sergei polunin – Sergei Polunin

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Sergei Underwater

Sergei Underwater

Beauty In The Deep

Lorenzo Agius photographs the “bad boy of ballet” underwater

July 2017 | Written by Rachel Segal Hamilton

An underwater shoot had been on Lorenzo Agius’ to-do list for some time, but the right moment had never come up. Until he had the chance to photograph Sergei Polunin for the November 2017 issue of Italian Vanity Fair, that is. Even if you’re not into ballet, you’ve probably heard of Sergei Polunin. He was the rising star of the scene who, at 19, became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer in 2010. But the pressure proved too much and he resigned from the company two years later, though not before earning a reputation as the ‘bad boy of ballet’ for his tattoo-covered torso and hard partying. Today, he’s a permanent guest artist for the German ballet company Bayerisches Staatsballett.

“I thought, ‘If I’m ever going to be able to do this shoot, it’s with him,’” says Lorenzo, who’s photographed some of the biggest names in entertainment – Beyoncé, Tom Cruise, Ewan McGregor, Cara Delevingne and Madonna – for leading film companies, magazines, and commercial clients. “What an amazing mover. If you see any photograph of him dancing, you see he’s perfect in his pose,” Lorenzo adds. “He has this incredible, sinewy body and he’s very much a tortured soul. There are all sorts of metaphors to do with darkness, beauty drifting away, and sinking into water.” Sergei also had the necessary discipline. “A dancer is trained from a young age and it’s all about having control of your body and breath, so he just seemed to be a natural fit.”

The shoot took place over three hours in July 2017, using a tank on an industrial estate in Croydon, South London. Around this time Sergei was preparing for his film debut in the period piece Murder on the Orient Express. “We decided to put him in a suit, because for Vanity Fair there needs to be that fashion element. For me this was really a portrait shoot, though. I wanted to focus on the beauty of his body and what he does, to freeze it and slow it right down – hence the water.” In addition to the underwater work, Lorenzo took some portraits of Sergei sitting on the side with his wet shirt clinging to his chest and droplets falling from his eyelashes, all of which continued the watery theme.

sergei underwater sergei polunin graceful beast
The dancer was dressed in a suit to provide the “fashion element” for Vanity Fair, but Lorenzo’s emphasis was on the “beauty of his body.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS. © Lorenzo Agius 
sergei underwater sergei polunin graceful beast
Once the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer, Sergei Polunin made his film debut in Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 take on Murder on the Orient Express. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS. © Lorenzo Agius

Owned by one of the UK’s top cameramen, the tank – which is used primarily for underwater filming – is “like a mini swimming pool,” Lorenzo explains, 4.5m by 6m and around 8ft deep, with special glass to film through. To avoid reflections, Lorenzo put his tripod-mounted cameras right up to the glass, and draped black velvet around himself. He was working with his camera of choice – a Canon EOS 5D Mark III – for the full-length shots, switching to a Canon EOS 5DS for close-ups. “I wanted maximum detail so you could see the bubbles on his skin,” he says. Also in his kit bag was a Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM and a Canon EF 28–70mm f/2.8L lens. “If he was turning in the water, they allowed me to just get in there quickly and capture the top half of the body,” Lorenzo says. The 35mm worked well, with its natural wide-angle view, and a large maximum aperture allowing for fast shutter speeds in low light.

He chose to line the tank with black tarpaulin to create the sense of an abyss. Although he had the option of using underwater lights, Lorenzo decided against this. Instead he positioned a single light directly above Sergei, which he coloured with blue gels. “I didn’t want people to think it was a tank. I wanted people to think he was in the dark ocean.” The fact that the water was constantly moving as Sergei moved, refracting light and creating hot spots, made lighting tricky, but Lorenzo embraced the randomness. “I wanted those shafts of light on him and on the background – I wanted it to look real.”

sergei underwater sergei polunin graceful beast
Portraits were also taken posed on the side of the tank, Sergei’s sodden shirt clinging to his chest. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS. © Lorenzo Agius
sergei underwater sergei polunin graceful beast
“I wanted to focus on what his body does, to freeze it and slow it down – hence the water,” says Lorenzo, on his underwater shots of Sergei Polunin. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS. © Lorenzo Agius

There were some challenges, however, that Lorenzo didn’t anticipate. He wasn’t aware that some people are naturally more buoyant than others, due to their relative density to water (muscle is denser than body fat) and the amount of air in their lungs. “It’s really bizarre – it’s not about whether they look fat or thin, it’s just that some people naturally float. In that case you have to weigh them down, but I didn’t want to [with Sergei] because you would see the weights.” Instead, after discussing poses with Lorenzo, Sergei would expel every last puff of air before sinking down in the water for 30-50 seconds at a time. The lower he went, the more painful it was, which is where his stamina and persistence came to the fore. “An actor wouldn’t have that staying power,” says Lorenzo. “He was able to go back in over and over and over again. He was pushing himself more than I was pushing him.”

