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United Kingdom/Russia/Ukraine/USA 2016
Directed by
Steven Cantor
85 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Synopsis: The story of Sergei Polunin who in 2010 became the Royal Ballet's youngest ever principal dancer and two years later at the height of his success walked away from it all.

If you’ve never heard of Sergei Polunin, Dancer provides a reasonably interesting account of his life from his beginnings growing up in Karshon, a struggletown in Southern Ukraine, to being crowned the UK’s Royal Ballet's principal dancer at the age of 19. It is a remarkable journey but Steven Cantor's account of it is far from being of a complementary calibre.

Cantor frames Sergei’s story with his tabloid reputation as the "bad boy of ballet" and infuses his story with a atmosphere of foreboding anticipation as he diligently recounts Sergei’s astonishing rise in the world of classical dance and then, his scandalous decision to walk away from it. The most interesting aspect and the poignancy of this part of the film comes from the revelation of the enormous sacrifices made by Sergei's family to realize his mother’s ambition for him (his father went to Portugal, his grandmother to Greece to earn his tuition fees, his parents after many years of this, divorcing)

The trouble with Cantor’s marketing-driven decision to hop aboard the media bandwagon is that we expect something along the lines of a Nijinsky-like descent into madness or a tale of wantonly self-destructive behaviour.  The reality is that Sergei appears to be a pleasantly compliant young man who simply got bored with the stuffy world of ballet, something which, at least from the repetitious clips we see of his performances, is perfectly understandable.  

Post Royal Ballet, wanting direction, Sergei becomes a pin-up boy on Russian television thanks to celebrity dance shows but even this tawdriness seems unable to corrupt his blithe spirit.  His fondness for tattoos aside, bad boy behaviour there is none, let alone mental breakdown, as his interest in pop music leads him to make a hugely successful viral dance video (18 million views and counting) to Hozier’s hit song, “Take Me To Church”. So what was the point of the sensationalixing tabloid headlines and the doom-laden guitar rock music?  Frankly, it is a misguided strategy.

There is no doubt that Sergei is an extraordinary dancer with an exceptional gift and that is worth knowing about, Dancer gives us the bare bones of his story but it's a pity, at least for non-balletomanes, that Cantor never really crosses the orchestra find out what makes him tick.




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