"Unpredictable." "Arrogant." "A god." Ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, considered by many to be the greatest dancer in the world, has been called many things. Steven Cantor's documentary finds the Ukrainian (still only twenty seven), and the youngest principal in the history of the British Royal Ballet, in particularly candid mood as he takes the viewer through his life story, his thoughts on his career, and why dancing was an attempt to keep his parents together…
With a seemingly endless supply of home videos to pick from director Steven Cantor dots together Polunin's career from youth to the height of his fame and his descent thereafter. Interviews with his parents and first dance teachers tell of a boy who was unlike others. At nine he wants to be "skinnier, to be pleasant to look at." His father would later leave for Portugal and his grandmother to Greece in search of work to fund his burgeoning career; his father's departure, and the subsequent divorce from his mother, had a devastating effect on the young dancer who seems to strive for greatness just to have the two in the same room together.
Cantor is allowed access to backstage before, during and after the shows where the physical and mental demands to perform every night are there to see. "I always hoped to be injured so I wouldn't have to dance anymore." The punishing schedule in London would later cause the Ukrainian to do the unthinkable and quit. He openly admits to having to boost dwindling energy supplies by taking a curious concoction: "In a bit I will get so high." Cantor also touches on his style with Polunin admitting that he dances by instinct, resisting direction, and his camera moves across his twisting torso, admiring it as he goes through those incredible jumps and poses – the wonderful music video to Hozier's Take Me To Church shot post Polunin's 'retirement' is one of the finest sequences to reach the big screen this year.
But the real eye opener is that despite wowing audiences in London he doesn't hold the same respect in his native country; after quitting the British Royal, Polunin is reduced to a tacky celebrity dancing TV competition where the judges question the unusually shy dancer about his tattoos. And just what it means to be the 'bad boy of ballet' is glossed over, or at the very least sanitised: there's shock that a ballet dancer would go clubbing, have tattoos or that he is sometimes fuelled by drugs to see him through the mammoth scheduling. If Cantor is after showing Polunin to be rock and roll then he comes across rather twee. But that's nit-picking.
Review by Gavin Burke | 15:19 | Monday 6th March 2017 | Movie Review