Sometimes Lorenzo would get five good frames when Sergei was submerged, at other times more. Technically, it was a case of trial and error. “You have to trust the focusing and exposure systems to do their work – one minute it would be bright, the next minute dark, because you’re effectively creating little waves,” he says. “I knew with the equipment and the file sizes, you’ve got about a stop and a half of latitude – in a worst-case scenario I’d be able to pull it back, but you don’t want to lose detail, so it was a case of underexposing. That was weird because it almost looked too dark, except in the spots of light that were hitting him.”

sergei underwater sergei polunin graceful beast
Sergei seemed the perfect fit for the challenging shoot, says Lorenzo: “He’s an amazing mover, has this incredible, sinewy body and he’s very much a tortured soul.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS. © Lorenzo Agius
sergei underwater sergei polunin graceful beast
The dancer and actor’s distinctive tattoos across his torso, back and arms, formed a focal point of the portrait series. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS. © Lorenzo Agius

Although “a slow process”, the experience is one that Lorenzo is eager to repeat. Next time, he says, he’d go for a bigger tank and he’d like to get in too, experimenting with different underwater housings available for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Not only would being in the water give him an advantage – being free to shoot in the environment, instead of being positioned behind glass – it would also help him to relate to his subject. “For me, most of a shoot is about communication,” he says. “As a portrait photographer, I have to really connect to my subjects to get the shots. That’s the most important thing. Sure, I photograph celebrities, but who cares? It’s about capturing something people connect to.”


– Lorenzo Agius

Lorenzo’s advice for underwater shoots

“You need to be clear with your subject, and have trust in your equipment. Talk things through with your subject, clearly and honestly. If you can convey your needs, your subject will give you what you want. If you know and trust your equipment, you can then be bold enough to go for it. For me, it was a steep learning curve and it would be for anyone doing an underwater shoot for the first time. Next time, I’ll have more confidence and understand the lighting and technical issues involved. Shooting through 2.5m of water, you get refraction and distortion and all sorts of things, but the camera handled that really well. I use the Canon EOS 5D Mark III all the time – it’s brilliant, it’s never let me down.”

Sergei Dances Ashanti Development Galas

Sergei Dances Ashanti Development Galas

What is the Ashanti Development?

In 2005, a few natives of Ghana who were residing in London at the time felt the need to help the people who still lived in their home villages in Africa. They approached their British friends and neighbors for help. Thus, the Ashanti Development Organization was created. A charity with zero paid staff or employees, all work done in the UK is strictly voluntary, although they do employ local people as staff in Ashanti itself. Volunteers raise funds for their projects, as well as cover their own expenses. Their mission is to relieve poverty and promote health and development in and around the Ashanti Region of Ghana by means including the provision of safe and accessible water. Of all the money that is donated to Ashanti, 100% is spent on the villagers.

Sergei’s Involvement

On September 28, 2008, the Ashanti Development organization in London put together an evening of dance to raise funds for the charity. The event entitled “Out Of Slavery” celebrated the abolition of slavery. Star artists from the Royal Ballet and Random Dance were among the featured performers. Sergei danced “What if…” with former Royal Ballet School classmate Melissa Hamilton. He also performed a pas de deux with Mara Galeazzi called “End of Time.” The stand alone pas de deux was choreographed by Ben Stevenson to music by Sergei Rachmaninov in 1984. Created for the International Ballet Competition in Japan, it won the gold medal for choreography. 

Click on pics below for larger image.

Sergei helps out again in 2009

Sergei again performed for the Ashanti Development fundraising gala in 2009. On Sunday, September 27, an evening of music and ballet was held at the Britten Theater, Royal College of Music in London. Called “A Dream of Africa” and organized by Henry Roche and Penny David, this performance celebrated the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama, as well as raised funds for the Ghana charity.

This time, Sergei performed in a ballet called Song Without Words with music by Mendelssohn. Vanessa Fenton choreographed the piece and it featured Sergei Polunin, Leticia Stock, and Xander Parish. Dressed in black they were called “a sharp, compelling trio.”

Song Without Words, Xander Parish & Sergei Polunin support Leticia Stock
Photo: Brenda Spooner
A Dream of Africa Royal Ballet Performance
Song Without Words featuring Xander Parish, Leticia Stock, and Sergei Polunin
Photo: Brenda Spooner

100% of the proceeds raised during these events went to the Ashanti Development.

Lucky Ballerinas

Lucky Ballerinas

Lucky ballerinas? Or, are they…

Brief bit of ballet background

Ballet originated in the early 1600’s. For the first 75 years or so, it was Men Only. Women weren’t allowed. If a role called for a female, it was danced by a man.

