Isn’t it humorous how the occasions (on this case, an interview) that one is oft probably the most anxious about – turn into the most effective? In my head, there was a minefield of extremely explosive topics to be tip-toed round in my hour-long trade with the infamous Unhealthy Boy of Ballet, Sergei Polunin. I used to be anxious, as a result of I supposed to tip-toe, earlier than heedlessly diving headfirst to ask the fenced-off ‘dynamite’ questions. First-off in regards to the fist-sized Vladimir Putin tattoo on his chest, the silhouetted head of the chief of the Russian regime, considered the No 1 risk to Britain’s nationwide safety proper now, and secondly, the homophobic ‘self harmful’ tirade he tweeted again in 2019 prompting the Paris Opera Ballet to revoke their invitation for him to carry out and the corporate’s principal to label him a ‘shame’. Then there’s his popularity for performing while sky excessive on a cocktail of medication – or, even, not turning up in any respect.
However, dangerous stuff out of the way in which – many would argue that the 31-year-old new father is among the greatest dancers to have walked the earth. Part of the gilded roster of Nuryevs and Baryshnikovs of this world. At 19, the youngest ever Royal Ballet principal (earlier than he left in dramatic style two years in) and a genre-spanning star, the topic of Hozier’s viral 29 million-hit surprise Take me to Church and an actor forged alongside the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Judi Dench on display screen. And in his – unfailing – capability to disarm, the interview was amongst probably the most candid I’ve ever carried out (and, remarkably, and not using a floating PR primed able to intervene ought to the dialog take a detour from his upcoming autobiography, Free: A Life in Photographs and Phrases).
Fleetingly in London, to gather his visa card, Polunin is Zooming me from a room belonging to a good friend (it was in April forward of hospitality opening up). A couple of minutes late for the interview, he seems on my display screen, his darkish, haunting tendrils of hair framing his distinctively sharp cheekbones. ‘I used to be nervous you weren’t going to point out up,’ I say, to which he laughs. Polunin’s new guide is a visible celebration of his profession – and life – thus far. Spanning footage of his youthful beginnings within the Ukraine; on the Royal Ballet Faculty’s White Lodge in London (‘like arriving at Hogwarts’), the daybreak of him turning into a vivid younger expertise, after which painted in bronze starring because the ‘Bronze Idol’ in La Bayadère for the Royal Ballet. Later pages present him showing because the face of world style campaigns working with the likes of David LaChapelle and Rankin. A flick by way of is a reminder of all that he has achieved as a dancer – and simply how far he has come from Kherson, a small and dispiriting city in southern Ukraine.
Polunin admits that it was the worldwide Covid restrictions that carved out a possibility for him to lastly create the guide, a venture that he beforehand felt he wasn’t prepared for. ‘I’m younger and I did not wish to be narcissistic about it and to be like, “Oh, I’m 20-something and I’m writing a guide,” however if you’re 31, it is type of a superb place to sum up sure issues.’ He admits it’s been ‘plenty of work’ involving ‘pure focus’ (in fact, there’s the added complication of translations given Polunin has a worldwide following).
Fairly pleasingly, Dame Helen Mirren has contributed a foreword (by which she reveals that she auditioned for the Royal Ballet Faculty aged 13). She praises Polunin’s ‘excessive artwork and extraordinary physicality’ as being ‘infused with one thing I can solely describe as a mad ardour, a peeling away of the outer layer of management, politeness and discretion’. Excessive reward from one of many UK’s nationwide treasures – I ask Polunin the way it felt to have his ‘extraordinary physicality’ praised by Mirren? ‘I truly didn’t learn it,’ he confesses. ‘I used to be extraordinarily grateful, however I did not wish to learn one thing about myself someway.’ Mirren’s intro isn’t the one half as but unread by the dancer; so, too, is the foreword contributed by super-photographer Albert Watson, who has captured everybody from the Queen to former US President Invoice Clinton. Polunin is smart of his behaviour by drawing a comparability. ‘It’s like, generally, if it means quite a bit – like generally when a good friend will get you a gift – then you definately don’t open it. As a result of it’s particular and also you wish to preserve it that method, you don’t wish to unbox it as a result of then that’s it,’ he grapples, ‘I did not wish to be overwhelmed.’
