This movie was not made by the Ukrainian team but it is about the Ukrainian ballet dancer who could speak to the world through his dance about his feelings and personal story. This documentary is produced by BBC films studio by Steven Cantor (I want to thank you a lot personally!) and the team who created and put it together. It was already nominated for couple of awards and screened on the film festivals.
Because it is a documentary I would like to go through the representation I got from watching it. I want to stick to the result of the combination of the words chosen to say and the shots made by the cinematographer as well taken from the personal Sergei Polunin footage. The reversible nonlinear dramaturgy technique of filming or, it is more appropriate to say, of montage is used because we do not see the linear development of the plot but it is rather mixed, it starts not from ‘the beginning’, sometimes going back and forth, confusing and making us collect the puzzle of shots. So I hope you are ready to begin putting it together 🙂
Music: Black Sabbath – Iron Man LISTEN TO IT WHILE YOU READ
The “Bad Boy of Ballet” shocked the world with his decision to leave the Royal Ballet claiming that it was “too restricted”. He was an easy material for the media to judge and predict his point “of no return”. Sergei Polunin is a controversial figure for whom was paid “so much promise” but while he was going down getting involved in scandals with alcohol, tattoos, drugs – press crossed his life as if it was over. I agree with his friend saying that they forget “he is still in his 20s”. They should have rather asked why would someone crave for so much attention?
Sergei became the youngest principal in the history in the Royal Ballet and they called him the”graceful beast”, “Wonder of Ballet” and “inspirational to watch”; Salvatore Scalzo said that he was special, he never danced the same way, he knew how to apply the rules of ballet adding something from his own personality. But what do you do when you are 20 and you already have everything? Why would someone still feel unfulfilled and empty? Because they do not know how else to ask for help. What is next? “There is nothing next”.
Impressive is the video made by his friends after Sergei left the Royal Ballet where he strips, dances and jumps into the snow as if he became relieved, “finally free”. There was nothing too loose because all we always have is only ourselves. He was absolutely naked and free not only from clothes but from the burden he felt he carried. “I didn’t choose ballet, it was my mother’s choice, I always hoped I get injured: no other option to not dance anymore”.
Ironically enough at some point we see the shot of his foot with the tattoo αχιλλεας, which might symbolise his weakest spot, because if something happens to his leg – that is it!
Whose dream was it then? Did he want it? Was he actually lucky? Was it the right choice? “I would lie if I say I don’t love dancing because it is the most joyable time when you actually there at the top, and you’re dancing through there, you jump and this is when.. you know, this is who you are“.
It is not our place to judge these choices and circumstances. This is what I love about this documentary: it does not impose the answer but it leaves the question open. Everyone will extract the meaning they are thirsty for.
Sergei was working so hard, twice more than the others: “it was a chance to get family together” but his parents divorced. He had the goal but no reason behind this goal, it was lost, this was domed to end badly.
Music: Coldplay – God Put A Smile Upon Your Face LISTEN TO IT WHILE YOU READ
The world of the theatre and ballet is fake. The shot: as soon as the curtain is down – actors’ faces change. They are emotionless and dull.
The life of stage is completely different from what one imagines, although it supposedly represents the Reality. It is difficult to remain yourself and live your life when you have to be someone on stage. The shot: Sergei is pinned with peaks on the stage: a literal parallel to how he felt. No one can see you behind the curtain. This might be the reason why he started taking pills or drugs, so they could make him fly, so they make him forget. He hated and loved dancing, he became a prisoner of his own body and the urge to dance. The ballet is a combination of motivation and discipline, but there came the point when he lost both. Sergei strived to let himself to dance how he felt: “those seconds are worth dancing for”.
You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching…. – William W. Purkey
He moved from “I want to dance to make people happy, to have a good figure, so it’s pleasant to watch me.. to be the best one, so people would remember me” to “You had to dance because you are good at it? [So] why am I doing this?!”.
