When you own a ferocious and unquestionable talent like Sergei Polunin’s, it is difficult not to make mistakes and not to see it turning against you.
Notoriously, the alleged unbearable pressure he was experiencing with the Royal Ballet in London (where he became the youngest ever principal at 19), led him to abandon the scenes in 2012, in order to try a new career in acting and modelling. Immediately after though, he went back to ballet thanks to the Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow, under the guidance of Igor Zelensky.
However, he saw it merely as a step aside not a step forward, so he decided – thanks to a questionable partnership with David La Chapelle – to start the homonymous Project Polunin. The project should see him as the protagonist of various ballet pieces and as the centre of a complex organization created to safeguard dancers and make them work independently, thanks to agents, managers and lawyers. The project was born a few years ago, but is now struggling to take off and to follow heterogeneous guidelines. Two different works have been released in Britain (and will soon be on worldwide screens and stages): a biopic on his career starting from his childhood up to the triple bill performed at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, a theatre internationally known for its avant-garde vision on contemporary dance.
Last year, in fact, they hosted Natalia Osipova’s show, which should have found its male counterpart in Project Polunin. Osipova herself did not arouse enthusiasms, though her bill now seems to have a much wider perspective than the one danced by Polunin. The last five years have been intense and complex for him and it is easy to notice on stage, he still dominates the scene but he lacks the past accuracy and verve. The programme opens with Icarus, the Night Before the Flight by Vasiliev which debuted in 1971 at the Bolshoi Theatre but does not impress, leading to Tea or Coffee, not entirely thought for Polunin but for the Stanislavsky Theatre ensemble. A homage to Zelensky who often calls him as a guest artist at the Bavarian State Opera, where he directs the corps de ballet.
The programme closes with Narcissus and Echo and it is the epitome of failure. Partially created by Polunin and danced with Osipova (the only presence to make sense here): it is a muddle of nonsensical ideas accompanied by laughable costumes and embarrassing choreography. Let us hope these are the only reasons why the grace that made the Take me to Church videoclip so sublime and unforgettable is now a mere memory. Whereas the biopic Dancer, directed by Steven Cantor wants to describe his career from the very beginning until the realisation of his homonymous project. The film is marvellously structured and engaging. The interviews are fast-paced and leave space to breath taking ballet abstracts.
In a remarkable interview, Polunin states that he feels like a prisoner to his own body and to his urge to dance. A body that hurts when injured as well as when it is not used. This is the key point to the whole film and the works danced at Sadler’s Wells, together with the characters who are asked to give a detailed portrait about him. Dubious friends and mentors, ephemeral relatives: an improbable Court of Miracles, where everyone seems entitled to have an opinion about the destiny of a phenomenal artist that cannot be managed so lightheartedly by third parties.
It is obvious that Polunin’s grace and virtuosity are now at the mercy of the best bidder. His shining career is reduced to a joke. An escape, at 27, is still possible but verve and personality are mandatory in order to free yourself from such burdens. In their absence, a suitable mentor must be found quickly and it needs to be as powerful and exceptional as Zelesky was in Moscow or Tamara Rojo in London.