Dancer – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Steven Cantor
Stars: Jade Hale-Christofi, Sergei Polunin
Ballet is not an art form which one might associate with rebels; but that is just what Sergei Polunin, ‘the bad boy of ballet’, is known for. Often touted as the best dancer of his generation, he became the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever Principal performer aged just 19. But after a much publicised rise and fall, he is best known now for the ‘Take Me to Church’ video directed by David LaChapelle, which went viral around the world in 2015. This video becomes the real star of documentary Dancer, shown in full at the climax of the film; and acting as a visual representation of his inner struggle, as he considers turning his back on ballet for good.
In director Steven Cantor’s film, the actual art of ballet is an intriguingly minor part of the whole, though it has been the centre of Polunin’s life. Dancer may be a documentary about a master of his craft, but the story of the sacrifices and skill it takes to reach the top are so universal that it seems almost irrelevant what his particular gift is. In the age of talent competitions, and instant gratification it is all the more fascinating to watch the work it takes to become a real icon like Polunin: Growing up in a disadvantaged area of the Ukraine, his mother saw ballet as a way to give him a better life. As his gift for dance was discovered, his family divided; moving to different parts of Europe to earn the money necessary for further training. But while they put everything into helping him succeed, Polunin put all he had into developing his skills; working longer and harder than anyone else, in the hope that success could bring his family back together.
With a well-chosen range of both professional and private footage, and interviews with close friends, family, and the refreshingly uncensored Polunin himself; Dancer gives insight into the complexity of holding a talent that many would desire. Thanks to Mark Wolf’s cinematography and editing by Federico Rosenzvit; this is a documentary that is stunning to watch for more than just the dancing. The opening may attempt to portray Polunin as a rock star, but Cantor’s film is ultimately more complex than a mere celebration of skill. After the emotional rollercoaster in which so much of his life seems inevitable, you may find yourself asking: Was it all worth it?