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'Dancer' Film on tonight-Polunin story

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Looking forward to seeing this after the mixed reception it received. Will be interesting to exchange thoughts following the screening.

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I'm recording this even though I don't expect any new revelations.  I expect it will be available on iPlayer from tomorrow.

 

Linda

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Well, what was that all about?

 

Misleadingly, the film is called Dancer which is strange as 90% of it is about how much Polunin has disliked life as a dancer!  Not surprisingly, it was one long moanfest which should have been titled 'Poor Me.'  

 

I have been extremely critical of Polunin and his many vanity projects, and had tuned in hoping to see some of his fabulous dancing (we did) and to learn more about Sergei the man (we didn't because we already knew it all or, at least, everything he has to say.)  The whole thing was a mass of contradictions; early on we learn how homesick he was when he left Russia, but a couple of sentences later when he leaves RB and realises that his homeland is the only place willing to take a chance on him, he complains that Russia wasn't in his plans.  Similarly, he keeps reminding us that he has never been free, which sits oddly against the person who continually whined that a dancer couldn't afford a flat in London.

 

There are some moving clips when he returns to Russia but he seemed ungracious to the mother who had obviously sacrificed so much for him and clearly his new-found wealth hasn't been shared with his parents.  More satisfying was their trip to the theatre to see him dance which was moving, especially in the father's reaction.  Mum and Dad who seemed straightforward nice people who had tried to do the best for their talented son, have had to endure their sacrifices being portrayed by their son as something approaching cruelty to children.  If Sergei didn't want to dance then, okay, it's hard to say that to parents but he could have done it rather than making everything so complicated and over-analysed.  He was 22 when he left RB, plenty young enough to start another career.  And I suppose he would argue that he has done exactly that; even if most of us would not relish a life of celebrity for the sake of it.

 

Maybe I am cynical but I got the impression that when he flounced out of RB, he expected offers to flood in from all over the world.  I think money is a key motivator in his life and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but he irritates because he dresses it all up with over-emotive language.  I honestly hope I am wrong but I cannot see that there is much left for him now.  He cannot go on being the bad boy of ballet and as he has already told us his life story ad nauseam, what is there to say?  Walk-on parts in films, celebrity calendars and guest appearances surely lack substance as a life?

 

The film would have been better with a more rounded view of Sergei including comments from other ballet companies.  I suspect that he thought he was making a programme that would make us feel sorry for him and ....and..... but it lacked direction and, I am sorry to say was actually quite dull.  One wonders what other dancers think, especially when he told us that ballet is tedious and how much his body hurt.  At one point he said he wished he'd got injured which must surely have irked those dancers who put in day after day at the barre and the physio and the gym to protect themselves from injury?

 

Ending on Take Me to Church was a nice touch but I, and I suspect many others, have moved on from Sergei now.  I found myself wondering what Macrae or Corrales would make of the piece.

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I’m sorry but I saw an incredibly talented and gifted young man. He has been pushed his whole life, that soon his whole life is Ballet and nothing else. This young man was mentally in trouble, he was so young and promoted to the top, at the most prestigious ballet company, he had even more to give, but mentally he was going through a lot. 

So much was expected from this 22 year old, in my opinion he needed guidance and support. Someone should have been concerned when his parents were never at the ballet school etc. 

I actually believe this young man is one of the most talented dancers ever and I wish him well, I hope he finds happiness and fulfilment in life. 

 

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Oh dear.  My review is of a film where I saw a discontented young man squandering his huge talent.  Yes, not being blind I too saw an exceptionally gifted young dancer which I take as a given for any ballet fan and is therefore something of a non sequitur for my description of the film.

I don't know if he was mentally in trouble just as none of us know what help he was offered/given.  I find it hard to believe that RB didn't provide support given how much they had vested in him.  And then we get the poor old parents getting the blame again.  Were they expected to just uproot themselves and live on air in London?

From the film snippets which weren't Polunin emoting, I got an impression of quite a lot of people offering help and advice which was not going to be accepted.  I was particularly struck with his brusque interaction with his dresser.

Being critical of a film which it would be generous to say has had mixed reviews, does not make me blind to Sergei's sublime talent.  It is possible to wish the best for Mr. Polunin, even to harbour a forlorn hope that he might return to mainstream ballet, without having to believe that nothing is ever his choice or fault.

