Sergei Polunin: Dancer
Directed by Steven Cantor
Reviewed by Lauren Sanderson
We thought we were waving goodbye to the ‘bad boy’ of ballet Sergei Polunin when what was thought to be his last dance to Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’ was revealed and leaked online in 2015, receiving a massive sixteen-million YouTube views and inspiring many around the world.
But what makes someone with such raw talent and a seemingly unstoppable career simply give it all up?
Award-winning director and documentarian Steven Cantor answers just that in his fascinating film ‘Dancer’, capturing the airborne angel's journey from training as an Olympic gymnast at six-years-old to being crowned the Royal Ballet’s youngest-ever principal dancer at just 19.
The film shares intimate footage from Polunin’s childhood, revealing a contrasting world to the world in which he lives in now. Growing up in poverty stricken Ukraine, he lived with his parents and grandmothers, all of whom believed that Polunin could be a star. In order for the talented youth to succeed, his family made the ultimate sacrifice; his father left for Portugal while his grandmother moved to Greece to help pay tuition fees. At 13, Polunin moved on his own to London to study with the British Royal Ballet School and excelled to the highest standard possible.
Despite being united in their love and support of their son, his parents ended up divorcing over the geographical divide. This hit Polunin hard as his main purpose for dancing was to make his family happy and to bring them back together. Spiralling out of control, the troubled teen rebelled against the dance world and began to hit the headlines as a drug-taking, tattooed, party animal. Cantor’s documentary highlights how this rebellion led to more attention from the media and essentially more fame. For Polunin there was no escape.
At 22, the dancing genius hung up his ballet shoes and stunned the world when he walked away from the prestigious company after almost ten years of his life spent at the school. Cantor captures how the rigours of ballet discipline and the burden of stardom drove this vulnerable young athlete to the brink of self-destruction.
While Polunin had his issues you cannot fault his remarkable gift. He captivates us from start to finish and the elevation in his jumps is impeccable. His talent is undeniably pure and tells a unique story with each movement.
Unlike so many films about ballet, ‘Dancer’ isn’t about the toll such discipline takes on the body. It’s about the toll it takes on a life. Cantor has stunningly told the sad but beautiful story of a young vulnerable ballet star who strived for more. But when you’re the greatest in the world, what else is there left to achieve?
The urban rebel stole our hearts by challenging the dying art form of ballet, changing the dance world as we know it.
Dancer hits New Zealand screens from December 8 at selected cinemas!
Click for screening information