take me to church Archives | Sergei Polunin

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Another Man

Another Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except it wasn’t.

another man sergei polunin another man sergei polunin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

another man sergei polunin another man sergei polunin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

another man sergei polunin another man sergei polunin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1000 Degrees Of Sergei

1000 Degrees Of Sergei

1000 Degrees Of Sergei

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

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

He won.

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

The Original

My Creations

“Breathless”

“Indigo”

“Moulin Bleu”

“Immersion”

Thank you Sergei, Kristina, and Emil.

 

About this post:

“1000 Degrees of Sergei”

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

Entertainer Sergei Polunin!

Entertainer Sergei Polunin!

Entertainer Sergei Polunin?

YES!

It’s a given that Sergei Polunin will go down in history as a ballet legend.  However, given his vast talents, he will surely be remembered as a superlative entertainer as well.  With the face of an angel and the body of a god, Polunin could not be more pleasing to the eye.   He innately knows just what to do and when as far as facial expressions and gestures are concerned.  He is a consummate entertainer!

Entertainer Sergei Polunin?

Without a doubt!!!

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 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.  He is generally attributed with bringing ballet to the modern common man.  Classical, yet cutting edge, Sergei starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign and has put his mark on many other promotions.

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

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

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

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

Thank you for watching.

 

Sergei Polunin, Graceful Beast YouTube Channel

Sergei Polunin, Graceful Beast YouTube Channel

Sergei Polunin Graceful Beast YouTube Channel

This site, Sergei Polunin, Graceful Beast, is run by me, Pam Boehme Simon.  I also have a YouTube channel dedicated to Sergei Polunin, and other ballet dancers.  If you’d like to view the world’s largest collection of Sergei videos all in one place, and be notified when I post a new one, please subscribe!

Here are a few samples to enjoy!!

About Sergei

Sergei Polunin was born in Kherson, Ukraine on November 20, 1989.  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 the age of 20, Polunin 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 to date include Murder On The Orient Express, Dancer, White Crow, and Red Sparrow.

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

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

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

I love to hear from viewers, so please comment.  I read each and every one, and answer as many as possible.  Thank you for watching.

Royal’s Romeo And Juliet 2011

Royal’s Romeo And Juliet 2011

12,000 pack in to see Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet debut at the O2

Royal’s Romeo and Juliet at London’s O2 arena was a gamble that paid off, finds Louise Levene.

royals romeo
Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet at the O2: Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta, Photo: ROH

Covent Garden it ain’t. The crowd is six times the size and a good half of them of them will be munching hot dogs throughout.  However, the Royal Ballet’s debut run at London’s O2 this weekend is a great success nonetheless.

The company’s bold experiment has brought high art at low prices to a whole new demographic, winning thousands of friends (and political brownie points) in the process.

Rock and Romeo

The old Millennium Dome’s hangar-like interior has meant rethinking the presentation.  Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 Romeo and Juliet took on brash, rock concert-like lines.

No pit meant putting Barry Wordsworth and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a narrow glass box above the stage. Their playing has been subtly amplified. Prokofiev’s thundering score floods the great barn of the O2.

Above the orchestra are three huge screens. They highlight important entrances and reaction shots that might easily be missed by a spectator two football pitches away.

The six cameras are coordinated by a nerve centre of screens and headsets in the stalls.  The show is directed by ex-Royal Ballet stars Michael Nunn and William Trevitt.

These one-time Romeos know precisely which moments need to be reinforced but even their best efforts are not always enough. The Royal Ballet has (rather touchingly) assumed that Romeo and Juliet is too well known to need telling.  But, while it is flattering not to be spoon-fed or patronised, I’m not sure the 12,000-strong audience was fully up to speed with characters or plot.

There are two chunks of Shakespearean voice-over but a few surtitles wouldn’t go amiss.  Particularly given that the only synopsis was inside a souvenir programme costing £10 (as much as many of the tickets).

Magic but confusing

The pas de deux worked their usual magic but crowd scenes were confusing. If the experiment is repeated – and I don’t see why not – it might also be an idea to colour code the characters more obviously: black for Tybalt; white for Romeo etc – that or put numbers on their backs.

