Restless ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, he of the infamous Royal Ballet walk-out of 2012, returns to the London stage with Project Polunin. Having seen the recently released documentary Dancer that follows Polunin over the four years since he quit Covent Garden, I’d hoped that Project Polunin would be a dignified comeback for a prodigiously talented performer who’s clearly plagued by family issues and a hot-housed childhood (or lack thereof). At the film’s post-screening Q&A, Polunin seemed like a funny and earnest sort of chap who sweetly proclaimed that ballet should be for everyone and shouldn’t cost the earth to attend. He talked about his upcoming stint at Sadler’s, a showcase of works in collaboration with other artists including David LaChapelle (who filmed the video-that-went-viral of Polunin dancing to Hozier’s Take Me To Church).
So it is with a heavy heart that I type the following: Project Polunin is boring and bizarre. It’s a misguided vanity project that smacks of someone having had a gust of celebrity hot air blown up the derriere and a load of money flung at them from rich botoxed people who attend gala dinners.
The evening’s ego trip is made all the more gross by the fact that Polunin dances the male lead in a version of Narcissus & Echo to which he’s also contributed some clunky choreography. To be fair he doesn’t do much dancing in this piece, and instead spends a lot of time draped over a globe in a beige bodystocking and gold-encrusted penis-sheath while his Greek pals cavort around and make heroic leaps in gaudy little capes. Aesthetically it’s like Super Ted got roped into an am-dram production of antique erotica. Choreographically it’s mostly unimaginative stuff, patchily danced to a forgettable sub- Khachaturian score by Ilan Eshkeri.
Polunin’s offstage partner Natalia Osipova is Echo, the nymph who pines after Narcissus. She’s another balletic dynamo and most of the time it’s a thrill to see her dance. But like Polunin, her talent is wasted in all of this: she’s reduced to boureeing around sadly in a nude leotard adorned with tinselly tendrils, like a svelte sandy feline who’s come a cropper in the Christmas decoration box. The low point occurs when Narcissus/Polunin gazes into the pool at his reflection and video projections of his adored visage appear in the clouds above the stage. He’s variously bare-chested and sultry, snogging his own face in the mirror, or giving a kind of insouciant Fashion Week pout in a leather jacket. There’s absolutely no hint of irony. It’s truly a grim affair.
The evening opens with Osipova and Polunin dancing Vladimir Vasiliev’s Soviet era Icarus, the night before the flight. It’s interesting as a historical example of Vasiliev’s bravura style, but never really takes off emotionally. Polunin demonstrates his impressive elevation and rapid turns, and manipulates Osipova through a series of crotch-splitting poses. This is followed by Andrey Kaydanovskiy’s 2016 piece Tea or Coffee, performed by four dancers from the Stanislavsky Ballet. It’s a slightly baffling existential crisis in(volving) a teacup: a rather weak brew of angular, scuttling motion and rubbery duets. All in all, a dismal evening of dance that’s unintentionally an exhortation against bringing rampant self-absorption to the stage.
Project Polunin is on at Sadler’s Wells until 18th March 2017. Click here for more details.