There have been at least half a dozen good ballet documentaries in
the last few years, but none with as riveting a subject as Sergei
The Ukrainian-born dancer’s star rose spectacularly when he became,
in 2010, the youngest principal dancer at the Royal Ballet – earning
comparisons to Baryshnikov and Nureyev – only to quit a year and a half
later. After a stint dancing in Russia, he announced he was retiring
from dance. Then his swan song video – a brilliant, jaw-dropping
performance to Hozier’s Take Me To Church, filmed by David LaChapelle –
went viral online, spreading his artistry further than he could have
Steven Cantor shows clearly how Polunin’s childhood affected his career
troubles, which included hard drugs and performance and interview
no-shows. To pay for his ballet training, his father and grandmother had
to work abroad, and his parents eventually divorced, devastating the
boy. Polunin grew up resenting his perfectionist mother, who raised him,
while his dad says she just was super-organized.
Cantor wisely focuses on Polunin, who even as a child – there’s lots
of home video footage – was extraordinary. The dancer’s charisma,
onstage grace and unpredictable energy are palpable; as one talking head
admits, you just can’t take your eyes off him.
The director is less successful in interviews with those around
Polunin, refusing to ask hard questions about the dancer’s behaviour.
One moment in which Polunin’s father comments on his son’s tattoos is
telling but could have been explored further.
Still, we’re treated to Polunin’s very moving reunion with his first
dance teacher and a performance and post-show reunion with his family.
Above all, the film examines the sacrifices and human costs that go
into building a world-class career. It also makes you think about
ambition and the human spirit.
This is a must-see for ballet lovers, educators, stage parents and anyone interested in what goes into making art.
Dance writer Martha Schabas interviews National Ballet of Canada
rising star Robert Stephen after the Friday (February 10), 7 pm
screening of Dancer at the Yonge & Dundas 24.