Once accepted, however, the woman quickly became the star of the ballet, and thus, the ballerina was born. A male dancer struts his stuff in a quick solo variation in most classical ballets, but, when it comes to the pas de deux (steps for two), he is relegated to more of a supporting role. His main purpose becomes to assist his tutu-clad other half. That is… hoisting her high into the air, toting her about the stage, spinning her around on pointe, and in general, making her look good. Sometimes so much so, that I recall once hearing a male dancer refer to himself as “scenery.”

Along comes Sergei

From Russia to the Ukraine to London, Sergei Polunin has partnered some of the most celebrated ballerinas. Natalia Osipova, Svetlana Zakharova, and Tamara Rojo to name just a few. While all the world might wish to dance with him, these women are a few of the lucky ones who do. Although… can a ballerina be considered lucky if the onlookers can’t take their eyes off of HIM?? It’s as if the ballerinas are dancing back up! Audiences, for a change, have their eyes glued to Sergei while a ballerina flitters about him, reduced to a mere distraction. Sergei Polunin is the man who makes ballerinas disappear.

Disclaimer: This little excursion into ballet history is not meant to cast dispersions on any of the talented and hardworking women ballet dancers in the world today. The idea is to point out, with a little tongue-in-cheek, just how remarkable Sergei Polunin is.


The featured videos in this entry are photo montages of Sergei Polunin partnering several different ballerinas in some of ballet’s most passionate pas de deux. Presented with him are some of his “fortunate” ballerinas.

Interesting Bit Of Trivia

The first of the two videos below was deemed “so hot” that the YouTube bots banned it. The ruling was overturned once human eyes addressed the issue and agreed that the performers did, in fact have on tights, and were not naked.

“Sergei And The Ballerinas”
Being Spartacus

Being Spartacus

Spartacus, a ballet in three acts by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, is known for its lively rhythms and strong energy. It was premiered by the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1956, and its revised form was debuted in 1968 by the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.

Watch the video

In the video below, Sergei Polunin is featured as Spartacus. We also see him as Crassus, the anti-hero, whom he often portrays equally as well.

Becoming Spartacus

The role of Spartacus in the ballet of the same name, is extremely demanding. It requires a very strong and capable ballet dancer. He must have a wide dramatic range, exceptional ballon (leaping ability) and be a top-tier athlete. It can be difficult for a dancer to do justice to the role. Sergei Polunin excels at it. Sergei becomes Spartacus. His physical attributes and talents, along with his ability to completely immerse himself emotionally in a role, make him a stellar choice.

How the story came to be

The story of Khachaturian’s ballet (with libretto by Yuri Grigorovich) was derived from a book by Raffaello Giovagnolli that details events from an historical Roman slave revolt. Its leader, Spartacus, was a Thracian warrior who had been captured in battle. The rebellion’s high point was its seizure of Mount Vesuvius as a stronghold. After two years of fighting, the rebellion was finally put down by Marcus Licinius Crassus, and the warrior Spartacus fell in battle.

Synopsis of the ballet

Act I

The military machine of imperial Rome, led by Crassus, wages a cruel campaign of conquest, destroying everything in its path. Among the chained prisoners, who are doomed to captivity, are man and wife, Spartacus and Phrygia.

Spartacus’s Monologue.
Spartacus is in despair. Born a free man, he is now a prisoner in chains.

The Human Market
Dealers separate the men and women prisoners for sale to rich Romans. Spartacus is parted from Phrygia.

Phrygia’s Monologue
Phrygia is overcome with grief. She thinks with horror of the terrifying ordeals that lie ahead of her.

Crassus’s Palace
Mimes & courtesans entertain the guests, making fun of Phrygia, Crassus’s new conquest. Aegina, a favorite concubine of Crassus, draws Crassus into a frenzied, bacchanalian dance. Dizzy with wine & passion, Crassus demands a spectacle. Two gladiators are to fight to the end in helmets with closed visors (without seeing each other). The victor’s helmet is removed. It is Spartacus.

Spartacus’s Monologue
Against his will, Spartacus has been forced to fatally defeat a fellow armsman. His despair develops into anger & protest. He will no longer tolerate captivity. He vows to win back his freedom.

The Gladiators’ Barracks
Spartacus incites the gladiators to revolt. They swear an oath of loyalty to him and they break out of the barracks to freedom.

Act II

The Appian Way
Having broken out of their captivity and finding themselves on Appian Way, surrounded by shepherds, Spartacus’s followers call the latter to join the uprising. They proclaim Spartacus as their leader.

Spartacus’s Monologue
The thought of Phrygia’s fate as Casuss’s conquest gives Spartacus no peace. He is haunted by memories of his wife whom he thinks of day & night.

Crasuss’s Villa
His search for Phrygia leads Spartacus to Crassus’s villa. The two lovers are overjoyed at their reunion. But, due to the arrival of a procession of patricians, led by Aegina, they are forced to hide.