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I’m sorry but being a parent is a gift. To send your child to another country at a young age, regardless of what you are sacrificing financially, is no excuse not to visit your child, still parent your child, be their guidance, advocate, advisor, support, security and unconditional love. It is little wonder any child would struggle, especially a child with such a huge talent which is bigger than he could imagine. 

I don’t know what support was given and nor do I suggest that non was offered. 

From the film I can see clearly why this young adult did what he did. He definitely does not owe anybody anything, he should be allowed to change his mind as an adult. 

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It seems to me that for any artist, be it dancer, actor or musician, the artistic skill is only half of the package. A huge amount of mental toughness is needed to withstand the disappointments that are inevitably part of life, the injuries that affect many artists and the emotional problems that can arise in anyone's life. Perhaps in Polunin's case his early childhood, focusing so heavily on his training as a dancer meant that he had little chance for anything resembling a normal childhood.

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I felt quite flat and sad after watching this . The section showing the exchanges between Sergei and his Mum in her home, were uncomfortably voyeuristic and his appearance in the Russian ballet tv programme, where he was given marks out of ten, was a further depressive interlude. There was some brief footage of the glorious talent he has been gifted with, although the film didn’t really discuss his technique in any detail or reflect on his interpretation of any of the major roles. I found it strange that whilst a couple of the contributors were named, others were not . There were some glaring gaps too, such as his partnership/relationship  with Osipova although  if I recall rightly, at the time the film was made,  it was a difficult  time for them both. Did I learn anything new.? Only about his family background and his recent attempts to reconnect with his parents. The final impressions for me wasn’t one of hope for his new found freedom from the world of classical dance , but a restless, troubled and unfulfilled individual who leaves the viewer frustrated that he cannot find joy in the art in which he excels.

Edited by Odyssey
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8 hours ago, ninamargaret said:

It seems to me that for any artist, be it dancer, actor or musician, the artistic skill is only half of the package. A huge amount of mental toughness is needed to withstand the disappointments that are inevitably part of life, the injuries that affect many artists and the emotional problems that can arise in anyone's life. Perhaps in Polunin's case his early childhood, focusing so heavily on his training as a dancer meant that he had little chance for anything resembling a normal childhood.

 

Indeed.

 

Any child training vocationally from early childhood has no "normal" childhood and, once he left Ukraine, Polunin trained alongside the other children at the RBSchool, many also (some far) away from their families; many of his RBS contemporaries managed to sustain a successful career. Clearly talent alone is not enough and in order to have a successful career as a dancer we know that a huge amount of mental strength and self-discipline is needed. Polunin obviously did not thrive on the self-discipline needed in order to nurture his massive talent.     

It is known that Polunin would skip the daily company class, a routine during which the dancers set themselves up mentally and physically to prepare for a day of rehearsals followed by the evening performance. How could he even think he would be able to get away without the all important daily routine and simply walk on stage and perform? (he did and he was truly amazing on the ROH stage but we all know how he was able to achieve this...). One of the things that has always bothered me is Polunin saying he couldn't afford to buy a flat in London (not even a tiny one bedroom/studio on a Principal's salary?) but he could afford to spend all his money on many other (very costly) things! 

His heart was not in it and he trained and danced for the wrong reason: to bring his family together (who never came to see him dance at the RBSchool or Covent Garden). 

 

What made me even sadder was to see him stand in that Russian TV programme (seemingly a version of "Has Russia Got Talent"). How degrading!!!! None of the two big Russian ballet companies allegedly showed any interest in him and since leaving the RB Polunin has achieved very little that is to be admired: a Pirelli calendar, a La Chapelle video (that was an internet hit, so what?), a couple of fashion magazine (cover) shoots, a few "The Bad Boy of Ballet" press articles here and there, a Milan catwalk appearance, a brief (negligible) appearance in a movie, a few performances here and there. When the RB recently gave him another opportunity to dance in Covent Garden (Marguerite & Armand) he let them down again and pulled out of the announced performance. Not very professional!

 

It is sad to see such an immense talent go to waste, a real loss to the ballet world, and if Polunin doesn't feel this as a personal loss I only hope he will be able to find a purpose in life. Polunin was born with a massive talent but his talent seems to have been but a huge burden too heavy to carry and make a success of it.

