Without doubt Sergei Polunin is one of the most amazing dancers ever with a body that is strong, powerful and light. When he dances his movements are incandescent. He possesses something that goes beyond nurtured talent.
Documentaries are sometimes the best form of film because they take something true, which is either remarkable in itself, or the context in which they present the truth is remarkable. This documentary is evidence of the former.
Sergei was born to a family of modest means in Southern Ukraine and as a baby was hyper mobile, which lends itself to gymnastics (his first enterprise) or ballet (his second as chosen by his mother - which is significant). By the age of 8 Sergei was destined for a ballet career for which his family made enormous sacrifices; his father and one of his grandmothers (maternal, I think) emigrated to work in the EU to support financially his ballet studies in Kiev. The cost of this to Sergei emerged when he was an adult and, sensationally, quit the English Royal Ballet where he was a Principal dancer.
In his teens Sergei joined the English Royal Ballet and by 19 he was a ballet sensation in the UK and gained notoriety a few years later because of his use of cocaine, self-harming and tattooes. I was curious about this young man psychologically; he danced like fire but was troubled. My one disappointment with the documentary, which prevents it being perfect, is that only the surface psychology of Sergei is presented. To be fair to the director he arrived in Sergei's life when the latter was at his most cynical and least trusting. The film took 5 years to make but to know Sergei probably takes a lot longer. Nonetheless the niggle remains.
What the film gives in abundance is footage of Sergei dancing and Sergei filmed by his mother and then the English Royal Ballet as he grows up. The visual impact of Sergei's body with tattooes and scars is an aesthetic marvel. My favourite piece of the film was Sergei on-and-off stage whilst dancing in Spartacus in Siberia where we see the man suffering for his art and his damaged feet. There is private footage too, which is endearing as Sergei's warmth, sense of fun and sincerity abounds.
If you love dance, you will like this film. If you marvel at what the human body can do physically, you will like this film. If you want a very human story of sacrifice in the quest to improve the lot of the children, you will like this film. If you love, like or are remotely interested in Sergei, then this is a film for you. With his dance Sergei has gifted the cinematic world a unique form. He has abandoned ballet, by which he felt constrained and which was not his choice but that of his mother's, but is continuing to dance.
Reviewed by paul-allaer7 / 10
"Bad boy" ballet superstar Sergei Polunin ain't so bad after all
"Dancer" (2016 release; 85 min.) is a documentary about 'bad boy' ballet superstar Sergei Polunin. As the documentary opens, we are with Polunin in his dressing room, with "curtain in 20 min." being announced. We then watch him perform, and are in awe of his skills. The documentary then goes back in time, to "Kherson, southern Ukraine", as the movie informs us, where we see young Sergei do absolutely amazing things at a young age (watch the footage of 8 yr. old Sergei...). Before we know it, Sergei, now age 13, is training at the Royal ballet School in London.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from veteran film maker Steven Cantor. Here his subject is a highly skilled and talented ballet dancer who shot up through the ranks of the ballet world, only to discover that it's pretty lonely at the top, not to mention that the physical and psychological toll it takes on him may be more than he can handle. The British press had a field day with this guy, branding him the "bad boy" of ballet (and that is certainly what I remembered of Polunin). But when you see it in a larger context, it's pretty clear to me that Polunin wasn't much of a bad boy, but instead a lonely young man who comes of age in a brutally competitive environment, all the while terribly missing his family. There are some extraordinary moments in this all-access documentary. Let me just mention one to wet you appetite: late in the documentary, Polunin is dancing the lead role in Spartacus, and at the break we find him in his dressing room, recovering before the second half of the evening. Just watch...
"Dancer" opened last weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (only 2 people besides myself). Given the complete lack of marketing for this release, I can't say I was very surprised. Hopefully this is the type of release that will find a wider audience once it is available on DVD/Blu-ray. If you like ballet, I would readily recommend you seek this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Marc_Horrickan7 / 10
When the Fire Burns Out
Steven Cantor's brief documentary, following the stellar career of Ukranian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, the youngest lead dancer in the Royal Ballet's history, manages to give real shape to the professional life of an artist falling out of love with their art.
Cantor's film is pieced together from archive footage of the young Polunin rising through the ranks in first Kiev and then London. It takes in the mania that surrounding his initial breakthrough with the Royal Ballet, and through carefully structured interviews with his closest family members gives insight into the birth of the demons that have haunted and inspired his short but spectacular career.
The canniest thing that Cantor does is keep the uninitiated viewer guessing as to what the outcome of Polunin's decision to turn his back on ballet will be. The salacious gossip surrounding his outre lifestyle has the feel of the kind of press hounding that the likes of Amy Winehouse or Paula Yates received, with the lines being blurred as to where media courting ends and media exploitation begins.
The narrative drive of the documentary's second act left me fearing the worst for Polunin. However, Cantor's film pulls back from the brink in its closing sections, as Polunin's chaotic life finds a delicate equilibrium, and a young man who seemed to have lost the creative fires that fueled and inspired him, rediscovers a love for dancing in the embers that remain - on his own terms.
As ever with docs like this, access is predicated upon a certain attitude being adopted toward the main players within Polunin's story. In this regard Cantor never seeks to rock the boat with his subject and the extended family, and probably does as well as can be expected within the tight strictures of the pact that he will have made. A little more of Polunin's balletic brilliance wouldn't have been amiss, but DANCER does deliver on this front in the film's closing passages.