Review: Dancer

Sergei Polunin’s incredible aerial grace is the main drawcard in this straightforward doco. A fascinatingly complex character.

A common thread in those thrust into the limelight far too young, be they a swimmer, singer or, as in the case of prodigy Sergei Polunin, an impeccable dancer seemingly able to defy the laws of physics in his aerial beauty, is a tendency to eventually, destructively loathe that which they once loved.

All the pieces are there. Polunin struggled at school in everything but gymnastics, with his stage mother, either his greatest supporter or his worst slave driver, a role shrouded with ambiguity here, recognising his capability early on.

Growing up in relative poverty in the southern Ukrainian city Kherson, in order to send him to the country’s finest dance school in the capital Kiev, one grandmother was dispatched to work in Greece while his father was similarly posted to Portugal.

This separation of family, while his mother relocated with him to Kiev, sparks a certain resentment in the young Polunin. That’s only exacerbated when problems with his mother’s visa force her to leave him in London soon after he’s accepted to the Royal Ballet School, and by her subsequent divorce of his father.

All the while Polunin’s ascendancy in the dance world is staggering, becoming the Royal Ballet School’s youngest principal at only 20. But a fondness of drinking to blackout, doping himself up before going on stage and a taste for tattoos which saw him fast gain the bad boy of dance moniker would set him up for a fall.

Documentary filmmaker Steven Cantor’s straightforward tracing of the dancer’s demons and his too-soon retirement last year, announced via a YouTube video directed by David LaChappelle and set to Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’, could certainly stand to be more probing, but it soars on the back of Polunin’s magnetic skill and roguish personality.

There’s a childlike hurt reflected in his troubled eyes, but a vivacious energy too. Abundant home video footage shows his cat-like grace from an early age. A complex character, the world will surely see more of this man and his incredible talents in one format or another, with a touching full circle to his childhood teacher and a rock solid friendship with a former co-student suggesting that a move into choreography may well be on the cards.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★1/2