Sergei Polunin Bio: In His Own Words
Sergei Polunin is a Ukrainian ballet dancer and a former principal dancer with the British Royal Ballet, before suddenly resigning in 2012, after only two years in the position. Polunin has a reputation for wild behavior, earning the nickname the “Bad Boy of Ballet.” He has recently gained more popularity following his performance in a music video choreographed to Hozier‘s hit single “Take Me To Church.” The music video was part of a larger Steven Cantor documentary on Polunin, Dancer, which premiered in 2016.
SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Polunin was born Sergei Vladimirovich Polunin on November 20, 1989 (Sergei Polunin age: 27) in Kherson, Ukrainian SSR, to Galina Polunina and Vladimir Polunin. From the age of four, the future dancer excelled in gymnastics classes. At age eight, his studies shifted towards dance, and he spent four years at the Kyiv State Choreographic Institute. Polunina, in an interview with the New Yorker, suggests that pushing her son towards dance was his best shot for a better life. “In my life, the choices were between salted cabbage and marinated cabbage,” she said. “I wanted him to have more of a choice than that.” The extent to which she wanted her son to succeed was so extreme that she moved with Polunin to Kyiv, causing the family to split up in order to make ends meet. Polunin’s father sought work in Portugal, while his grandmother became a maid in Greece, all to support his growing career.
In 2013, Polunin was accepted to the White Lodge, the Royal Ballet’s junior school in London, at the age of thirteen. At first devastated that they would not be able to afford the tuition, Polunin still attended largely in part from a grant given by the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation. Unfortunately, this meant that Polunina had to stay in the Ukraine, leaving behind her teenage son. Faced with his family’s sacrifices and the mounting pressure to succeed, Polunin became a star pupil. “In school, I knew I could not fight, could not mess up, because I would be thrown out,” he told uInterview. “And then when I was twenty-one, I wanted to do all the things I missed out on.” He did enjoy the freedom of the two thousand acres of parkland surrounding the school, saying he felt like he, “Was in Harry Potter.” Polunin’s success was such that his teachers advanced him a full two school years ahead.
SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: THE ROYAL BALLET AND RESIGNATION
Once in the senior school, Polunin’s discipline began to dissolve. While still excelling in his studies, the rising start experimented with drugs. By 2009, he was the first soloist at the Royal Ballet; by 2010, he came principal dancer, the youngest ever in the company’s history. He also earned his title of “Bad Boy” at this time, using cocaine to heighten his adrenaline rush and tweeting about late night parties and tattoos. In an interview with uInterview, Polunin talked about his experience of getting a tattoo, which was strictly forbidden by the Royal Ballet. “Oh you think I’m bad, I’m going to prove [to] you I’m the baddest [sic],” he recalled. “I always drew on myself, always knew I was going to have a tattoo, and tattoos represented freedom to me.” He was forced to cover his new tattoos with makeup. On January 24, 2012, after growing dissatisfaction with is career, Polunin stepped down from the principal position, telling BBC that he felt, “the artist in me was dying.” Looking back on the dancer’s decision, documentarian Steven Cantor offered his thoughts to the New York Times about Polunin’s motivations. “It became clear that he was dancing as hard as he could to get his family back together. Then his parents got divorced, and I think he felt, what am I dancing for? He just lost his will and went off the rails.” Polunin only recently allowed his mother to see his performances in person; he originally forbade her to do so.
SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: IGOR ZELENKSY
As a result of his bad reputation, Polunin had difficulty finding work with other companies. However, in the summer of 2012, he was invited to Russia by famous dancer Igor Zelenksy, under whom he would train and become the principal dancer for The Stanislavsky Music Theatre and Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. On Zelenksy, Polunin has referred to him as a surrogate father. “Nobody would listen to me, there wasn’t any real conversation going on,” Polunin told uInterview. “And that’s when Igor appeared.” Polunin reveres Zelensky so much that he has gone as far as to tattoo the name of the artistic director on his shoulder.
His time with Zelensky was not without controversy, however. In April 2013, after preparing for the principal dance role in director Peter Schaufuss’s Midnight Express, Polunin, along with Zelensky, quit days before opening night. Despite his superior also leaving the troubled production, many considered Polunin to be “depressed” again.
SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: HOZIER AND DANCER
Still frustrated at the seemingly dead-end to which his dance career had led him, Polunin encountered film producer Gabrielle Tana, who at the time had optioned Julie Kavanagh’s (the author behind his New Yorker profile) biography of Nureyev to be turned into a biopic. Polunin was not chosen for the role, but Tana pushed him to seek further collaborations in film. “I thought it was not just a compelling narrative but also the opportunity to capture someone brilliant in the prime of their career,” Ms. Tana said in an interview with The New York Times. “We didn’t really know what it would be, and Sergei was very wary at first. We were scared we would lose him.”
Tana suggested he work with American photographer and dance documentarian, David LaChapelle. Polunin ultimately decided to use the collaboration as his farewell performance to the dance world. LaChapelle suggested the then-relatively-unknown song “Take Me To Church,” by Hozier. Polunin would then fly down to shoot the music video in the empty chapel-like filmmaker’s studio in Hawaii. A longtime friend and fellow dancer, Jade Hale-Christofi, choreographed the piece. The music video would later become the centerpiece of large documentary work, Dancer, started in 2014 when Tana approached filmmaker Stephen Cantor. Dancer premiered in the Fall of 2016.
Following the worldwide success of Polunin’s Take Me To Church video, he has since decided to return to dancing. He continues to dance with Stanislavsky company and the Novosibirsk Ballet.
SERGEI POLUNIN BIO: PERSONAL LIFE
Polunin has been dating ballerina Natalia Osipova, who is a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, since mid-2015. The pair has performed together in Russell Maliphant‘s Silent Echo, as part of a program of contemporary works. He has received numerous accolades for his performances, including the Prix de Lausanne and Youth America Grand Prix in 2006. He was named Young British Dancer of the Year in 2007 and in 2014 he was shortlisted as the best male dancer at the National Dance Awards in the U.K.
He admires Mickey Rourke.
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