and attracts to the theater even those who have never before been there.  Before leaving the classical choreography (which the ballet community still mourns about), he was a real rock star in the classical scene – and people reacted to him like Iggy Pop.  Polunin’s active participation in related projects – glossy filming, fashion shows, advertising premium marks, filming the same “Take Me To Church” – is what he is scolded for the most.  Things were said like, “narcissism can ruin,” and “not such a talent,” “the main thing is ballet,” and so on.  But in fact, we will never know if the Royal Theater in London would have made such a ticket, and many other theaters, if they had not danced the “pop star” Polunin. 

parties tattoos depression dance

The concept of “I’m tired, I’m leaving” in classical art

“I wanted to go to America, but nobody would take me – they thought I was crazy,” Sergei says in the film about the consequences of his abrupt departure from the Royal Ballet.  According to rumors, indeed, Polunin broke several negotiations with American theaters because of his reputation as an unreliable member of the corps.  The fact is that ballet is a very conservative environment.  Dancers very rarely move from one theater to another and certainly do not break the contract, being 22-year-old principal: this is a professional suicide.  After these antics, a “bad boy” label was glued to Polunin, and he himself began to think what he could do besides the ballet.  While out of plans – to open an agency whose managers would protect the interests of ballet artists, open several schools, film (two Hollywood tapes are already out this fall), and continue to dance, if there is enough time.  The only big ballet Project Polunin, was very coldly received by critics, but, obviously, Sergei now has a completely different life and other priorities.

parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance

Why the history of Polunin has been controversial for nearly ten years

Firstly, because Sergei turned his life into a reality show – he honestly tells what he thinks about the classical ballet and what his plans for life are, in front of the fans.  He leaves choreography and returns to it.  We observe the process of an important life choice of an exceptionally talented person in real time.  Secondly, because many are worried about whether Polunin will enter kitsch (Nikolai Baskov was once a promising opera singer, and Anastasia Volochkova, a good ballerina).  Already now in an interview Sergei, jokingly or not, calls himself “the best dancer in the world.” A great talent combined with youth, fame and the desire to make revolution can be a dangerous combination.  Do spectators have the right to condemn Sergei, even if tomorrow he decides to take part in the show “The Voice”?  There are no answers, but it will be interesting to follow future development.
parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance
parties tattoos depression dance

 

Peter And The Wolf Review 2010

Peter And The Wolf Review 2010

Review: Peter and the Wolf & Faeries at Royal Ballet/Blind Summit Theatre Royal Opera House

WHILE there may a limited choice of Nutcrackers this year there is no shortage of high-calibre family shows and at Covent Garden one is spoilt for choice.

By NEIL NORMAN
Peter and the Wolf
Sergei Polunin as the Wolf in “Peter And The Wolf”

On the main stage, preceding Tales of Beatrix Potter (which I will review next week) is Matthew Hart’s lively production of Peter and the Wolf, which alternates with Les Patineurs.

Gaudily costumed and superbly danced by students of the Royal Ballet School, this suffers slightly from minimalist ‘modern’ staging – a giant tree stump covered in graffiti – and lack of an onstage orchestra which might liven up the visuals.

No problems with the work itself, however, or the execution which is exemplary. The two adults – Grandfather/Narrator (Will Kemp) and Wolf (Sergei Polunin) strut their stuff magnificently- Kemp is Jackanory camp and Polunin leaps and twists and stalks as a really menacing Wolf.

But it is the ensemble that attracts the eye – whether dressed in green Carmen Miranda-like grass skirts and headdresses for the Meadow or silver/blue Afro wigs and blue bodysuits for the Pond – they move as one organism, interpreting Hart’s collective choreography with ease and humour. Best of all is Chisato Katsura’s Cat whose feline grace and sudden pounces are sensuously authentic and will guarantee her the Pussycat role in every ballet.Downstairs at The Linbury Studio, Will Tuckett’s Faeries is a moodily magical confection performed by young dancers, actors and puppeteers. Like Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, it is set in Blitz-torn London where Johnny (Femi Oyewole) and his young sister Beattie (Alex Newton) are separated at a train station on the eve of their evacuation to the country. Johnny runs away and enters Kensington Gardens after dark where he becomes embroiled in a conflict between good and bad fairies.

Against Martin Ward’s engaging score for clarinet (Derek Hannigan) and keyboard (John-Paul Gandy) he joins the quest for a golden coffin that will render the finder immortal. Dark and primal, with a great villain in scary fairy Dolour (“When war causes chaos I lick up the carnage”) – a puppet so malevolent that some kids rush for the exit – it is riddled with mischievous humour. I loved the trio of naughty fairies and the fat old Drone fairy – a cross between Yoda and ET – and judging by the audience reaction, I was not alone.The stage sometimes seems overcrowded and the puppeteers (who also voice the characters) are clearly visible but neither seems to bother the younger members of the audience whose imaginations are fuelled to the max.

Verdict: 4/5

PETER AND THE WOLF  and FAERIES. Royal Ballet/Blind Summit Theatre Royal Opera House, 020 7304 4000 until tomorrow/December 19
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.”

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.”

Stage Door Video Dec 1, 2017

Stage Door Video Dec 1, 2017

Ballet star Sergei Polunin on finding a new love for dance

“Le Corsaire” Huge Ballet Jumps in 1080HD… Glorious!

“Le Corsaire” Huge Ballet Jumps in 1080HD… Glorious!

Sergei Polunin / Сергей Полунин “Le Corsaire” huge ballet jumps in 1080HD… glorious!

Clips from the ballet “Le Corsaire”
Composer: Adolphe Adam
Choreographer: Joseph Mazilier

Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer.  He is famous for his “once every hundred years” talent and incredulous elevation, as well as his impeccable technique and glorious dramatic range. Starring in Hozier’s viral video ”Take Me To Church,” he brought an unprecedented new awareness to ballet.  He starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign, and in addition, is a much sought after model and actor. Sergei recently appeared in Kenneth Branaugh’s Murder On The Orient Express.  In “Dancer,” a documentary of his life, he played himself.  Also in the works are “White Crow” and “Red Sparrow.”




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