Owing to his ‘extraordinary physicality’ Sergei can hardly sit nonetheless – he’s Zooming from his cellphone and over the course of the decision (together with when the bell rings for meals) I witness him from a large number of angles because the cellphone will get propped up in numerous areas – the top of his Putin tattoo simply seen by way of his V-neck T-shirt. Apparently even Polunin’s one-year-old son, Mir, is aware of who the Russian chief is, sometimes asking his father, ‘The place’s Putin?’
Putin is simply one of many many tattoos inked throughout Polunin, that may quickly be gone – as a part of a need to be ‘higher’ for his son. Lockdown was a superb time for the household of three, Sergei, Mir and his girlfriend, Elena Ilinykh (a 27-year-old Russian former ice-skater). ‘I bought to know Elena, Elena bought to know Mir, Mir bought to know us,’ he laughs. ‘It’s a gradual change, however you wish to be higher for him. As a result of it does not matter what you say to kids, they copy you and one of the best ways is by instance.’ As for the removing of the tattoos, it’s an extended ‘torturous’ two-year dedication. However it’s about ‘altering your self’ and Polunin is eager to find who he’s with out the tattoos. ‘I wish to see this man,’ he tells me. Though the bodily ache is one factor, Polunin says one other ache is ‘eradicating one thing you want’. He elaborates: ‘As a result of all the things turns into yours; it is individuals who I like, or, who I do know, a method or one other.’ In addition to Putin, there’s his cat, the actor Mickey Rourke, James Dean and the Indian goddess Shiva etched throughout his pores and skin (quickly to be eliminated).
Polunin, fairly understandably, has blended emotions about social media. It’s the platform upon which he selected to ‘destroy’ himself (as he describes it) however, he explains: ‘On the similar time, by way of social media, I discovered Elena and my son was born.’ It was on social media, following the tirade, on the level when he was about to delete his social media accounts, that Polunin found messages from Elena. He selected to press reply and pursue the individual behind the display screen – and the remainder is historical past. ‘It actually confirmed me totally different sides to social media and I am very grateful truly. That this platform related us and that my son was born out of our assembly.’ He feels just like the punishment he endured on account of social media was virtually ‘karmic’ and it led to him feeling extra ‘free’ than ever on stage. Polunin was beforehand romantically linked to the Royal Ballet’s Russian principal ballerina, Natalia Osipova.
Finally, the usually sophisticated relationship Polunin has had with ballet since he was 17, seems to be thawing. His manufacturing firm, Polunin Ink, is intent on shifting the trade forwards and bringing about better consciousness of the artwork. ‘The language of dance is very necessary for us and for some cause it sits in us. What a bizarre factor is dancing, proper? It’s like – why do you dance? Who made ballet? Why is my child dancing? No person taught him that. It’s in us for no matter cause,’ Polunin thinks aloud. ‘Let’s use it in movies, let’s use it in theatre, let’s use it in numerous environments and take it to totally different locations’.
It’s tough to not get swept up when Polunin is speaking like this, creatively incensed, a glimmer of the ‘mad ardour’ Dame Helen noticed. As for the title of the guide, it’s definitely very apt – ‘freedom’ is usually cited in our dialog. ‘In my view, for artists, for dancers or for anyone, I feel the sensation of freedom is so important – whether or not that be freedom of cash or freedom of creation.’ As restrictions ease, Polunin’s worldwide tasks resume; there’s the brand new music video for Depeche Mode In Your Room, the sequel to his first movie, Dancer, and Polunin Ink’s Romeo and Juliet is en path to the Royal Albert Corridor come December – and, true to his guide’s title, he’s seems to be feeling freer than ever.
FREE: A Life in Photographs and Phrases by Sergei Polunin is offered now (teNeues, €50), teNeues.com
Sergei Polunin stars in Romeo & Juliet, 1 December 2021 on the Royal Albert Corridor