It’s a cruel Shakespearean twist that Sergei Polunin’s natural gift is actually a burden. In fact, the most talented dancer of his generation had little say in the matter. Forced into training at the age of three, the Ukrainian child prodigy swapped gymnastics for ballet and soon earned comparisons with Rudolf Nureyev. Then, in 2012, Polunin sent shockwaves by quitting the Royal Ballet at 22. It followed a period where he earned – perhaps craved – press attention for all-night partying, erratic tweeting (“Does anybody sell heroin?”) and performing on coke. The natural highs of pirouetting, it seems, weren’t enough.
In Steven Cantor’s probing new film, Dancer, Polunin is introduced via the filthy riffs of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, a knowing wink to the now 27-year-old’s “bad boy of ballet” label. The documentary was intended to be Polunin’s farewell to dance; instead, it inadvertently launched a comeback. When “Take Me to Church” – a music video guest-directed by David La Chappelle for the film – was leaked in 2015, it went viral, amassing what’s currently at 19 million views.