In interviews before this expertly-hyped event the Royal Ballet’s stars had fretted that their close-ups might seem hammy and exaggerated.  These fears have proved groundless.

The playing was lusty and vivid but none of Friday night’s cast overacted.  Zooming in on the action merely reveals the detail that any balletomane with binoculars has long been aware of.

Rojo and Acosta

Friday night’s cast was led by Tamara Rojo and Cuban superstar Carlos Acosta, who was on superb form (not always the case this late in his 20-year career).

There were traces of the old fire in the great arcing leaps and every lift was a caress. Rojo’s dark expressive eyes were made for the big screen.  The intensity of her acting and the musical sweep of her dancing soon made you forget the venue and concentrate on the art inside it.

And, then there’s Polunin…

Thiago Soares made a dashing and dastardly Tybalt.  The 21 year old Sergei Polunin (doubling as Benvolio and lead Mandolin dancer in a last-minute casting crisis) was the best (and handsomest) dancer on stage.

The gilding and plush of Covent Garden has always been a major part of the Royal Ballet’s appeal but bigger, cheaper, less glamorous venues attract new audiences – the holy grail of every arts establishment.

English National Ballet’s conquest of the Royal Albert Hall proved that widening access needn’t compromise quality and the Royal Ballet was right to join the party.

This month’s O2 project has been the brainchild of the company’s 45-year-old administrative director Kevin O’Hare who has just been anointed as Dame Monica Mason’s successor. Not a bad start.

The final performance is today at 3pm: O2 Box Office 0844 856 0202 or online at www.theO2.co.uk

Bad Boy Days Are Behind Him

Bad Boy Days Are Behind Him

Bad boy days?

Not so bad at all…

24 Hours With Sergei

24 Hours With Sergei

24 hours with Sergei Polunin

24 hours…

Long days that stretch into the night.  Class, rehearsal, fittings, makeup, performance.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  That is the life of a company dancer.  Follow along.  If you have the energy…

Sergei Polunin / Сергей Полунин “Early Bird / Night Owl”

See behind the scenes at the theater for one day. His day starts early with class and rehearsal, then a performance takes him late into the night. Not much rest for the superstar ballet dancer, Sergei Polunin.

Music: Josh Woodward “Lafayette”

Dancer: The Outtakes

Dancer: The Outtakes

Julie Kavanaugh goes behind the scenes of a documentary recording the life of Sergei Polunin.

By Julie Kavanaugh For Dancing Times, March 2017 issue

 

An idea is born

In September 2012, I was approached by the Dutch documentary director Aliona van der Horst.  She’d read a long article I had written on Sergei Polunin.  Aliona thought the story of the Ukrainian boy burdened with a phenomenal talent would make a moving film.  I knew that terrific archive material existed.  Galina Polunin, Sergei’s mother, had photographed and filmed all the key moments of his childhood.   I knew as well that he would be safe in the hands of the Van der Horst, who is half-Russian and makes poetic, human, award-winning documentaries.

Additionally, it didn’t seem right to make a Polunin documentary that failed to portray the dancer as the extraordinary classicist he is.   His every step is a blueprint of balletic perfection.  A specialist’s eye was needed.  I wrote telling Aliona that I was married to the film dance filmmaker Ross MacGibbon and that we’d decided to take this on ourselves.  While working on a Ralph Fiennes profile, I got to know the Coriolanus producer Gabrielle Tana and we become friends.  Gaby loved ballet, understood Polunin’s importance, and promised to make our documentary idea happen.  Three months later the three of us flew to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, where Serge was performing, to discuss a shooting schedule.

 

Igor Zelensky stepped up

He was under contract then to the Stanislavsky ballet in Moscow whose director was the charismatic Russian dancer Igor Zelensky, also director of the Novosibirsk’s ballet company and now in charge of Munich’s Bavarian State Ballet where Polunin is a “permanent guest.”  After his dramatic bolt from The Royal Ballet, when the other major companies had shied away from signing up a dancer then regarded as a volatile delinquent Zelensky had stepped in.  “After I left, everything started to close up.” Sergei said, “people started to turn away from me. Igor really helped me get out of this darkness.” 

