Director: Steven Cantor
Cast: Sergei Polunin, Jade Hale-Christofi
Watch Dancer online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / TalkTalk Player / eir Vision Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play
In 2010, Sergei Polunin became the British Royal Ballet’s youngest principal dancer ever. In 2012, he sensationally quit in a cloud of depression, drug use, and erratic behaviour. Dancer documents Sergei’s rise from a childhood of poverty in the former Soviet Union to a glittering career as one of the greatest ballet dancers on earth.
Unfortunately this journey wasn’t a happy one, with Sergei’s family dispersing around the world to fund his ballet career, one that he says he didn’t choose. He’s angry at his mother for what he sees as her leaving him alone in London in his very early teens (she believes it to be her biggest sacrifice, having left in order to maintain Sergei’s immigration status), and longing for his father, whom he didn’t see for the 6 years following his mother’s departure. Despite, and possibly because of, his astronomical success in one of the most well respected companies in the world, he eventually begins to feel restricted, and unable to purely and freely enjoy his passion, the wheels start to come off.
This should be gloriously dramatic and decadent given the subject matter, but the reality, as the documentary would lead us to believe, is rather… dull. It entirely skims over the myriad issues Sergei had, both with depression and drug use (he once tweeted asking if anyone knew a heroin dealer in the middle of the night) – there’s a fleeting mention of him using cocaine before he goes on stage, but that’s where it ends. There is a good deal of insight into his childhood and family, but we don’t see how those events have affected him as an adult; Sergei Polunin is clearly a troubled man, but it feels as though the documentary, like most people in his life, doesn’t really pay enough attention to what’s making him tick.
There’s some wonderful footage from his childhood, which shows how advanced and gifted Sergei was from as young as three. Even if you don’t understand ballet, the sight of Polunin in a class pirouetting at five times the rate of his peers is incredibly impressive. The footage of him dancing as an adult is truly mesmerising, and this forms the most enjoyable part of the documentary – seeing Sergei dance. There is an irony, then, given his yearning for freedom, that the rest of Dancer isn’t particularly interesting.
The saddest moments come from his father, Vladimir, who evokes real emotion, as he speaks of his regrets about his actions early in his son’s career, his sadness at hearing an opinion on the news that Igor Zelensky (Sergei’s mentor post-Royal Ballet, and father figure) had replaced him, and his pain at no longer being able to see the son he adored.
As the documentary moves into present day, there’s a slightly contrived scene on the beach, where Sergei asks his school friend Jade Hale-Christofi to choreograph him a ‘last dance’ for a David LaChapelle-directed video, set to Take Me To Church. Said video, which is seen in full (and, it’s worth mentioning, is absolutely breathtaking) went viral and currently has 18.7 million views on YouTube.
The whole thing just feels a touch too slow. You will it to pick up throughout the whole running time, and the points that should carry a huge emotional impact don’t really land. The dancing, on the other hand, is beautiful, and that ultimately carries the documentary. It leaves you wanting to know more, to dig deeper, which would be a good thing, were it not for the fact that it doesn’t really do so in the first place.
Dancer is available in UK cinemas and on VOD.