An Interview With Ballet Legend Sergei Polunin
By Lauren Sanderson
Throughout Sergei Polunin’s career he has been branded a rebel, compared to James Dean and been nicknamed the ‘bad boy’ of ballet but who is this legendary dancer, we grab five minutes with the dance sensation to find out.
How did you feel when you were first approached to do Steven Cantor’s documentary Dancer?
I didn’t really know how it would turn out. At the beginning I knew I wanted to film in different countries and show the beauty of different cultures, but I honestly didn’t know where it would lead.
Did you expect the documentary to receive such a big reaction?
I had no idea. I was so surprised how well people reacted and I’m really happy how it turned out. It was all down to an incredible team and an incredible producer, Gabrielle Tana, who became my guardian angel.
The dance you performed to Hozier’s Take Me to Church was supposed to be your final dance, what made you continue?
The dance went on for nine hours and during this time I had a lot to think about and I was sure I was going to give it up. I knew I wanted to stop dance and do something else but Take Me to Church was extremely emotional and I began to think about what and who I’d be leaving behind. I started to think that maybe I’m missing something, maybe there is still something left to explore. Afterwards I went back to Russia and danced for free for a couple of months to remind myself of the reason I’m dancing.
Dancers are seen to have a clean body image but you have a lot of tattoos. What was the influence behind them?
When I was a kid I always used to draw on myself and I knew I was going to have tattoos. I liked and respected people with tattoos especially people who had them on their face or their hands because they represent freedom to me. They’re not the type of people who would judge others. In ballet school there are really strict rules and one of those rules was no tattoos so I guess I’m breaking the dance norms but it feels right to me.
When you were younger what did you aspire to be?
I always wanted to be a boxer.
You’re seen as the ‘bad boy’ of ballet, did you set out to create this image to defy the norms?
I definitely played on it. It was more for the media and I decided to play along with it but it actually made my life more difficult because nobody wanted to work with me afterwards. It was difficult because the big companies would rather work with someone safe and predictable. I was essentially digging my own grave.
Do you feel like the media has played a big part in where you are today?
Definitely. Especially the internet and YouTube.
What’s been your biggest challenge to date?
I have so many goals. It’s hard sometimes because I still want to dance, I still take class’s everyday but I also want to study acting and I want to choreograph work. I’m creating my own company called ‘Project Polunin’, to help dancers with their careers and hopefully help to move dance forward. I’m also going to be in a movie. It’s a challenge because there is so much I want to do but it’s extremely exciting.
In the documentary you mentioned that while at the Royal Ballet you felt you’d reached your potential with the company and always strived for more, is that still the case?
Right now I’m in the position where I wanted to be when I was 19. Back then it was the media that made me out to be a bad guy instead of listening to what I was really saying. I also forgot to listen to myself about what I had originally set out to do, but now I’m back doing what I intended to do and believed in. I’m stimulated by creation and there are so many exciting things to look forward to as an artist. I’m in a good place; I just wish I didn’t have to go through such a long journey to get to it.
You mentioned you are going to be in a movie, that’s exciting! What type of movie is it?
It’s a big Hollywood movie, but I can’t give too much away. It’s going to be very interesting!
Do you see yourself heading for Hollywood?
If it was my choice yes! It’s definitely where I want to go.
What things other than dance inspire you?
At the moment I’m really inspired by movies. Mickey Rourke is a big inspiration in my life and I also love Johnny Depp. It’s more about who they are in real life than who they are on the screen.
Are you looking forward to your trip to New Zealand next year?
I’m coming over to dance with Natalia Osipova who is a Principal at the Royal Ballet. I’m so excited! I also love nature, I think it’s one of the most important things in our lives and I’ve heard that New Zealand is a beautiful country.
Do you have any advice for any budding dancers out there?
I’d say get a manager or an agent and I’d also say work really hard but make sure you experience life.
What do you think the future holds for Ballet?
Dance is so important to everyone because it’s an international language, every country understands it. I think a big change is coming. I’m hoping that the industry will reach the same level as sport or cinema and it’s definitely possible! Football wasn’t at the level it’s at now 15 years ago. Watch out for something big!
Thanks to Vendetta Films and 818 Entertainment for making this interview possible!
Dancer is out now, screening at selected cinemas. Click for more information...