 

 

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A brilliant post, Xandra.  Yes, appearing in that tv programme in Russia was really a low point and I am surprised he did it.  Sad though it is for fans, I suppose this is the old maxim that even a superlative talent is not enough unless it is combined with self-discipline and a strong work ethic.  I keep thinking how his contemporaries at RB must have felt;  they are all straining away to continually improve and there's Sergei effortlessly achieving what many can only dream of.

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I was saddened to see the investment by BBC Films in this often dreary enterprise.  (I realise, of course, this money will have been invested some time ago.)  With so much that is positive with the wonderful crop of young talents at the RB at the moment, say, how I wish they could focus their limited funds on something that would be truly inspirational from a positive perspective - and be able to remain so for a goodly amount of time to come.  There are so many British stories to tell now which I can but feel would be at very least equally exciting.  Perhaps if the RB's R&J film is to take off this too will come to pass.  Still, where is foresight?  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Yes Bruce, what our young (trainee) dancers need are great examples of those dancers who have worked very hard, overcame the odds, struggled, fought, cried,... BUT didn't give up, who didn't take their talent for granted, who are great examples of perseverance and how to reach the top of their profession. THOSE are the dancers to be admired and they are encouraging examples to the current crop of youngsters in training, or to those in the early stages of their career. 

A talented dancer who was allegedly too lazy/incapable to discipline himself and who descended into using substances is no example at all, however sad his story is.

The BBC and all other Media should show success stories to this young generation, not the sad story of a self-destructive dancer. 

 

The ballet world needs positive and encouraging success stories from our top professional dancers in support of the current young trainees! 

Edited by Xandra Newman
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1 hour ago, Xandra Newman said:

The BBC and all other Media should show success stories to this young generation, not the sad story of a self-destructive dancer. 

 

 The ballet world needs positive and encouraging success stories from our top professional dancers in support of the current young trainees! 

 

I'm very pleasantly reminded of the BBC's 2016 'Dancing the Nutcracker' documentary - a delight with Francesca Hayward and many colleagues providing role models, not just for dancers but for all to use whatever talents they have to the full.

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Yes JohnS and let's not forget there is not only Francesca Hayward but many many other very deserving dancers such as Brandon Lawrence at BRB, Marcelino Sambe at the RB just to name a few (have we ever heard their story?) and all those who recently made it to the top rank at the RB such as Akane Takada, Yasmine Naghdi, young Ball, and others at Soloist level and surely many in the Corps de ballet (not to be forgotten!). 

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I am sure that I read somewhere that Balanchine once said that he did not want people in his company who wanted to dance, he wanted people who had to dance. For what its worth, perhaps not that much, the problem is that although Polunin is exceptionally gifted; was exceptionally focussed as a student on doing everything necessary to become the greatest dancer of his generation he lacked the essential element which you need to be a truly great dancer namely a burning, almost obsessive need to dance. In this Polunin is the complete antithesis of Nureyev who began his training late and had to fight his body to achieve his goals but who had the incalcuable gift of the obsessive need to dance.

 

It is almost as if Polunin is a character in a Greek myth showered with gifts by the gods who, inadvertently offending one of them, finds the gifts negated by the offended god who, while he cannot remove the gifts, can destroy their effect. I am not entirely clear why Polunin's ambivalence toward the artform and career which his parents mapped out for him is being discussed by some as if it were evidence of a flaw in his character. If he had had a burning desire to be something he was incapable of being we might express sorrow for his failure to attain his goal but we would not be commenting on his weak character; his inability to stick with what he wanted to do or say that he was moaning about his failure to attain his goal would we?. If I am right in this supposition then I fail to understand why Polunin's inability to love the art form for which he trained so hard should be criticised as if it were a flaw in his character. He is like a lot of people who I knew in my youth who had been marched off to university to study law a subject which did not interest them in the slightest. They tended to drop out early on in the course but at least they had not devoted a significant part of their lives from the age of six or seven to its study nor had their parents sacrificed a great deal to secure their specialist education. For me  Polunin is not unlike Tithonus who was given the gift of immortality at the request of Eos but not the gift of eternal youth which would have made his immortality bearable.