Aegina’s Monologue
Aegina has long dreamed of seducing and gaining power over Crassus. Her goal is to win him and thereby gain legal admittance to the world of the Roman nobility.

Feast at Crasuss’s Villa
Crassus celebrates his victories. The patricians sing his praises. The festivities are cut short by an alarming piece of news: Spartacus and his men have all but surrounded the villa. The panic-stricken guests disperse. Crassus and Aegina are also forced to flee. Spartacus breaks into the villa.

Spartacus’s Monologue
He is elated and filled with faith that the uprising will be successful.

Spartacus’s Victory
Spartacus’s men have taken Crassus prisoner and want to dispose of him. Spartacus is not bent on revenge and suggests that they should engage in single-handed combat. Crassus accepts the challenge and suffers defeat when Spartacus knocks the sword out of his hand. Crassus makes ready demonstratively to meet his end, but Spartacus, with a gesture of contempt, lets him go. That all shall know of Crassus’s dishonor is punishment enough. The jubilant insurgents praise the victory of Spartacus.


Crasuss Takes His Revenge
Crassus is tormented by his disgrace. Fanning his hurt pride, Aegina calls on him to take his revenge. The only way forward, she chides, is to defeat the insurgents. Crassus summons his legions. Aegina sees him off to battle.

Aegina’s Monologue
Spartacus is Aegina’s enemy too. The defeat of Crassus will be her downfall. Aegina devises a plan. She will sew dissension in Spartacus’s encampment.

Spartacus’s Encampment.
Spartacus & Phrygia are happy to be together. Then suddenly, his military commanders bring the news that Crassus is on the move with a large army. Spartacus decides to give battle. Overcome by cowardice, some of his warriors (who were simple shepherds a short time ago) desert their leader.

Aegina infiltrates the ranks of the defectors. Together with her fellow courtesans she seduces the men with wine and dance. As a result, the men throw all caution to the winds and she convinces them to return to Spartacus’ camp. Having successfully sprung her trap, Aegina hands them all over to Crassus.

Spartacus’s Monologue
Crassus is consumed by the wish for revenge. Spartacus shall pay for the humiliation that he, Crassus, was forced to undergo.

The Last Battle
Surrounded by the Roman legions, Spartacus’s devoted friends perish in unequal combat. Spartacus fights on fearlessly right up to the bitter end but, closing in on the wounded hero, the Roman soldiers crucify him on their spears.

Phrygia retrieves Spartacus’s body. She mourns her beloved. She is inconsolable. Raising her arms, Phrygia appeals to the heavens that the memory of Spartacus live forever.

Sergei Surprises Guests

Sergei Surprises Guests

Sergei surprises guests? Stuns would be more like it… Unbeknownst to the host of bigwigs, celebrities, and other guests at a Milan’s 2016 Fashion Week show, Sergei Polunin / Сергей Полунин was about to bring down the house.

Beauty, power, angst… it was glorious.

Living, breathing, moving sculpture…

About Sergei

Sergei Polunin was the dancer who starred in Hozier’s viral video, “Take Me To Church” but his fame is far greater than just that. One day, he will be legendary. Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer. Famous for his “once every hundred years” talent, he has incredulous elevation and impeccable technique.

From an early age, he displayed glorious dramatic range. Home videos of him as a tiny boy improvising to Pavarotti are very foretelling. At age 20, he became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer.

Ballet gained an unprecedented new awareness when he danced in Hozier’s viral video ”Take Me To Church.” People who never would have never paid any attention to ballet began to watch the tattooed phenom. He is generally attributed with bringing ballet to the modern common man.

Classical, yet cutting edge, Sergei starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign and has put his mark on many other promotions. Sergei is a much sought after model and actor. Fashion designers love his breathtaking physique and brooding good looks.

He has garnered only positive reviews for his acting. His appearances include Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Orient Express, the biographical documentary Dancer, The White Crow, and Red Sparrow.

If you enjoyed this, please consider visiting my fan site at or my blog at for additional videos and more.

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

Thank you for watching.

Huge Ballet Jumps!

Huge Ballet Jumps!

Huge ballet jumps is right. This is a video featuring Sergei Polunin in “Le Corsaire” and showcasing his incredible elevation and incredulous ballet leaps. His “signature” leap, the 540 Rivoltade is nothing short of spectacular.

Scroll down for video.

Watch “Huge Ballet Jumps! here.

This video originally posted in November 2017 and currently has almost 490,000 views. It has been archived here in an effort to preserve and keep available treasured footage of this future dance legend.

About Sergei

Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer. Famous for his “once every hundred years” talent, he has incredulous elevation and impeccable technique. From an early age, he displayed glorious dramatic range. Home videos of him as a tiny boy improvising to Pavarotti are very foretelling. At age 19, he became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer.

