Dancer is a captivating documentary on the career and personal backstory of Sergei Polunin, who set the ballet world alight only to abandon his career with London’s esteemed Royal Ballet at 21 years of age.
In stark contrast to its charismatic and fascinating subject – Ukranian enfant terrible of the ballet world, Sergei Polunin – this doco is pretty conventional in approach. Director Steven Cantor builds Polunin’s story from the ground up, combining home video, professionally shot footage, and interviews with him and his parents, mentors and adult peers to chart his progress as a dancer through childhood, his meteoric rise as a young adult, and the subsequent unravelling of his career as he rebels against the life script written for him by a mother who might be criticised as ruthlessly ambitious or applauded for her singular devotion to ensuring her son’s success.
The only stylistically remarkable element of the film is the heavy rock soundtrack, which while unusual in a piece set in the classical ballet environment is entirely in keeping with the enigmatic Polunin’s attitude and lifestyle. More rock star than dancer, he is heavily tattooed, takes drugs to rev himself up before a performance, demonstrates a self-destructive streak and is less than respectful of the ballet establishment and its expectations. This culminates in his quitting as the youngest ever principal at London’s Royal Ballet at the ripe old age of 21.
Bridges blazing behind him, his stellar career as the “new Nureyev” dashed to pieces in the fashion of a Who equipment-smashing finale, he sets out to explore new directions in dance, or perhaps to abandon his art altogether as he claims a freedom of choice he feels he has always been denied.
While Polunin’s personality and the behind-the-scenes rupture, estrangement then reconciliation of his family make for riveting viewing, the truly extraordinary element of the documentary is his dancing. Whether you do or don’t enjoy ballet is irrelevant – I cannot imagine anyone not being enraptured and moved by the dance sequences. This guy really has been graced with the most wondrous talent, and it doesn’t take a trained eye to appreciate it. Take a look at this Youtube video he recorded with David LaChapelle to Hozier’s Take Me to Church, which went viral and has apparently inspired an interest in dance in kids all over the world:
Bear in mind that this video does not show Polunin at his best – not in my opinion, anyway. Which is reason in itself to make an effort to see Dancer. Polunin’s personal backstory is captivating, but it’s his extraordinary talent as a dancer that really makes the documentary and vindicates Cantor’s stylistically unobtrusive mode of showcasing it.
Australian release date: 8 Dec 2016 (@ Luna Leederville in Perth)
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