Sergei made a decision: he asked his friend Jade Hale-Christofi to choreograph his last dance: his”stop [would] crush a lot of people”. It was a new challenge because it was a combination of contemporary which Sergei never danced before and ballet. The purpose was to tell about his life, to reflect the constant “fight with emotions, anger, tiredness, frustration”, how hard he worked, “catching the heaven”. The shot: Sergei’s half-crossed arms is a sign of nervousness.
It was directed by David LaChapelle in Maui, Hawaii.
While watching you feel the tension, you get the mood, you expect something to happen. The movie builds up the expectation to see the dance and you lose the patience: invisibly it prepares you as the silence before a storm.
Finally you see the shot which you have already seen at the beginning of the movie. The reversible technique of filming makes us think that this is sort of parallel of going back to the origins, as Sergei went back to Ukraine before he decided to create this dance.
Sergei’s costume reminded me the video where he dances in the snow having decided to leave the Royal Ballet: almost naked – there is his soul, there is nothing left to hide.
Going right into the dance language, we literally see him trying to “reach the sky” through the dancing as well as real life’s ups and downs.
Before the chorus – as if before a performance, before going on stage he prepares mentally, then the curtain opens (the chorus begins): he jumps, he is already on stage, he is handsome and everyone thinks nothing troubles him; but then he suddenly clings his head – the soul hurts, but nobody knows about it. The voice sings I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife: it is Sergei’s dance-confession to the world. He runs, he stumbles, but continues to move. He crawls, he scrambles out, as he pulls through the life, he kneels, the sun shines. At the moment when he ‘metaphorically’ scratches his chest, he goes over his real scars or tattoed-scars, as if this hints to the origins of those marks.
He jumps high as if he flies: this makes you want to fly as well. The way it was filmed matters because it is done from the ground ‘perspective’ which increases the heights of his lunge and gives that flying feeling to already present height.
Sergei finishes falling down on his knees with his hands down: he gives up, he decided to leave. He did everything he could.
Silence after. Is it the unfulfilled feeling or maybe it is fulfilled now? Waiting has begun.
He was crying during the shooting although he has not cried for years since his parents divorced. We see him through the bars of the park grid: he looks like a prisoner. It brings back to what Sergei said himself about his feelings about ballet.
I have been doing ballet for about 10 years and what I remember the most is that the dance is not just some beautiful movements but it is language of plasticity of our bodies, so I always aspired to put the message to deliver my story. I remember when I accidentally watched this video-dance I screamed to myself that I have not seen something like this in YEARS! This was magical and inspiring, and moreover I also wanted to make a video-dance inspired by Sergei Polunin. It is funny because in the movie they say that there were millions who had the same thoughts: “one day you’ll jump as high as he does”. I remember the post I shared on Twitter that “this video will make you fall in love with ballet”, but is not this ironic that it was supposed to be his LAST DANCE?
Part of the movie is the scene where Sergei shaves his head, whether it was intentionally or not this could be read as a symbol. This might bring back his statement about being the prisoner to the ballet, his might mean acceptance or obedience, transformation or a new beginning and lost of the fear (there are other literature (V for Vendetta) and pop-culture (Twenty One Pilots) references). We see him warming up in the rehearsal room, before he starts.. dancing again! His parents see him dancing for the first time: “I used to feel very nervous when my parents were watching but [now] it feels good to share it with them”.
“You are the best!” is the common phrase one would expect to hear from a grandmother about her grandchildren, but the irony is that in this case it is also the ‘universal truth’ for the world of ballet.
Dancer is not just a person who dances but dancer is a ‘fighter’, dancer is an ‘individual’.
Watching this was like to dive into a deep water. I stayed there for the whole time and after it finished, I was able to finally exhale with greed. I felt relieved. I was trembling. It is strange and fascinating to see how someone’s life can turn. You understand and sympathise with them, but you cannot find the answer on questions raised throughout watching.