 

Polunin did not ask to leave the Ukraine to train at the RBS his parents made the decision for him. He has always been aware of the sacrifices they made in order for him to do so. That is a great emotional burden to carry in itself, but added to that is the knowledge that his parents split up because of the pressure which securing his future placed on their relationship. That is an appalling emotional burden to carry in itself but how much worse must it be to know that the sacrifice has been made to enable you to do something you don't want to do? His current situation is the unintended consequence of his parents trying to do what they thought was best for him, so for me it's a tragedy for all three of them.

 

I am not sure that Polunin's ability was quite as effortless as we assume it to be. I seem to recall during the documentary that he said words to the effect that he did additional classes because he felt that he could not afford to fail while Zucchetti, who is no slouch technically, commented on Polunin's exceptional focus. If I heard that correctly then it would seem that his path to effortless technical prowess was very similar to Wayne Sleep's. Sleep had been told that if he wanted to secure a place in the company he had to jump twice as high and be twice as good as every other man. He also said that he knew that he would not have had to work so hard on his technique if he had been taller. Perhaps it was this lack of determined focus that the current director of the school was talking about when he commented on the attitude of some of the British dancers who get into the Upper School.

 

As to what the BBC should be showing, at the moment it comes as something of a relief to discover that it is actually showing any dance based programmes at all. I suspect that the truth is that broadcasting a positive programme about an elite art form performed to an elite audience all of whom have paid megabucks for their tickets, which is how everyone writes and talks about classical ballet is off limits except at Christmas when we may be permitted access to something more positive. Although even then I recall a couple of Christmases ago there was a programme about ballet on television during the 1950's which seemed determined to suggest that the whole thing was futile. It was an interesting example of how classical dance is currently regarded by the BBC because over the same public holiday as it was broadcasting a lampoon masquerading as a documentary it managed to devote one and a half hours to the pioneers of modern dance in which everything was taken very seriously indeed. Perhaps we need to remember that the golden age of televised ballet was in effect the work of a handful of enthusiasts like Margaret Dale and Ian Drummond, without whom there would have been next to nothing televised. At a time when everything is assessed by the likely  size of the audience a programme might attract one which works as a human interest story or reinforces prejudices is more likely to appeal to those who commission programmes than a more positive one unless it is specifically aimed at the Christmas television audience. Unfortunately in that context local boy makes good has far less strength as a programme to pitch than foreign boy falls apart does.

 

 

Edited by FLOSS
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Just a tiny correction - it was John Drummond, not Ian.  Also, back then there was not so much competition from other television stations and other media.  The BBC is under constant threat now and feels it has to fight harder for larger audiences than it did in the 80s and earlier to justify its licence fee.

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42 minutes ago, Xandra Newman said:

Yes JohnS and let's not forget there is not only Francesca Hayward but many many other very deserving dancers such as Brandon Lawrence at BRB, Marcelino Sambe at the RB just to name a few (have we ever heard their story?) and all those who recently made it to the top rank at the RB such as Akane Takada, Yasmine Naghdi, young Ball, and others at Soloist level and surely many in the Corps de ballet (not to be forgotten!). 

 

Which is why I referred to Francesca Hayward and her colleagues as there were valuable contributions from many, including those coaching and students.

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Here, here.  I have long thought that all this Polunin adulation is a slap in the teeth for those dancers who dedicate themselves to their art without telling us repeatedly how hard/awful/tedious it all is.   Not to mention the thousands of us fans who regularly beggar ourselves to support this art form.

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Well, Floss, it is rare for me to disagree with your exceptionally knowledgeable and brilliantly thought-out posts, but...

 

As many of us have repeatedly said, however bereft we may be that this wonderful dancer has chosen not to dedicate himself to or even like ballet, I would never say that he should dance just because he has gifts.  The Balanchine quote is brilliant because it says it all and this is not a philosophy Polunin has.  Fine.  Give up the dance, find something that you really really want to do and go for it.  All power to him if he did this but he doesn't.  He flirts with ballet at the same time as he denigrates the regime of long-established ballet companies and tells us that ballet is tedious.  It seems that it is not enough for him to decide ballet isn't his bag; no he must denigrate it and put the blame, if there is blame, on the system.

