Dance to me runs the gamut of Cage/Cunningham and So You Think You Can Dance. Set pieces, costumes, experimental movement. Sergei Polunin runs against that. He’s the dancer profiled in, well, Steven Cantor’s Dancer, and is harder to judge because of my subjective baggage. He belongs to to my generation and shares my generation’s indulgences. Yet he can’t help but represent the old guard that trained him. Anguish seeps into his expressions once in a while but otherwise he dances with clean lines, his limbs moving effortlessly.
People who write about ballet call Polunin the greatest of his generation. It’s a title that makes me grapple more about what that means. And who was before him and what kind of work brings that title forth. But that’s an esoteric question. Instead, the documentary investigates the personal, the man’s ambivalence with ballet, a vocation seemingly chosen for him. Commentators use the word ‘temperamental’ and ‘arrogant’ to describe him. Those words go along with images of him surrounding himself with alcohol and drugs.
I assume that most people don’t know those things about Polunin. Instead, most people might know him from the unofficial music video to Hozier’s Take Me To Church. David LaChapelle shot the video, opting for a more muted and minimalist approach, devoid of his normally colourful aesthetic. Bleached and bare, we only see Polunin without the headlines, without the gilded age costumes of his other work. It’s just him and the tattoos on his expressive body.
We want to know more about Polunin, the man who renders dancers speechless. The man whose friends, equally successful in the world of dance, speak of him with such admiration. Who is big enough of a star for younger girls to flock him and take pictures with him. Who already gets TV spots when he was still a young boy studying ballet in his home country, the Ukraine. The person whose most troubling relationship is with himself, transforming his body for others instead of himself.
This documentary about Polunin exposes a man whose commitment to anything, really, causes a detriment to his mental health. He wasn’t the only person making sacrifices. His mother found out that her baby boy was flexible. And she decided a future for him in either gymnastics or ballet. The latter, unfortunately requires a lot of money to study. The only way to make that money is for members of the family to find more work.
The film takes us behind the scenes to get a sense of Polunin’s performances, but archive footage helps a lot. Not just in exposing the work of Polunin, a man practicing an art with a limited audience. It also takes us to a time when that man was a rambunctious boy climbing walls. And the family that any boy needs. It’s ironic that his family has to separate to propel his future. Losing the people he loves to gain a better life. That’s where the film’s heart is.
- Release Date: 2/10/2017