The story of Sergei Polunin is told in Dancer, the slightly cleaned-up dancing version of a “Behind the Music” episode. There’s still blow, but not that much blow.
Polunin is the rock-star ballerino. Not only is he the John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr of ballet, but he’s basically the unanimously agreed upon best dancer in the world. However, he doesn’t really like it. From a torn household, he got his start when his mother enrolled him in dancing school that kept him from most of his family. He excelled and climbed the ladder, including becoming the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal.
Polunin is a unique character. It’s uncommon for someone to dedicate their life to an art, while holding at least a general apathy, at most a seething hatred, toward it. Despite his unusual feelings on his own profession, director Steven Cantor portrays the depth of Polunin’s complicated emotions toward his art. It’s a common journey that Cantor shows, but a story that you typically find in fiction – this has the twist of being reality.
Dancer is a perfectly compiled documentation of Sergei Polunin’s life and career – as much as it can be in less than 90 minutes. The people on display are well rounded out; Polunin’s parents and grandparents, while indeed influential in his lonely upbringing, have a chance to passively advocate for themselves by simply telling of their relationship and experience with young Sergei, along with living in Ukraine in the 1990s. Spliced in with lots and lots of amazing footage of Polunin dancing, your jaw will drop when you see this guy move.
Dancer benefited from having a director who knew how to tell a story with characters while providing footage that also allowed the subjects to feel natural – be it through archived footage, home videos, or even talking heads. Not only that, it’s a topic that immediately answers the question “why is this person special?” Sergei Polunin is worth knowing about, if not for his incredible skills as a dancer, then for his genuine, and slightly depressing, outlook on his career.
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Trevor Jeffery: @TrevorSJeffery