Sergei Polunin – Dancer, Choreographer & Actor – on his new London show and life…

Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in rehearsals for <I>Satori</I>.<br />© Srđan Srđenović. (Click image for larger version)
Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in rehearsals for Satori.
© Srđan Srđenović. (Click image for larger version)


Sergei Polunin / Project Polunin presents a mixed programme of new and revived work at the London Coliseum, 5 Dec – 10 Dec 2017
Full details and booking

On the eve of his new London show, which includes two premieres and a rarely seen piece of early Russian contemporary ballet, we catch up with Polunin about the shows and life in general. He’s clearly a man who wants to leave his mark…

BM: Looking forward to seeing you dance again in London and there are lots of things to talk about, but I’ll start with your newly commissioned solo – First Solo – by Andrey Kaydanovskiy. What’s that about and what should we expect?

SP: Well I really enjoy and really believe in Andrey and how talented he is. I wanted to work with him and see him as one of the most talented young choreographers. He’s coming up!

First Solo is about Man’s duality – the two sides to the person. It’s kind of based a little bit on my experiences and my life and, of course, on the dancer’s life and on people’s life. It’s about the one side we see and the other side we don’t see. Who and what are people when they are alone?

Sergei Polunin in Take Me to Church.© David LaChapelle. (Click image for larger version)
Sergei Polunin in Take Me to Church.
© David LaChapelle. (Click image for larger version)

Whats the style of it? You mention Kaydanovskiy as a choreographer to watch, what style does he have and the style of the work?

He is incredibly generous conceptually and his style is more contemporary – it’s a lot of hands, knees and low (floor) work. For me it’s always challenging – because I’m used to just being up(right) and ballet steps!

You are also creating your own ballet – Satori – again what should we expect and how’s it going?

A lot of work has been put into it! It’s my everyday work since March. It is again a look at life – it’s looking at what is happening in the world. I will be performing my own experiences – its about awakening, really. It’s about what a man goes through to find himself, and his true nature. Hopefully this piece will inspire people to go and think about their own life. The way it should feel is like it’s *them* on stage.

There is still a lot to do until the premiere! (We are talking 11 days before first performance.) It’s crazy but I trust that it will be meaningful. It will be meaningful and good – it’s not just, you know, just doing something quickly (BM: throwing something on). To me the music is very very special and I’m so happy that I found Lorenz (Dangel), the composer.

Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in rehearsals for Satori.© Srđan Srđenović. (Click image for larger version)
Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in rehearsals for Satori.
© Srđan Srđenović. (Click image for larger version)

Both pieces, yours and the solo, they sound very personal. Would that be right to say – there’s a lot of you in them?

Yes, yes, but again I hope it won’t be totally down to me. It will be my life but at the same time I’m hoping that it won’t just look like it’s my life(!) – it could be every man’s life and it could be every dancer’s life. And you know in Satori there will be a mother and there will be shadows and things like we all have. I will have my own journey there. I will learn how to love dance there. But every person should have their own experience by watching it. The music will definitely take them through that for sure.

How do you approach creating your own work? Obviously you have to commission things a long time in advance, and have those interactions, but when you actually get in the studio, to create steps not just for you but for everybody, do you go in with a clear vision of what you want or is it much more spontaneous?

The director (Gabriel Marcel del Vecchio) was giving me the information I needed, so I was listening to the music, but not really pushing anything. You know you shouldn’t really know anything… for me it was really to surrender to the experience. Not like “Oh, I’m going to make this much today”. I’m really going in and not knowing anything. Not expecting anything. Not pushing anything – it just starts with nothing. Nothing about what we are doing here (he chuckles.) Nothing about why are you here, why am I here and what this first minute is about or what the second minute is about. It’s really understanding the action and once you start to build the world around you, then steps come.

Sergei Polunin.© Albert Watson. (Click image for larger version)
Sergei Polunin.
© Albert Watson. (Click image for larger version)

I don’t want it to be anything (specific) – it’s more about feeling – more about the way you feel inside. I want to keep it very simple and clear. There is so much noise in our lives and there is so much pressure to do anything. The origins are that it was simple before. You were clear, simple and now we find that everything is steps, steps, steps and the pressure to show steps. The whole thing should be clear and simple.

You are also going to be performing Kasyan Goleizovsky’s Scriabiniana. I didn’t know about the work before but I had a look at an old Bolshoi Ballet video, very 1960/70’s, and I thought WOW! – isn’t that ahead of its time.

He was about 25 years ahead of his time. And contemporary dance came from that – this is the origin of contemporary. Not just classical, and Balanchine was inspired by it and Grigorovich 20 – 25 years later was, I think, also inspired by this choreography.

How did you come across Scriabiniana?

Well, I was at a meeting and we were trying to think about what was going to be in the programme. Natalia Osipova was there, but she wasn’t actually at the table she was just sitting in a corner quietly looking at her phone. And she listened to the conversation and what I was trying to achieve – one of the goals of the project is to not just create new works but to find works that are forgotten and to restore them – and she said why don’t you look at this work: Scriabiniana. And the sound of everything was right. We spent time going to the theatres and finding the score etc – it’s like a full restoration. But the dancers will do it differently. It’s dancers from our time.

But Goleizovsky shouldn’t have been forgotten because he gave life to dance. He did a lot for dance and the same with the music I think – Scriabin’s music is absolutely beautiful and it will be played by the full orchestra. I think the musicians are very excited about it because Scriabin is having a renaissance right now.

We very much look forward to Scriabiniana, but can I ask who your wider dance heroes are – who are the people you look up to from the past and now?