Ballet gained an unprecedented new awareness when he danced in Hozier’s viral video ”Take Me To Church.” People who never would have never paid any attention to ballet began to watch the tattooed phenom. He is generally attributed with bringing ballet to the modern common man.

Classical, yet cutting edge, Sergei starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign and has put his mark on many other promotions. Sergei is a much sought after model and actor. Fashion designers love his breathtaking physique and brooding good looks.

He has garnered only positive reviews for his acting. His appearances include Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Orient Express, the biographical documentary Dancer, The White Crow, and Red Sparrow.

For additional videos and more, please visit my blog at

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

Thank you for watching.

If You Fall, I Will Catch You

If You Fall, I Will Catch You

If you fall I will catch you… a beautiful sentiment, a beautiful promise. What more can two people do for each other than to simply be there.

This video was created in January 2018 by Pam Boehme Simon. In my ongoing effort to catalog and preserve all things “Sergei” it is being archived here for all to enjoy.

“If You Fall, I Will Catch You” starring Sergei Polunin and ballerina Natalia Osipova… ballet superstars, and at one time, real life companions.

Choreography: “Silent Echo” by Russell Maliphant

Alternative Music: “Hachiko” by The Kyoto Connection with permission under license:

Who Is Sergei?

Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer. Famous for his “once every hundred years” talent, he has incredulous elevation and impeccable technique. From an early age, he displayed glorious dramatic range. Home videos of him as a tiny boy improvising to Pavarotti are very foretelling. At age 19, he became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer.

Ballet gained an unprecedented new awareness when he danced in Hozier’s viral video ”Take Me To Church.” People who never would have never paid any attention to ballet began to watch. He is generally attributed with bringing ballet to the modern common man.

Classical, yet cutting edge, Sergei starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign and has put his mark on many other promotions. Sergei is a much sought after model and actor. Fashion designers love his breathtaking physique and brooding good looks.

He has garnered only positive reviews for his acting. His appearances include Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Orient Express, the biographical documentary Dancer, The White Crow, and Red Sparrow.

If you enjoyed this video…

Please bookmark my fan site at or visit my blog at  for additional videos and much more.

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

Thank you for watching.

2013 OK! Magazine Article

2013 OK! Magazine Article

He had an amazing fate. At the age of 19, Sergei Polunin, a native of Kherson, became a principal with the Royal Ballet of London. One can only dream of such a swift and brilliant career.  But at 21, unexpectedly for everyone, Polunin left the theater to start his life practically from scratch.

By Vadim Wernick

JANUARY 16, 2013

2013 ok! magazine article
Photo: Mikhail Kharlamov

For many years, Sergei Polunin has spoken with others only in English. As he sits with me today, he speaks to me in Russian, rather slowly, probably looking for the right words.  Currently, the 22-year-old Polunin is a principal dancer with the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater.  The theater does not hide its joy about such a successful acquisition. As I listen to Sergei tell his story himself, I being to realize that it could well become a plot for a feature film.  Mentally, I give the command, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

Sergei, tell me about your childhood. Did you grow up quiet and calm, or energetic?

“I have always been very energetic. From birth I cried a lot and did not let my parents sleep. In the daytime, too, it was impossible to lay me down – so much energy! Because of this, I was told to join a sport. When I was four years old, I was taken to gymnastics lessons. When I was six years old, I entered a gymnastic sports school. The school day lasted six to eight hours. This is quite a serious load, more serious than in ballet. Plus it is a dangerous sport, sometimes it was scary. I had many quite serious injuries. I’ve completely taken the skin off my arms and hands, hit my head against some pieces of iron, and have fallen down badly more than once.”

They believed in you and considered you promising.  Did you compete?

“At first they did not want to admit me into the gymnastics school, because I was very tall, head and shoulders above the rest of the guys. In gymnastics, all are very small. But the coach believed in me, said that growth is not the most important thing and took me.  I always won prizes, never below third, and I did not fall in competitions. But then, and for a long time, I fell ill with pneumonia. When I returned, those who usually came in last were ahead. It was psychologically hard. Because of this, I left gymnastics, although my mother was against it. She, too, had given a lot of energy to it. She accompanied me to classes, every day, waited hours for me to finish.”

So you have shown stalwart character since childhood?

“Yes. It is easy for me to leave the old and find something new. I do not collect photos or discs of my performances. I do not store photos of my parents or ex-girlfriend – I tried to throw it all away or destroy it so that there was no pain. I even have a tattoo on this topic: the rain washes away the picture. I never miss people, never missed mom when I left for London. I do not get used to people, to work, to a place. It’s easy for me to leave. Now, if someone else leaves, and I stay, then it’s hard. When dad left for Portugal, it was hard. You stay in the old place, but you lose something. And when you are the one leaving, you gain something new and you do not feel the loss.”