 

He uses the fame he garnered from his dancing to make money from being a celebrity rather than trying to find something he might enjoy doing.  He puts on preposterous Polunin saturated programmes that attract his groupies but make most ballet fans sad.  In short, he does nothing to get away from the ballet he says he hates, all the while leeching off what it can give him.  He is still a very young man and could surely find a new career path but really fame has become his goal.  

 

Quite apart from all that, I thought the film was dull, dull, dull and, like others, I wondered why we couldn't have a film that showed dancers who have dedicated themselves to their art rather than this film that professed to be about a dancer but was little more than a blubfest.

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I certainly feel more compassion for Polunin after watching this, I previously thought him foolish and slightly deluded for leaving the RB.

 

He has inner turmoils that I believe other great artists have suffered- Tchaikovsky, Van Gogh, and various contemporary musicians come to mind. As a child I imagine he must have felt completely abandoned, and that is a great trauma for any youngster. Maybe not everybody would react in the same way to such trauma, but his seeming resentment of his talent makes sense, in that it has taken him away from his family, even if he does love it. To love and hate something at the same time, I think, would create much conflict within his personality.

 

The motivation and discipline that one commentator in the film thought he now lacked and hated, brought to mind Steven McRae, who seems conversely to thrive on discipline. I think they're an interesting contrast in that sense, even if they seem to have the same passion and perhaps vanity (?).

 

Some may see the film as a expression of "poor me", which in a sense I think it is, but it certainly does enlighten us as to his decision to leave the Royal Ballet and give us the opportunity to understand and have some form of compassion towards him.

 

I loved "Take Me To Church". I think he should do more work like that, where he can express himself and be free. I guess there are more ways than one of being a thriving professional ballet dancer! He's doing things his own way, in a way that works for him, and I respect that now.

Edited by Rachelm
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On 24/09/2018 at 09:07, Xandra Newman said:

None of the two big Russian ballet companies allegedly showed any interest in him

 

This is what intrigues me.  Why didn't he train in Russia?

 

I was under the impression that many ballet schools in Russia actively look for, and support financially,  talented children.  And in Russia, ballet dancers have a far greater status than here.  So why come to London?  And is his British training the reason he hasn't received any offers from companies like the Bolshoi or the Mariinsky?  

 

Ballet school is no bed of roses wherever you are and plenty of dancers talk of losing out on adolescence.  The film 'A Beautiful Tragedy' shows Mariinsky Principal Oxsana Skorik when she trained at the Perm ballet school.  A thousand miles from her home and family in the Ukraine, she was so miserable she developed anorexia.  Like Polunin, the decision to become a ballet dancer was not hers but her mother's but she kept working and eventually made it to the top.  Polunin obviously has the talent but perhaps lacks the application.  Sad.

 

Linda

 

 

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10 hours ago, loveclassics said:

This is what intrigues me.  Why didn't he train in Russia?

I was under the impression that many ballet schools in Russia actively look for, and support financially,  talented children.  And in Russia, ballet dancers have a far greater status than here.  So why come to London?  And is his British training the reason he hasn't received any offers from companies like the Bolshoi or the Mariinsky?................................  

The film 'A Beautiful Tragedy' shows Mariinsky Principal Oxsana Skorik when she trained at the Perm ballet school.  A thousand miles from her home and family in the Ukraine, she was so miserable she developed anorexia.  Like Polunin, the decision to become a ballet dancer was not hers but her mother's but she kept working and eventually made it to the top........................... 

Linda


In this post I am not joining the debate but will only try to answer some questions asked by Linda.
- He didn’t train in Russia because he was and is a citizen of Ukraine and as a foreigner he was not entitled to free specialised education in Russia. This is exactly what his mother was told by the Artistic Director of the Vaganova Academy at that time. So Polunin’s mother decided to send his recordings to the RBS, which accepted him, and his training there was sponsored by the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation.
- It was in the Soviet times that ballet schools were much more active in the search for talents. The status of ballet dancers was also higher at that time. In any case Russian schools wouldn’t have been searching for talents in Ukraine after Ukraine became independent.
- Sergei’s British training could not impede his acceptance by Russian companies. Before joining the RBS he was trained for over 3 years at the Kiev State Ballet School, which provided solid basic technical training. The years with the RBS developed, refined and ennobled his dancing.
- Mariinsky Theatre accepted him and even gave him a key for the room in a communal flat. However, Zelensky offered him a wider repertoire and a greater choice. Where the Bolshoi is concerned I don’t know why Sergei Filin didn’t offer him a job.
- RE: Oksana Skorik. Yes, Oksana was sent for training to another city. Her mother regularly visited her and she spent holidays with her family. Polunin never saw his family during all his years at the RBS.