Zelensky, whose face  Serge has tattooed on his shoulder as a tribute, became a father/brother/mentor figure while his wife and children were his Moscow family.  With his European sophistication combined the Russian machismo and a wild side of his own, Zelensky was a vital role model, instilling in his protégé the importance of self-discipline.  It soon grew into a symbiotic pact with Zelensky creating a Polunin repertory with masterworks by Kenneth McMillan and Fredrick Ashton.  The young dynamo’s presence adding luster and excitement to the Stanislavsky.  In Novosebirsk Zelinsky was able to keep Serge performing and for big money too (one Nutcracker solo earned him more, he told me, than two months pay in The Royal Ballet). 

 

Even in a bad red costume, Sergei looked noble and refined

We watched him the first night in the Gazprom-sponsored gala in Novosibirsk’s “Siberian Coliseum” – the largest theatre in Russia. it was a “Snow Forum” with a blizzard soundtrack, snowflake lighting effects in the auditorium and a performance consisting of winter-themed extracts from musicals, operas, and ballets –  mostly The Nutcracker.   Even in a bad red costume, Sergei looked noble and refined, but was so reined in during his manege by the inept, ponytailed conductor who hardly looked at the stage, that the audience’s slow handclap soon petered out. 

I found myself thinking of a remark Ashton once made when we were talking about why Rudolf Nureyev had chosen The Royal Ballet as his home company:  “A beautiful jewel needs a beautiful setting.”  Because by contrast, the State Academic Opera And Ballet Theater, with its rickety sets and brash lighting appeared as tarnished costume jewelry at best. 

 

A motley lot

Physically and technically, the dancers were motley lot, their mime movements almost comically old school.  “They don’t know how to be natural,” said Sergei, who like Nureyev in his day, was breathing new life into the 19th-century classics.  He was preparing for Giselle while we were there, saying that he’d had to stop the make-up woman from powdering over his brows and painting clownish black arcs in the middle of his forehead. 

Outside in the snow banked-streets the temperature was -24°C, but Sergei virtually lived in the theater, where he and Zelensky had been given backstage apartments.  Igor’s was smart and minimalist.  Sergei’s not much more than a boarding school cell with chipboard cupboards and a bed covered with a garish duvet and strewn clothes.  But he loved Novosibirsk, which was less lonely for him in than Moscow, and we planned to come back and film his cocooned existence with Igor, as well as make good use of the theater’s vast blackened stage.

 

Galina sees Sergei dance professionally for the first time

The following month we shot the first footage in London.   The Royal Ballet was reviving Marguerite and Armand to mark Tamara Rojo’s farewell season with the company and Kevin O’Hare had invited Sergei back to partner her.  This was a huge deal for him. A comeback begging to be recorded, as well as what I saw as the perfect opportunity to carry out a promise I made to his mother.  I’ve already written about my friendship with Galina Polunina, and how I invited her to London to see him for the first time on the Royal Opera House stage. 

That night, sitting beside Galina, as she clutched my arm when the curtain rose, her eyes shining with tears, has to be one of the most memorable ballet-going experiences; but more to the point, it gave us a tremendously powerful scene for the film – one which our cameraman, positioned in the stall circle, and following Galina through the pass door onto the stage, caught in soul-stirring detail.

“I’ve always been scared of contemporary”

In the summer of 2013 Serge was back in London, appearing with the Stanislavsky company in Roland Petit’s Coppelia.  A kitsch, mawkish version which also happens to be an exhilarating showpiece for a male star. Galina came over for it and so did a director/producer acquaintance of Gaby from the US named Steven Cantor.  Tall and rangy, he talked earnestly about the necessity of a Formula and a Journey for the documentary, but had our ear as he was offering to put a large chunk of the budget. 

We now had the funds to commission an eight minute piece by Russell Maliphant, and over a week in August we recorded Sergei working with the choreographer for first-time. “I’ve always been scared of contemporary,” Sergei told me. “For me ballet is so much easier.  It’s unusual for me to go low to the ground – I feeling going to pull everything.”  Even from the first day, however, there was a rapport between the pair, the atmosphere in Maliphant’s north Acton studio almost Zen-like.  

