Right from a maniacal opening montage set to the
dirge-doom guitars of Black Sabbath, you know you’re about to watch a
different kind of ballet movie with Dancer.
because Sergei Polunin, dubbed the ”bad boy of ballet”, is a different
kind of dance star. The youngest artist ever crowned principal dancer
at London’s Royal Ballet, he’s as well known for the tattoos that
emblazon his hands, shoulders, and torso as he is for Tweeting about
drugs and parties. On-stage, he has a dark, dramatic flair many have
compared to Rudolf Nureyev’s. How magnetic is he? One headline in this
riveting new bio pic reads “Giselle who?”
Where most dance films briskly map out the meteoric rise of their subjects (think last year’s A Ballerina’s Tale), this one tracks the fall.
opening sequence, with its brash pastiche of newspaper headlines,
autograph signings, and mindblowing on-stage jetes, leads you to believe
the film will take the bent of a flashy U.K. TV doc. That’s followed by
a clip of the unthinkable: Polunin getting high before a performance.
Thankfully, director Steven Cantor goes on to dig far deeper than the
sensationalistic, finding a wealth of archival footage and insights from
friends, family, and Polunin himself. All this helps build a portrait
of a boy whose angular cheekbones, liquid limbs, and seeming ability to
fly led those around him to push him too hard, too young.
It’s rare that a ballet doc appeals to more than those who know a pirouette from a plie. The brilliance of Dancer
is that its story speaks not only to the lengths parents will go to
better their children’s lives but the damage that demanding nothing less
than perfection can ultimately inflict.
his family constantly toted a handheld camera around their poor hometown
of Kherson, Ukraine. Through this footage, we get to know an exuberant
boy of already amazing talent, pushed obsessively by his mother. He
smiles widely in every clip.
Things start to change
when she moves to Kiev with him to further his ballet studies, his
father taking a job in Portugal and his grandmother relocating to Greece
to earn money to pay the tuition. The family starts to fracture, and
things only get worse when Polunin is accepted at London’s Royal Ballet
School, landing him in a country where he can’t speak the language and
his parents can’t get visas to visit. For the next six years he suffers
the pains of adolescence without them, and it clearly leaves some scars.
It also leaves him, on many occasions, passed out, drunk, with
magic marker all over his face. (Yes, he is still carrying his handheld
camera around with him and his newfound classmates aren’t afraid to use
Chances are, you don’t know where things go from
here, and you won’t be able to predict them. The journey takes the
headstrong dancer from tacky Russian TV shows to Siberian opera houses
to rolling around in the snow naked to going viral on video. It’s an
amazing story about a tortured soul who has developed a bitter love-hate
relationship with his art form—and the people who sacrificed so much
for his success.“I never chose ballet; it was my mom’s choice,” he says
petulantly at one point. “I always hoped that I would get injured.”
Amid all this we witness some breathtaking, weightless dance, but not too much. Cantor is much more interested in why Polunin dances. And for Polunin, the answer, ultimately, lies in who he’s dancing for.
Read more here.