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Thanks for the information Amelia, I didn't know that he couldn't train in Russia because he's Ukrainian.  Ivan Putrov is also from the Ukraine - did he also have to train in the West?

 

Mind you, the way things are going with the current Russian leader, I wouldn't put money on the Ukraine staying independent for much longer.

 

Linda

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As he has performed as a Guest Artist with various companies recently and dances the Nutcracker Prince in Disney's about to be released film, I really don't think anyone can say he has given up on ballet.  He has just taken a different route.

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1 hour ago, loveclassics said:

Thanks for the information Amelia, I didn't know that he couldn't train in Russia because he's Ukrainian.  Ivan Putrov is also from the Ukraine - did he also have to train in the West?

 

 

Putrov trained in Kyiv and, after the Prix de Lausanne, at the Royal Ballet School.

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If there is one thing I have learned from having a child who was aiming to be a professional ballet dancer, it is that the driving force MUST come from the child.  Ballet is incredibly tough; physically and emotionally. It demands a lot of time and a lot of money.  The chances of an eventual career as a reasonably well-paid ballerina in a good UK company are miniscule.  I have seen so many students forced to stop full time dance or dance training through illness and injury; some - like my daughter - are still able to dance for pleasure, others cannot or will not return to the studio.  I’ve seen students change from ballet to Musical Theatre. I’ve seen students leave ballet school and go to uni.   I’ve seen a tiny few students complete their ballet training and graduate. 

 

The students who changed path and have still emerged with body and soul reasonably intact are those who were supported but who drove the journey forward themselves; NEEDING to dance but always knowing that they had a Plan B and - vitally - could change their mind at any point.  

 

When parents “sacrifice everything” for the dream of their child becoming a ballet dancer, there will always be resentment on both sides.  Often because deep down, the dream may have been the parents’, not the child’s.  Imagine an 11 year old being away at ballet school in your own country, let alone abroad, knowing that you must excel because your parents have sold their house/given up everything/impoverished themselves for you to be there. They can’t afford to come and visit you.  The pressure must be immense.  The situation gives the child zero opportunity to simply change his mind.   Even if never spoken, the words “We sacrificed everything for you” hang over that child.  “You mustn’t waste the talent you’ve been given”.  “You mustn’t squander what has been gifted to you.”

 

Polunin has had a teenage rebellion; he’s just had it a little later than most.  Does his unprofessionalism irritate me? Yes, at times.  Am I sad not to see him on the ROH stage? Undoubtedly.  But it’s not my choice. Children are not the property of their parents; they are a gift but they are individuals in their own right.   No dancer, Polunin included, is a circus animal.  Just because we *choose* to pay to watch ballet does not mean we can demand to see Polunin or anyone else dance.  It’s his life.  I hope he finds fulfillment and inner peace.  

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12 hours ago, loveclassics said:

Thanks for the information Amelia, I didn't know that he couldn't train in Russia because he's Ukrainian.  Ivan Putrov is also from the Ukraine - did he also have to train in the West?

Linda

 

10 hours ago, bangorballetboy said:

Putrov trained in Kyiv and, after the Prix de Lausanne, at the Royal Ballet School.

 

Ivan Putrov is over 9 years older than Sergei Polunin and had a very different upbringing. He was born into a ballet family and as a child appeared on stage of the National Opera and Ballet Theatre in Kiev (Kyiv) where his parents worked. At the age of 10 he was enrolled at the State Ballet School and was trained there for 6 years. After his success in Lausanne he was offered to continue his training at the RBS and studied there for 18 months. The classical ballet teacher Herman Zamuel took him under his wing and was very supportive. The parents were constntly in touch with Ivan. Straight after the graduation he joined the RB. It was a smooth, nontraumatic evolvement.

 

Thank you, Anna C., for your post. 

Edited by Amelia
added the last line
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