Movie shows con­trast­ing sides of bal­let star Pol­unin

Kyiv Post - - Lifestyle - A screen­shot from a video of Sergei Pol­unin danc­ing to“Take Me to Church” by Ir­ish pop mu­si­cian Hozier. The 2015 video di­rected by David LaChapelle got more than 20 mil­lion views on YouTube and put Pol­unin into spot­light. (Cour­tesy) BY TOMA I STOMINA ISTO

A new doc­u­men­tary film “Dancer,” about Ukrainian bal­let star Sergei Pol­unin, por­trays the artist’s two con­trast­ing per­son­al­i­ties — that of a high achiever, and that of a rebel.

At the age of 19, Pol­unin be­came the youngest prin­ci­pal dancer in the his­tory of the Royal Bal­let in Lon­don. But he later scan­dal­ized the pub­lic and be­came the com­pany’s most con­tro­ver­sial prin­ci­pal — get­ting tat­tooed, par­ty­ing and tak­ing drugs.

Di­rected by U.S. film­maker Steven Can­tor, the doc­u­men­tary com­bines a se­ries of in­ter­views with Pol­unin’s fam­ily and friends, as well as lots of footage from the dancer’s child­hood and ado­les­cence.

Pol­unin, now 27, came to Ukraine to present the movie in his home­land him­self on Oct. 24 and to speak about the changes that have taken place in his life since the shoot­ing of the film, which was made around three years ago.

“When I dance, I don’t think how I dance. It’s who I am,” Pol­unin says early in the movie. But he him­self casts doubt of this claim nu­mer­ous times later in the film.

The di­rec­tor in­tro­duces Pol­unin to the au­di­ence through the me­dia head­lines pop­ping up on the screen one by one, with rock group Black Sab­bath’s “Iron Man” play­ing in the back­ground.

“He has the el­e­va­tion, the jump, the spin. It’s al­most too good to be true,” one voice says.

“His walk, his ar­ro­gance, he's a god. You can­not keep your eyes off him,” an­other voice adds.

Dy­namic and pre­ten­tious, the in­tro­duc­tion draws view­ers in and pro­claims Pol­unin to be a phe­nom­e­nal artist.

But then Pol­unin talks rawly and frankly about his poor child­hood be­gin­nings, and the au­di­ence is given a de­tailed re­con­struc­tion of the artist’s early life.

“Dancer” high­lights all the mile­stones of Pol­unin’s life — mov­ing to Kyiv from Kher­son, a city in south­ern Ukraine, and study­ing at Kyiv Chore­o­graphic Academy, then mov­ing to Lon­don and go­ing to the Royal Bal­let School, join­ing the Royal Bal­let, be­com­ing its prin­ci­pal dancer, and even­tu­ally quit­ting.

Pol­unin is out­stand­ing dancer, who has al­ways stood out in any class he at­tended, and who has been com­pared to one of the great­est bal­let dancers in his­tory, Ru­dolf Nureyev. Yet he still ques­tions his vo­ca­tion, and his role in life.

“The au­di­ence was shocked. Why is he not happy? What can we do to make him happy? And he was like

‘Well — noth­ing,’” an­other voice says in the movie.

Through in­ter­views with Pol­unin’s fam­ily, friends and teach­ers, the film at­tempts to un­ravel the rea­sons for the dancer’s self-doubt and des­per­ate de­sire to run wild.

Fight­ing demons

“When you take off and hover in the air, and your body lets you do that for a cou­ple of sec­onds, it’s worth danc­ing for,” Pol­unin says in the film.

De­spite be­ing gifted with pure, out­stand­ing tal­ent, Pol­unin, says at times he feels like a prisoner in his own body.

“Ev­ery time I dance and I get tired I’m just like ‘Why am I do­ing this?’ I can­not skip a day, though I’m in too much pain, my shoul­ders get stuck, and my back starts to hurt.”

Pol­unin was put un­der pres­sure from a very young age.

