Sergei Polunin is weightless and otherworldly when he dances. But he says: ‘I didn’t choose ballet. It’s who I am.’ That’s the conflict at the heart of this ponderous but surprisingly moving documentary about the bad boy of ballet.
Polunin is a controversial figure thanks to his tattoos, partying, past involvement in drugs and the fact he sensationally quit the Royal Ballet after becoming its youngest ever principal. But ‘Dancer’ delves behind the headlines, revealing the troubled man beneath. Piecing together a jigsaw of grainy footage shot by Polunin, his friends and his family, as well as interviews with those close to him, the doc charts the almost inhumane process that turned him into an international ballet star.
Polunin’s family saw dance as his escape route from Ukraine. They broke apart and moved around the world to support him. But he turned from smiley prodigy dancing for fun to troubled teen training alone in London to cynical, lost twentysomething, feeling like a prisoner in his body. Now an adult, Polunin has tasted success and walked away. His family is permanently fractured by their sacrifice and he just wants ‘a normal life’.
But what does that look like? ‘Dancer’ is bookended by his reckless, writhing, rage-filled dance to Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’. The music video, which went viral, was designed as Polunin’s final performance. It wasn’t. And it’s clear this isn’t the end of his struggles either.