Dancer is Sergei Polunin, the tattooed ‘bad boy of ballet’. Aged just 23 and at the height of his powers, he sensationally quit his role as Principal with the Royal Ballet – the pinnacle of a usual career. Breaking records to get there at the tender age of 19, Polunin has little regard for conformity but his iron dance discipline, onstage charisma and prodigious natural talent encouraged the Royal Ballet to disregard protocol and send him swiftly up through their ranks.
Taking stock of his life thus far (he’s still only 26), bio-doc Dancer is a true family affair. Parents and grandparents offer insight into (and home videos of) his upbringing in Ukraine, where ballet led to the chance for a better life. Showing natural flair, his family dispersed across Europe to find work for his dance school fees.
His precocious talent, and the pressure of his family situation on his training, are explored in depth. A thicker gauze covers the detail of his almost-inevitable coping mechanisms – alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine. Polunin had a need to push himself to the next level and came unstuck when there wasn’t one.
Director Steven Cantor shows Polunin, warts and all and having lost his way, on a cringe-inducing TV competition in Russia, establishing himself from scratch for the non-Western market after his Royal Ballet departure. 2015 then saw Polunin’s supposed final, tormented dance to Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’ go viral, halting the star on the brink of giving it all up.
If you’re in any doubt that ballet is an all-consuming, gruelling profession that can test you to your limit, and beyond, Dancer is one to watch. If you knew that already, watch it anyway because Polunin is entrancing, and Dancer glories in the sacrifice and frustration alongside the artistic mastery.
DIRECTOR: Steven Cantor
SYNOPSIS: A profile of ex-Royal Ballet dancer and firebrand Sergei Polunin, the ‘bad boy of ballet’, as he stands on the cusp of cutting his career short.