A Ukrainian dancer who became a controversial figure tells his own tale.




In 2009 at the age of nineteen the Ukrainian-born Sergei Polunin became the youngest ever principal to perform with the Royal Ballet in London. Even more prominent were the headlines in January 2012 when he walked out, an action which, coming after failures to attend rehearsals and talk of indulgence as a partygoer in both alcohol and cocaine, led to the media dubbing him 'The Bad Boy of Ballet'. Steven Cantor's documentary Dancer now tells his story and Polunin is screen centre not only as the subject of the film but as its chief narrator. His parents, both grandfathers and a number of friends are among the others who contribute.


Cantor's documentary is workmanlike as it recounts the story of how Sergei's talent for dancing was evident     even by the age of eight and of how that would lead both to success and to unhappiness. As it happens, Polunin's life was well documented from childhood onwards, so there is plenty of existing film footage to draw on in addition to what was shot for this documentary. The images of this young dancer in action immediately establish his quality while the family background emerges clearly as we learn how his parents independently took on work abroad to raise money that would enable him to gain experience at Kiev's highly regarded but expensive choreographic school. The career that he went on to develop justified his parents' hopes but in effect separated them from their son and, indeed, from each other since, by the time that Sergei was becoming a first soloist with the Royal Ballet, they had divorced.


Cantor goes beyond the years in London to show how, with America being aware if his bad reputation, Polunin turned to Moscow where he appeared on a TV show in which dancers competed and how through that he won support that put him back on the stage. Nevertheless, by 2015, the repetition of his work was crushing his spirit and he talked of undertaking a last dance, this one in a different style to be filmed to Hozier's "Take Me to Church". This appeared on the internet and was hugely acclaimed.


Polunin's checkered career provides the film with a strong narrative and one that reveals the pressures experienced by a star dancer today, the sense of being a prisoner of one's career. The film ends with an assertion of the importance of family, but for all its honesty Dancer doesn't get Sergei Polunin fully in focus either in regard to the extent to which various factors encouraged his rebellious dissatisfaction or as to how he now sees his future. There's also a rather odd choice of background music at times, but the story is dramatic enough for the film to hold up and ballet fans in particular will not be disappointed.             




Featuring  Sergei Polunin, Jade-Hale Christofi, Galina Polunin. 


Dir Steven Cantor, Pro Gabrielle Tana, Ex Pro Steve Coogan, Ph Mark Wolf, Tom Hurwitz and Vladiimr Krug, Ed Federico Rosenzvit, Music Ilan Eshkeri.


BBC Films/Magnolia Mae Films/Stick Figure Productions/Windrush Films-Dogwoof.
85 mins. UK/USA. 2016. Rel: 10 March 2017. Cert. 12A.