Entertainment & Arts

Ballet star Sergei Polunin exits Midnight Express

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Media captionMissing dancer Sergei Polunin: Director Peter Schaufuss says he is "really worried"

Ukrainian dance star Sergei Polunin has left the cast of a major new ballet show, Midnight Express, just days before its UK premiere.

Peter Schaufuss, the production's director and choreographer, said Polunin failed to turn up for rehearsals on Wednesday.

The show, based on Billy Hayes's 1977 Turkish prison story, is due to open at London's Coliseum on Tuesday.

Polunin made headlines last year when he unexpectedly quit the Royal Ballet.

A statement on Thursday put Polunin's departure down to "unforeseen circumstances". Johan Christensen from the Peter Schaufuss Ballet, who was rehearsing with Polunin, will take over the title role of Billy Hayes.

Schaufuss told the BBC he was "hugely disappointed" after Polunin, 23, missed rehearsals on Wednesday.

"I saw him on Tuesday evening and he said he really wanted to dance. Since then we haven't seen him and nobody from our team has had any response from him.

"We believe he is still in London - he hasn't checked out of his hotel, but he isn't in his room. I'm really worried about him."

He added: "Artists have good and bad days - that goes with the territory - but rehearsals were going well. I think the role of Billy Hayes was perfect for him. We were at the stage where he was starting to make the role his own."

'Quite confident'

Polunin, who at 19 became the Royal Ballet's youngest male principal, shocked the dance world in January 2012 by unexpectedly quitting a week before he was due to appear as the lead in a production of The Dream.

He later told the BBC that he was no fan of rehearsing, saying that it was only when performing that he enjoyed dancing.

Now based in Russia, Polunin returned to the Royal Ballet in February as a guest dancer to rave reviews in Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand.

Schaufuss said that Polunin had been "quite confident" when he began rehearsals for Midnight Express last month.

The ballet show is a new take on the story of Billy Hayes' six year incarceration in a Turkish prison after being caught smuggling hashish.

The 1978 film version was directed by Alan Parker, with a screenplay by Oliver Stone, and starred Brad Davis and John Hurt.

Hayes himself arrived in London this week to supervise the production.

Schaufuss said the rest of the company was in "good spirits" despite the cast upheaval.

"They are excited that Billy Hayes is here and I'm confident that the company is going to give some great shows," he said.

"I've worked for these performances for the last eight months - 24/7 - so to see it having to change in the last minute is devastating. Now we are under tremendous pressure. But sometimes it is exciting to be against the odds."

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