 

Original idea for Dancer focused on artistry

To begin with Sergei was “just trying to copy what Russell’s doing” and having trouble mastering a tricky for swivel but the falls and capoeira-inspired movements came naturally to him, and ini close-ups and wafting his arms beautifully framed his Slavic face.  Maliphant’s idea was to exploit his virtuosity – “the great leaps and turns, those explosive moves.”  – but blend it with other techniques.   “We’ll be dipping into the classical, but I want to play around its edges, and how we go into it and come out of it is something I like to explore.”  

Ross wanted the making a solo to be linking device throughout the film, and planned to shoot the finished piece on location with multiple cameras using time-spliced technique – a freezing of 24 frames a second that would capture and hold the exquisite purity of shapes Polunin makes in space.

 

And then came the tattoos

One August evening we filmed Sergei’s London family, talking to his Royal Ballet School friend Jade Hale-Christofi; his brother Phil, whom Sergei described as a “gang member” but who seemed soft as a kitten; their Greek father and maternal North American mother whose suburban home in been a refuge to surrogate and his most troubled times. 

A few minutes away was the tattoo parlor he’d co-owned with Anthony Lammin, a cool, confident black guy who’d created a number of Sergei’s tattoos.   The latest was to be a replica of a pretty church in Kherson, where Sergei had been “christened.”   To the buzzing of the drill, we filmed Lammin at work on Sergei’s back.  There was a piece of kitchen paper on each thigh to catch the dripping sweat off his armpits, but his dancer pain threshold is so high he could talk to the camera naturally, without a flinch.

 

Nikolai Priadchenko and what might have been

In the autumn of 2013 we traveled to Ukraine to film the backstory.  The trip had been prompted by an invitation for Sergei to perform Giselle in Kiev with the Bolshoi Ballet’s Ukrainian-born star Svetlana Zakharova.  A double comeback this time.  After their press conference he visited Kiev’s ballet academy were he been trained as a child.  He was visibly moved by the “same smells and faces.”  

In Giselle rehearsals he was coached by his first mentor Nikolai Priadchenko, a wirey man with thick gray hair and leathery skin, who’d prepared Serge for his Royal Ballet School audition, taught him variations for European competitions, and passed on the combination of romantic softness and danseur noble imperiousness that defined his own performances as a company star. 

 

“If I had him every day, I’d be on a different level”

Priadchenko had been horrified to hear that Sergei had walked out of The Royal Ballet.  ”It’s not a company to be left.  It was his base” and on camera was visibly shocked when the dancer confessed to hardly ever taking company class.  Among his teachers only Priadchenko,  Sergei said, was “constantly critical,” something he admitted he badly needed.  “I work by myself, I mark things and nobody tells me anything.  So I’m trying in a way to lie to people – pretending I know what I’m doing, but really I don’t.   Nicolai knows that and tells me off in rehearsals.   He wants to correct me show me; show me something new.  I try to hold onto the key moments that I remember, but it’s not the same.  If I had him every day, I’d be on a different level.”  (Sadly for Sergei, Priadchenko died six months later.)

 

Home to Kherson

From Cosmopolitan Kiev we took the overnight train to Kherson.  Kherson seemed a world away especially in its outskirts were Vladimir Polunin lives with his mother.  Sergei’s adoring, pillowy grandmother, who’d got up at 5 AM to make borscht for him, was there along with Galina’s mother, who was strikingly more sophisticated than Vladimír’s.  Vladimir is a gentle, handsome man, who answers difficult questions with touching frankness, as did the two “babushki” sitting side by side.

 

Where it all began

In town we filmed the gymnasium where Sergei trained from the age of six.   His coach was interviewed about the qualities that could’ve made him a professional.  Sergei’s first ballet teacher put on a special display for him.  He was dragged from his seat onto the stage by the pupils.   After improvising to a melancholy Pavarotti aria he spontaneously lifted his teacher off her feet and swung her horizontally round and round. It was a euphoric moment, but there was one more indelible experience left.  

 

The healer

Sergei had suggested we film a session with his healer, a former taxi driver.  His eyes were as glassy as a blind man’s.  He spent about 15 minutes on Sergei, muttering as he rocked him back and forwards, which may or may not have produced a result.  All I know is that it urged Sergei to have a go.   He translated the soft torrent of words spoken by the healer.  I was astounded by accuracy of what I was hearing.  Sergei wasn’t surprised.  Struck with pneumonia as a child he’d been discharged after six weeks in hospital as there was nothing more to be done.  It was Galina’s desperation that first took him to this healer who cured him within a fortnight.

