Ballet star Sergei Polunin sees his future in movies

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent


Sergei Polunin wants to leave behind his reputation as ballet's tattooed "bad boy" and make his name in the movies.

Image source, Dogwoof
Image caption, The Dancer documentary tells the story Sergei's life on and off the stage

The Ukrainian star, who shocked the dance world in 2012 when he quit the Royal Ballet, has branched out into film acting.

He's made a spy thriller with Jennifer Lawrence, and appears in Sir Kenneth Branagh's forthcoming Murder on the Orient Express.

"I feel like I'm a kid again," the 27-year-old told the BBC of his time working on the Lawrence film. "It's an amazing industry and it was really one of the best times of my life."

'Surreal experience'

Polunin hopes to make it a full-time career.

"I would love to. It's really good. It was the happiest time. I was excited to wake up. I still did a ballet class before, and then went to [work on] the movie."

He said that he learned a lot working with Lawrence on Red Sparrow.

"One moment she's very relaxed, and then in a second goes into the character. In a strong scene, she really goes for it."

Media caption, The Dancer tells the story of Sergei Polunin's life on and off the stage

The Orient Express film sees Polunin in the role of Count Andrenyi opposite Dame Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp and Willem Dafoe.

"It was a very surreal experience," Polunin admitted. "I thought: 'Am I supposed to be here? Am I good enough?' These were legends. I have paintings of these people!"

Polunin's relationship with ballet has been turbulent to say the least.

A child prodigy, he left Ukraine at the age of 13 and came to the UK where he shone at the Royal Ballet School.

At the age of 19 he became the Royal Ballet's youngest ever male principal.

Image source, Dogwoof
Image caption, Polunin shocked the dance world when he quit the Royal Ballet in 2012

But two years later he sensationally walked out, amid reports of drug use and hard partying, earning himself the "bad boy of ballet" moniker.

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

The story of his life in ballet is told in Dancer, a new cinema documentary by Steve Cantor.

Polunin will perform at the film's premiere at the London Palladium later on Thursday.

'Imperfection is good'

At the film's centre is the unforgettable 2015 YouTube video of Polunin's dance to Hozier's Take Me to Church.

Shot in Hawaii by photographer David LaChapelle, Polunin's bare-chested ballet routine almost melted the internet when it went viral. It's since notched up more than 18 million views.

As he explains in the documentary, Polunin had intended it to be his swan song. But the positive global reaction changed his mind.

Later this month, the star unveils his latest dance production - Project Polunin - at Sadler's Wells.

It includes the world premiere of Narcissus & Echo, a piece composed by Ilan Eshkeri with visuals by LaChapelle.

Image source, David LaChapelle
Image caption, David LaChapelle's video of Polunin dancing to Hozier's Take Me to Church went viral in 2015

Even with his promising film career, Polunin admits he may never shake off the "bad boy" tag.

"Two years ago we tried to change this image, but I don't think you can," he said, referring to the YouTube video.

"But the image of being not perfect - I like that.

"Our world isn't perfect - it's good to have some kind of imperfection."

Dancer is released on 10 March. Project Polunin is at Sadler's Wells from 14-18 March.

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