Royal Ballet 'in shock' as dancer Sergei Polunin quits

Sergei Polunin and Lauren Cuthbertson at The Royal Opera House, London, 2011 Sergei Polunin and Lauren Cuthbertson at The Royal Opera House, London, 2011

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Principal dancer Sergei Polunin has surprised bosses at the Royal Ballet by resigning from his post, less than two years after he was promoted.

In a statement, Royal Ballet director Dame Monica Mason admitted his decision had been a "huge shock".

Polunin joined the ballet in 2007 and was promoted to principal at the end of the 2009-10 season, aged just 19.

He had been due to appear in The Dream next week, but has stepped down from his role with immediate effect.

Arrangements are now being put in place so the show can still premiere on 1 February. It is likely that Steven McRae, a Sydney-born dancer who has been with the Royal Ballet since 2004, will replace him.

In a statement, Dame Monica said: "This has obviously come as a huge shock. Sergei is a wonderful dancer and I have enjoyed watching him tremendously, both on stage and in the studio, over the past few years.

"I wish him every success in the future."

Polunin commented on his decision on Twitter, saying: "Just have to go through one night!!! then will make my next moves."

He also updated his biography to say: "Principal Dancer of ?"

On New Year's Eve he posted the comment: "2012 it's going to be controversial." Five days later, he added: "Who wants to live forever anyway??? really."

Despite his resignation, he is still expected to dance in Ivan Putrov's Men in Motion, which opens at Sadler's Wells on Friday.

A spokeswoman for the London dance house said in a statement: "I am pleased to confirm that Sergei is still performing in Ivan's Men in Motion this weekend. His resignation from the Royal Ballet is not in connection with the show."

Strict regime

A bout of pneumonia as a child helped Polunin decide to become a dancer.

In an interview with the Independent newspaper last November, he explained how he gave up gymnastics for ballet because the dusty halls had affected his health.

"I'd always been one of the best in my gymnastics school, so I transferred to trying to be the best dancer, without knowing anything about ballet," he said.

He also revealed that he struggled to follow the strict diet and exercise regimes that professional dancers adhere to.

"I'm not good. I don't do many classes. Sometimes I don't eat all day, then have four meals between 8pm and 4am. I go to bed really late - if I just sleep I won't have a life outside ballet."

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