The Dancer outtakes and what might have been

The last day of the shoot, November 20, was Sergei’s birthday.  On the overnight train we had a celebration buffet supper.  We toasted him with plastic cups of warm, sweet, Russian “champagne.”  We did not know it at this time, but this was the end of our collaboration.  Gabby Tana had become enraptured by the work of the photographer and music video maker David LaChapelle.  She decided that she wanted a more commercial film.  In a video of a re-released Freddie Mercury /  Michael Jackson track, LaChapelle dressed Sergei up in combat gear.  He stripped it off while running and leaping over the Hawaiian terrain and into a sunlit white barn. 

This was refined into the now famous Hozier “Take Me To Church” solo, an internet sensation, and today, the centerpiece of the documentary Dancer.  Aimed at the massive YouTube audience, the film has given Sergei the global exposure he craved.  Steven Cantor replaced Ross as director, and in focusing on Polunin’s angst, and not his artistry, Cantor created a portrait of a hugely gifted, mixed-up kid.  Our vision for the documentary, while telling the affecting family story, and filming his movements with innovative expertise, would’ve enshrined forever a great dancer in his prime.


 

Anna Pavlova Gala Review 2012

Anna Pavlova Gala Review 2012

Anna Pavlova gala: Seven magazine review, by Louise Levene

Seven rating: * * * *

Just when you worry that Sergei Polunin might have been oversold, you see him dance again and realise it was all true. Even in the ultra-starry company of last Sunday’s gala in memory of Anna Pavlova – Vadim Muntagirov, Uliana Lopatkina, Evgenia Obraztsova, Svetlana Zakharova – the Royal Ballet runaway was ablaze with classical artistry.

Wayne Eagling and Ensemble Productions delivered a mixed evening, and the variation in quality between the party pieces seemed to render time elastic. Tamara Rojo’s risible duet with live goldfish seemed to last longer than Titanic, while Polunin’s Raymonda variations zipped by in a heartbeat.

We don’t see nearly enough of Raymonda. The Royal Ballet haven’t danced their glorious Nureyev-staged Act III for nearly a decade and the Bolshoi haven’t brought theirs since 1999. Glazunov, Petipa, a shimmering ballerina and two superb male roles: what’s not to love?

Polunin’s performance at the Coliseum gala was certainly a one-man advertisement for the ballet. The bravura tricks were all in place but there was no sense of display, no hint of preparation, and the soft landings to the knee were every bit as treasurable as the great arcing leaps. The Boston critic HT Parker once wrote of Pavlova that she “accomplishes every feat of technical virtuosity with an air almost of simplicity”, and Polunin’s easy grandeur was in precisely that spirit.

Pavlova danced her last performance back in 1930 but her influence was incalculable, and British theatregoers are only one degree of separation from her greatness thanks to the impact she had on the cornerstones of our national ballet: Alicia Markova, Ninette de Valois and, of course, Frederick Ashton.

Your Face, I Remember The First Time

Your Face, I Remember The First Time

Your Face

This video was inspired by a comment by Magdalena…

“Dear Pam Boehme Simon, I like everything you do… but I would like to inspire you for a new movie about Sergei. Maybe you would consider creating a movie with music saying directly (through the lyrics of the song) how much Sergei fascinates us with his beautiful face. Only his beautiful face / figure and musical message. Consider this offer because I know that you will do it very beautifully …. best regards.”

Thank you, Magdalena, for the task, challenge, inspiration, idea. It’s a departure from my usual, but I am very happy with how it turned out.

 

Music by Leona Lewis from her debut album ‘Spirit,’ is a cover of the classic hit ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ written by Ewan MacColl.

Who Is Sergei?

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

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

Classical, yet cutting edge, Sergei starred in Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign and has put his mark on many other promotions.

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

If you please

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

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

Video: “Your Face” Sergei Polunin / Сергей Полунин ballet star of Red Sparrow, Murder On The Orient Express

A ballet | балет iMovie by Pam Boehme Simon.

Thank you for watching.




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