2013 ok! magazine article
Photo: Mikhail Kharlamov

Your dad went to Portugal to work?

“He went to Moscow to work and to Portugal. He was a builder. In Kherson there is no work. Everyone leaves to work abroad.”

So you grew up mostly with your mom?

“Yes. Mom did not work, she was completely engaged in me. Dad returned twice a year, brought gifts – but always went back. There is no father in my childhood memory.  Because of this probably, I chose friends older than myself. I was rarely friends with the guys of my own age. I was more comfortable with adults, strong people.”

Tell me, how did you get into ballet? Was that your wish?

“It was my mother’s wish. When she asked me, a five-year-old boy, whether I like dances, I answered “no” – it seemed to me that this occupation was not for a man. Kherson is not the most advanced city, so to speak. There, almost everyone is dressed the same way, everyone has the same hairstyle … Few people danced there, but I didn’t even hear about the ballet then. But when my mother brought me to the dance club, I immediately decided to become the best dancer, just as I once wanted to become the best in gymnastics. I studied there for three years, and then entered the Kiev Choreographic School.”

Sergei, how did you, a boy from Kherson, end up in London?

“This is also thanks to my mother and her faith in my success. Mom does not know the answer “no”, she always achieves everything. In Kiev, everyone said to her: “The boy is only 13 years old, why are you taking him away from regular school?  He won’t receive an education. He will remain uneducated and will not be accepted to any company”.  And so, I had nothing, no papers, not even a high school diploma.  However, London is different. There, if a person is talented, they will take him in to the company without any papers.”

Was it possible suddenly, for no reason at all to leave Kiev for London to study ballet? How did all this happen?

“Mom called dad in Portugal. She said it would be good if he moved to work in London, then we would move there too – there is a good ballet school there. That is the idea she had. But he couldn’t.  He called a friend … Dad had a friend, also a builder, who moved from Portugal to London. So, this friend went to the ballet school, talked to the director and found out what was needed for admission. We prepared a CD, recorded a part of the lesson, a part of the dances and sent it there. They liked it, and I was sent an invitation to interview. My mother and I arrived, I spoke to the commission, and they took me. It would be easier, of course, to go to regular school. It is less expensive and less years of study. But everyone comes to London to dance at the school where  I was accepted. I was one of the younger ones there. Training there is three times more expensive – thirty two thousand pounds a year. And in the same place, on the school grounds, you live. You can go to the park in the evening. The school is located in a closed park, there are deer, huge parrots.”

Did you know English?

“No, I did not know. At first, I remember, it was difficult to guess what they wanted from me. But after six months, I slowly learned to talk and understand.”

Did you miss Ukraine? Being in your own house?

“Only in the early days. After a week it passed. I have long wanted to escape from the life of Kiev. In Kiev, I lived with my mother in the same room for four years. Our beds were very close. In Kherson, everything happened in front of each other. It bothered me to be with my mother constantly, under her pressure. I wanted to break free. Now, I have my own life, and my mother has hers.”

2013 ok! magazine article
Photo: Mikhail Kharlamov

Tell me, did you have any success in England from the very beginning? Did you lead there?

“Yes. In Kiev, I was the best in class. Although in London the guys at school were two years older than me, I, at the age of 13, was even with them in terms of their level of training. Their school begins rather weakly. Children are not forced at all. Fortunately, I do not need to force, do not need control, I do not need to hear “pull the foot.” When children are not pulled along, nothing is molded out of them.  Without force, you need perseverance to develop your talent. So I persevered. That is why now I can work with any teacher and in any atmosphere.”

Were you been accepted to the Royal Ballet company automatically?

“The Royal Ballet company takes from the school very rarely. They may not take anyone at all, or they may take one or two people out of 24 graduates. They took me and a girl. And that’s all. Because of this, it is difficult when you enter the company. You don’t know anyone, nobody supports you.”

That is how you fell into extreme conditions?

“Yes. Firstly, people in the company are much older than you. Secondly, the company has traditionally a poor attitude to beginners. You have no right to talk either with soloists or with principals. Such rules… these are not literal rules but the atmosphere nevertheless remains. When I came to the company, I had no friends. And because I immediately danced good parts, it was difficult for me to find one…”

To be so good right at the start, who would like it except yourself and the theater management, right?

“That’s it. After the first year, I had already made soloist. The other soloists there were thirty years old. A principal in the company would be thirty-two.”

But it could have happened even faster?

“At first there was the corps de ballet, I stood in the last line, I knew my place. My teacher in class said… you are dancing here, and in the company… but you must always know your place. It’s as if they are trying to break a person so that he does not have the desire to ask for, or want, anything.  In the company, when I first came and started dancing in the studio, a teacher would often come up to me and say: “Do not jump higher than the principals”. Can you imagine?”