I watched many of course. But the one that stuck with me was Vladimir Vasiliev. I watched Spartacus a lot and (Mikhail) Baryshnikov is a huge inspiration to me as well. A lot of technique I got from him – from watching him a lot. Really studying the way he looks, how he jumps. There was Rudolf Nureyev I was reading about a lot. But not necessarily like I copied any of his dancing – I was more fascinated about his energy, reading about him rather than watching him. And some of the technique I got from Vladimir Vasiliev – like manly movement. I tried to take as much as possible from that and Baryshnikov’s incredible technique.

Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in rehearsals for Satori.© Srđan Srđenović. (Click image for larger version)
Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in rehearsals for Satori.
© Srđan Srđenović. (Click image for larger version)

Yes, absolutely incredible. Can I ask what you, we would say in England, what makes you ‘tick’? What makes you happiest, what- makes you ‘sing’ in a way?

Well, what makes me tick is to keep moving forward, keep getting new experiences. Going forward, that’s what’s exciting to me.

Sometimes you seem to have a love/hate relationship with ballet and you’ve talked about doing other things in life. Is it fair to say you kind of sometimes fall out of love with ballet, but it’s always there?

Yes – for sure. I mean I have to say it’s very challenging work and it’s very hard. So it’s not like, umm, I don’t know, you can’t just sit down and, you know, and think and just enjoy – you have to be moving. To be a dancer you have to be moving, so it’s constant energy you have to have. It’s very tiring, you have to do class every day, you have to do rehearsals to be in shape, you have to learn things, you have to perform – pressure. So it’s not that I like – I can say that it’s work – it’s really hard work. Yes and for me I’ve started to do movies as well, so it became a doubling of things and the Project so it’s tripling – even more. But that’s more exciting! When I do everything – then I am happy! But if it’s just one thing then something is missing. I wouldn’t be happy just to do movies and I wouldn’t be happy just to do ballet. I wouldn’t be happy just to do a project. It has to be all, then you are not missing anything.

Where is home for you now – do you feel you have a home? Or are you always on the move for one reason or another?

Well on the move at the moment. And it’s been like that since probably April. I never go back! (chuckling) People ask “When are you coming back?” And I’m like “I never go back! – I’m moving forward!”

That’s funny – one of my questions is/was: Do you ever have regrets or is it always onwards and upwards? I guess you’ve just answered that!


You always move forward, but do you ever have any regrets? Do you ever reflect and think “Umm, should have perhaps done that differently?”

Yes… I mean when I left the Royal Ballet world, doors opened to me and I didn’t take opportunities because I wasn’t ready. It took me, 4, 5, 6 years to get to the place where I was ready. (Fact: he left The Royal Ballet on 24 Jan 2012 – 5 years, 10 months ago.) So I wish I would have had the good sense of mind and the good people around me – and the strength to do ‘it’ straight away. So it takes time and sometimes you waste time because you are not ready. And it’s like a year goes past and then you are back at the same point! And then it becomes “So now I’m ready”. But you learn a lot, if yes, sometimes you regret wasting time.

I have to ask – do you think you might ever guest again with a well known London based ballet company?

Er – the Royal Ballet? (BM: Yes)

I would love to. I really would. But I really want to have a conversation. You know like I didn’t feel like I could have a conversation – yet – about how things can be done differently. So until I feel that they’re open to a conversation about it – an open public conversation amongst sponsors and amongst theatre people and administration, about how we can progress, how we can treat dancers differently and make their lives better – there is no point for me to come back. I don’t feel a need for my own ego. Critics talk about why did I leave? Yes I did it, but it’s not what it’s about – it’s about changing things to be better. But I have great feelings about the company. I think it’s one of the best, if not the best company in the world. I just wish they give a good example to other companies and make dancers’ lives better and move forward.

They (Royal Ballet) are not unusual in their approach to the way they work…

Yes, but if they will change, many things will change.

We’ve got a couple of minutes left. I have 2 questions, one big and one small. The big one is… you are 28 now, where do you want to be in 10 years’ time, or where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? And the other one… have you had any new tattoos done lately?!

No I haven’t! (laughing)

Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in rehearsals for Satori.© Srđan Srđenović. (Click image for larger version)
Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in rehearsals for Satori.
© Srđan Srđenović. (Click image for larger version)

So where are you going to be in 10 years time?

I don’t know. I would like to be able to have enough support, enough funds to sponsor kids around the world, talented kids. I want to find them and I want to sponsor them. And I want to be able to have enough power and enough influence to put artists together and give them the opportunity to create. Combine people and see what they will make. And I would like my projects to go all around the world. I would like to be everywhere!

That’s big! Do you ever think about running a major ballet company? So most companies are a bit like the Royal in the way they run – do you ever think about running a major company and making it the way you feel it ought to be?

I don’t want to get stuck in one place. It’s a 24-hour job and you have to deal with a lot of people. That’s the hardest thing – to deal with people. And a company has hundreds of people to deal with. And everybody is relying on you and so it’s mostly dealing with other people’s problems. And I don’t want to compete with other companies. I want to create a platform where I can give opportunities away from companies for artists to create something. And they can come back to the company, but I want to give that freedom of movement and creativity. I’m not stuck to one thing; I’m more mobile and that way you can collaborate with many, many people.

I want to inspire people to create. Because sometimes in a company you get stuck and you don’t think creatively, so you are just doing the routine and, you know, company tells you what to do and you do it well. But I think everybody can be creative and it’s important to get together and think of ideas. It’s amazing, even when 2 people talk, so many ideas can come up. Imagine if 6 people were together and 8 people… The best experience is when you are creating – that gives you the biggest pleasure.

That’s a very happy and positive note to end on. I really look forward to seeing the shows and you doing ballet your way.

Thank you

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