When he moved to Kyiv with his mother at the age of nine, his fa­ther and grand­mother had to move abroad and work hard to pay for Pol­unin’s ed­u­ca­tion. He had chore­og­ra­phy and the­ory classes ev­ery day, and lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for a nor­mal child­hood.

After mov­ing to Lon­don at the age of 13, he was to­tally im­mersed in danc­ing, with strict lim­its and rules.

He says that in bal­let schools, students learn how to keep quiet and fol­low or­ders.

“The teach­ers were never sat­is­fied if you looked the wrong way or made a wrong step. You con­stantly have to turn a blind eye to peo­ple and muster up courage to take this ex­tra step.”

Pol­unin was torn be­tween lov­ing bal­let and hat­ing hav­ing no voice. In the end, it led him to quit the Royal Bal­let, yet keep danc­ing.

The di­rec­tor fol­lows Pol­unin to Rus­sia, where he per­forms in the­aters, and to Ukraine, where he faces frank con­ver­sa­tions with his mother and an emo­tional meet­ing with his first trainer.

Fi­nally, “Dancer” reaches its cul­mi­na­tion with the video of Pol­unin danc­ing to a 2014 song by Ir­ish pop group Hozier, “Take Me to Church.” It was an­other key point in his life — he had planned it to be the fi­nal per­for­mance in his ca­reer as a dancer.

But it didn’t turn out the way he ex­pected. The video has now reached over 20 mil­lion views on YouTube, re­ceived world­wide crit­i­cal ac­claim, and has in­spired dancers around the world.

But more im­por­tantly, the per­for­mance seemed to give Pol­unin the lib­er­a­tion he de­sired — after play­ing hun­dreds of roles, for the first time he had told his own story, ex­press­ing emo­tion through his dance moves.

“While I was danc­ing ‘Take Me to Church,’ I didn’t talk to any­body. It was a long shoot, and for al­most all of those hours I was cry­ing,” Pol­unin said.

Pol­unin to­day

Pol­unin is now con­tin­u­ing to per­form as a bal­let dancer around the world. In ad­di­tion, he is work­ing on his own ed­u­ca­tional and danc­ing project, which aims to in­form and sup­port dancers.

He says that un­like opera singers, ac­tors and ath­letes, dancers don’t have agents or man­agers, and can’t travel with per­for­mances. In­stead, they stay at­tached to one bal­let com­pany, where they have no voice.

“This hin­ders our de­vel­op­ment. We can­not stand up for our­selves, and the in­dus­try suf­fers,” he said at a presser after the screen­ing of “Dancer” in Kyiv on Oct. 24.

Pol­unin is also tak­ing his first steps into the movie business. He ap­pears in the 2017 adap­ta­tion of Agatha Christie’s “Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press,” star­ring Ken­neth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench and Michelle Pfeif­fer, and the thriller “Red Spar­row” star­ring Jennifer Lawrence.

Pol­unin says that he works even more than he used to, but is now happy. He has learned how to take re­spon­si­bil­ity onto him­self, rather than to blame other peo­ple when things go wrong, he says.

“It’s more like a teenage state of mind when you blame ev­ery­thing around,” he says. “It has changed. When you grow up, you see ev­ery­thing in dif­fer­ent col­ors.” Kyiv Cin­ema (19 Ve­lyka Va­sylkivska St.) Oct. 27–30, Nov. 1. 7 p.m. Oct. 31. 9:15 p.m. Hr 90–100 Zhovten (26 Kos­tiantynivs­ka St.) Oct. 27–29, Oct. 31, Nov. 1. 10:35 a.m., 2:15 p.m., 8 p.m. Oct. 30. 10:50 a.m., 2:15 p.m., 8 p.m. Hr 45–85 Mul­ti­plex (Lav­ina Mall, 6D Berkover­stka St.) Oct. 27, 29–31. 9:25 p.m. Oct. 28. 3:30 p.m. Hr 65–145

A screen­shot from the doc­u­men­tary film “Dancer” shows Sergei Pol­unin performing in the bal­let “Giselle” on the stage of the Taras Shevchenko Na­tional Opera and Bal­let Theater of Ukraine in Kyiv on Nov. 17, 2013. (BBC)

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