Got it… do not speak with the principals, do not dance in the same row as the principals, and do worse than the principals!

“Yes. Yes. Yes. They said the corps de ballet is useful to you, you learn acting skills.”

Did your nature rebel against such rigid rules?

“I did not rebel, on the contrary, I lost interest. When you are not given roles for a long time … In the first month of work, they gave me the Golden God to dance in La Bayadere. Everything went well, but after that, six months nothing at all.  I almost ceased to appear in the theater. I was sitting at home, watching TV, I went to parties, I didn’t know what to do. It was quite difficult for me then. Until I was again given a good role – I danced the pas-de-trois in Sleeping Beauty. It somehow spurred me, raised my self-esteem.”

So after a year in the company you became a soloist.

“When I was made a soloist, I was very surprised: why? I have not done anything that brilliant I thought. But I think they saw my potential.  Therefore, in the first year, they did not particularly engage me. There was no point in learning small roles with me, sewing costumes on me if I still would not be dancing this role in a year.”

You also did become a principal with the Royal Ballet.

“Yes. In the history of the Royal Ballet there was no example for someone to get this title at that age. The second year was already very promising. I was given the main role in Bayadere. Critics were thrilled. From this moment I had no downtime. Started hard work. At first it was very interesting. While you are not yet principal, there is still something to strive for, to fight for. Then at some point the director calls me and says: “We are making you a principal dancer.”  Like an everyday thing, no celebration, nothing.”

After that, probably, everything in your life changed?

“You move to another floor and get a place in the changing room of the principals. Now there are only two people in the room with you … But here is another extreme. Previously, if you, for example, were late, always someone would argue or complain about you. But when you are a principal, do what you want, no one has the right to even say a word to you. I liked it: nobody makes you nervous, you work calmly.”

In the theater, everything went perfectly: you danced all the main parts, the press wrote about you in the most enthusiastic tones. And what happened, why did you decide to leave the theater at twenty-one?

“Indeed, everything was very stable. They even put a ballet on me, which is also rare. But something I did not like. I didn’t like that they don’t give freedom of expression. You are forced to perform everything exactly as the choreographer wanted, even if this choreographer has not been alive for a hundred years. I wanted some new achievements, I wanted free creativity. And I began to think about moving to New York, to the American Ballet Theater, who I had been constantly called by for five years. In addition, I had a row with my girlfriend, also a ballerina. We had been together for three years. Now nothing kept me in London.”

How long had you had the desire to leave the Royal Ballet?

“I had one attempt, a year before leaving. I then dropped everything, took off my costume (there was a dress rehearsal for the new performance) and went to the deputy director. I talked to him for a long time. I said that it was not enough for me only to dance in the company, that I, as an artist, would like to be listened to. Dancers have no authority. “

They calmed you then? They said, everything will be fine with you, just stay?

“Yes, they promised a lot. Gave more money. Although I did not ask for money. I became one of the highest paid artists in the theater. I was told that they would talk with producers, maybe some films would be offered. And as a result, I was persuaded to stay. But nothing has changed. There was more money, but with creativity, everything is the same. The same routine: getting up, rehearsing … boring.  I left the company. Ratmansky called me and I was going to fly to ABT, to New York.”

I will clarify. Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky – artistic director of ABT.

“Yes. He wrote to me that he was waiting, would help, if necessary, that he would very much like me to come. And suddenly, boom, something else happened. Ralph Fiennes, a Hollywood actor, comes up to me and says he wants to make a movie about Nureyev with me in the lead role. Then, the producers of a musical call me, they offer a role. Not to sing, of course, but to dance the whole musical.  I am mentioned for the show “Stars on the Island,” one of the most popular TV shows in England. The celebrity life I dreamed of began. And I thought: why should I now go to America, look for musicals, films, when I, here in England, I am offered all this. And I lingered a little…”

Sergei, what was your tattoo salon all about? I read that at some point you decided to stop ballet completely.

“I opened the tattoo parlor with a friend about three months before I left the company.”

Why did you need it?

“I do not know, I like boyish parties. I had the happiest life when I was five or six years old, even before gymnastics, when the boys and I ran along the street with machine guns, when I belonged to ourselves and was not attached to anything. From the shop came the same feeling. Different people came there, they didn’t have a job, and they did what they wanted all day long – they did tattoos, played consoles, drank, and smoked. There was a completely different atmosphere, as opposed to theatrical, where everyone builds something of himself. They were simple, free, strong guys, I really liked to communicate with them. I made tattoos for myself. I have thirteen of them.”

And ballet?

“The night before, I did not concentrate on ballet at all. Until four in the morning I was sitting in the tattoo parlor (it did not close for the night). In the morning I went to rehearsal as usual, but then, just walked out. And when I left the Royal Ballet, I quit everything: the tattoo parlor, and the girl — everything.”

