Film Review: DANCER (UK/Russia/Ukraine/USA 2106) ****

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dancer.jpgDirector: Steven Cantor
Stars: Jade Hale-Christofi, Sergei Polunin

Review by Gilbert Seah

 In the opening scene of DANCER, 22-year old Sergei Polunin, acclaimed as ‘the most naturally gifted male ballet dancer of his generation’ downs a test tube of liquid and says that it gives him so much energy that he does not remember the performance. DANCER tells the story of the bad boy of ballet, the now 37-year old Sergei Polunin who astounded the world with his outrageous antics. But though the film starts off this way, director Cantor shows the reasons and circumstances leading to this state of affairs eventually revealing that Polunin is not really such a bad boy after all. Though this undermines the dramatization of Cantor’s project, DANCER is still a captivating documentary that also reveals the insides of the ballet world – one that is unknown to most people.

DANCER tells the life story of Sergei from a boy at the age of 6 to the present as a young man at the age of 37. As Sergei loved to film, director Cantor is fortunate to have lots of archive footage of the dancer, showing him progress as a talent from age 6 to 8 to 10 to 12 to 13 and so on. It is fascinating to see the boy, pushed on by his parents leaving him as a teen alone in a new world at the Royal Academy of Ballet in London. He could not speak a word of English. Sergei does now, obviously, and with a London accent.

It is in London hat the bad boys antics began to show. Sergei misses his rehearsals and eventually quits the Royal Ballet. Soon, no other British company would touch the man, knowing his reputation. Sergei moves back to Russia and drops from star to TV personality. But a video “Take me to Chruch” that he worked with David LaChapelle turned viral with 15 million viewers making Sergei Polunin a household name. The film includes the famous video, though many, including myself had already seen it. Still, it is good to watch again, Sergei’s incredible performance.

“The need for excellence of each performance” is the reason given for Sergei’s antics. He wants his freedom and is restricted by his talent s well as what his company wants him to do. But the film show that it is his parents’ divorce that broke him. There is no purpose in excelling after this point.

Noticeably missing in this documentary is Sergei’s personal life. No mention is there anywhere of a girlfriend (or boyfriend for that matter). Surely, a man with such a good physique and gorgeous looks would have a healthy sex life.

To Canter’s credit, he has assembled a good variety of talking heads. The best insight to Sergei’s personality is provided by his Royal Ballet Academy friends. One says: “Many do not realize that Sergei is only 22 years old.” A moving and realistic segment has Sergei filmed dancing naked in the snow, showing him acting as a teen.

DANCER, one of the best documentaries released so far this year is a film for everyone, besides those interested in dance. The film shows life, mistakes made and mistakes corrected as it logs Sergei’s rise to stardom, his fall and rise again. The message of the film can be learnt in observing the life of this very gifted artist.



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