There’s a famous quote that speaks of ‘dancing like nobody is watching’. But what’s it like to dance when the entire world is watching?
“It would be easy to say it was too much for me, but in truth, I just wanted more,” says Sergei Polunin, of the events that led the greatest ballet dancer of his generation – the graceful, beautiful boy from the Ukraine with the world at his feet – to walk away from his position with the world-famous Royal Ballet. “The artist in me was dying.”
Polunin stars in Disney’s adaptation of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. In it, he plays the Nutcracker Prince in a version of the classic Tchaikovsky-scored ballet reportedly unlike any that’s gone prior, drawing heavily from the source material, the 1816 ETA Hoffmann gothic novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. “It’s an adaptation full of magic,” says Polunin. “Dancing should always be about magic.”
Polunin is known as ‘the bad boy of ballet’. The truth is a little bit more complicated. Now 28, Polunin infamously walked away from his position in the Royal Ballet in 2012, with rumours of drug abuse, self-mutilation and personal demons raging. Born in Kherson, Ukraine, he’d come to Britain to join the prestigious Royal Ballet School at 13, thanks to years of familial sacrifice that involved his father and grandmother moving to work in Portugal and Greece respectively to fund his education. Little wonder he often found himself lost in the years that followed.
They want to control every single part of your life,
Despite the distance from his family, Polunin became a first soloist at the Royal Ballet aged 19. The following year, he stepped up to be the youngest ever principal in the company’s history. A prodigy. Two years later he was gone.
“They want to control every single part of your life,” he says of the Royal Ballet experience. “I wanted to do more. My instinct was telling me there had to be more. All I’d done was dance from being little, and I wanted more from life. I still wanted to dance, but I wanted to do films and advertisements. I wanted a creative life. I didn’t just want a classical ballet life, doing the same thing, the same dances, every day, forever.”