In the company, probably, it was a shock when you announced your final decision?

“Yes, I was told that the director was crying. There was a concert in the theater that evening, the colleagues saw that the leadership was mourning, everyone was sitting, they did not know what to say.”

So what’s next? You talked about the mass of attractive offers. What of this come true?

“Since the shooting of the film about Nureyev slowed down, I decided to continue my career as a dancer in order to earn some money. I finally decided to go to New York. Flew with one bag at thirteen kilograms. These were all my things. And when I flew in and talked to the director of ABT, it became clear to me that he was afraid to take me, that he had heard from the press …”

… about your complex, unpredictable character?

“I think yes.”

So, you became persona non grata in the ballet world.

“Yes. All those who previously made me an offer, began to slowly leave, and this, of course, is terrible when everyone crawls away from you. You go on the internet – but there are no offers.”

Moreover, you are only twenty-two years old.

“At that moment, only twenty-one.”

I understand you’re a sensitive person. Has depression or something similar started?

“How to say … I was advised to talk again with Kevin, the director of ABT. They said that Kevin is just afraid of newcomers. They advised me to go to Russia, to the Mariinsky Theater, to start dancing there, and then to return to New York later.”

2013 ok! magazine article
Sergey Polunin and Vadim Wernik

Amazingly, you, a world-famous dancer, had to start everything from scratch.

“It was hard, yes. For four months I didn’t study, the body lost its shape, I couldn’t even show how I was, what I could do, what I learned. Nerves were on edge. I went to Peter (St. Petersburg) with the same thirteen kilogram bag. In St. Petersburg, I did not even discuss the money, nor where I would live, nor anything to dance – nothing at all. I was given a hostel where there was an empty room and a TV in it. And I started going to the theater just to practice, not rehearsing anything. I thought then: why all this? In London, I had a two-story two-room apartment, and I chose this closet. Peter is not much different from London, the same weather … No change was felt, there was no clarity with the work either. All friends stayed in London, here I had no one to communicate with, and some spiritual purification began.”

“I spent two months without work, waiting. Before, I had two performances a week in London, and here I am sitting and sitting. I was in no mood. And at this moment Igor Zelensky appears …”

… the head of the ballet troupe of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater.

“He wrote to me, offered to meet. We met, we decided to have lunch together, and during lunch I understand that this person is very interesting to me as a person. I still do not know what company he has, what repertoire, but he is interesting to me – he is a charismatic man, reliable as a wall. He called me to see the company. I came, looked and decided to move to Moscow.”

So what? Has stability appeared in Moscow?

“At first there was depression. But I slowly got used to it, and Igor Zelensky supported me – he constantly called me, never left me alone with myself. And as a result, my soul calmed down, I began to get in shape and move forward.”

Where is your home today, how do you feel?

“There is no house yet. I do not acquire households, things, because I am sure that I will relocate many times. I recently flew to Novosibirsk to perform, in New York, in London I will fly for several months. I would like, of course, to return home from a tour, to a pleasant homey atmosphere. And that a girlfriend was there. But I think I will not soon have such a house.”

You are only twenty two years old? We are now talking with you about your life, and I have a feeling that it does not fit into the framework of your age. Have you thought about it yourself?

“I always felt much older than my peers. I went to school before others, I started dancing earlier, before others I became principal. Somehow, everything happens very quickly for me, and this makes life interesting. I do not like to think in advance what will happen next – then it becomes boring to live.”

His Nature

His Nature

“A man’s power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth, and his desire to communicate it without loss.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

“His Nature” Sergei Polunin

Music: “Nature Boy” performed by Aurora, written in 1947 by Eden Ahbez

Visit AURORA’s website:

Dancer: Sergei Polunin

Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer. Famous for his “once every hundred years” talent, he has incredulous elevation and impeccable technique.

From an early age, he displayed glorious dramatic range. Home videos of him as a tiny boy improvising to Pavarotti are very foretelling. At age 20, he became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer.

Ballet gained an unprecedented new awareness when he danced in Hozier’s viral video ”Take Me To Church.” People who never would have never paid any attention to ballet began to watch the tattooed phenom. He is generally attributed with bringing ballet to the modern common man.

Classical, yet cutting edge, Sergei starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign and has put his mark on many other promotions. Sergei is a much sought after model and actor. Fashion designers love his breathtaking physique and brooding good looks. He has garnered only positive reviews for his acting. His appearances include Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Orient Express, the biographical documentary Dancer, The White Crow, and Red Sparrow.

If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing to my Youtube channel: and “like” my playlist “Sergei Polunin, Graceful Beast” as well.

For additional videos and more, visit my fan site at or my blog at

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

His Own Words – Sergei Polunin

His Own Words – Sergei Polunin

His Own Words – Sergei Polunin

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

This article was published by Uinterview on December 19, 2016.
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