Project Polunin, Sadler's Wells | reviews, news & interviews
Project Polunin, Sadler's Wells
Project Polunin, Sadler's Wells
Can ballet's bad boy live up to the hype?
This is the comeback after the comeback-that-never-was. It's the anticipated full stage ballet after the hugely popular Youtube video. It's the press waiting to see if ballet's bad boy will do something wild. It's the fans waiting to see if Sergei Polunin really will be the second coming (he's often hailed as the modern day Nureyev). Pamela Anderson is in the audience. The atmosphere at Sadler’s Wells is crackling with a strange air of anticipation.
Polunin is infamous for his recreational drug use on and off the stage, his clubbing, scars, tattoos, the dramatic quitting of the Royal Ballet and walking-out on his West End comeback at the 11th hour. The 27-year-old Ukrainian-born ballet star clearly has the technique, panache and celebrity value to draw a crowd. But can he live up to the expectations that are being heaped upon him?
Unfortunately, it seems not. We’re thrown straight into the melodrama with Vladimir Vasiliev’s Icarus, The Night Before the Flight. A classical Russian piece through and through, it's set to tortured strings and a mournful chorus of voices paired with dramatic, flinging embraces, clunky lifts (his partner Natalia Osipova’s leg is flung over his shoulder and she’s dragged around in splits) and desperate runs to and from each other as Icarus decides whether or not to pursue his lifelong ambition to fly or cancel his plans for love. It’s a short piece and while it introduces Polunin’s soaring jumps, leaps in the round and fine technique, it's over before it’s begun and the curtain call seems as long as the performance itself.
Andrey Kaydanovskiy’s Tea or Coffee, for four dancers (not including Polunin) is an odd piece of opposing ideas. Two women and two men play out a domestic scene which ends, unfathomably, in tragic circumstances. The choreography is crude, consisting of one-dimensional interactions between pairs and overt gestures. There is a lack of coherence, as if the dancers don’t understand what’s being asked of them, they’re simply going through the motions.
The world premiere of Narcissus and Echo proved a baffling ending to a frankly bizarre evening. Created by Polunin in collaboration with composer Ilan Eshkeri, it tells the story of a boy who falls in love with his reflection, and is subsquently swallowed by his own demons. The irony of this narrative seems entirely lost on the proceedings, even though selfie projections of Polunin licking his own reflection beam down from two screens at the top of the stage before he is sucked into a hole. Dressed in a wildly blinging golden codpiece and surrounded by alluring semi-clothed ballet nymphs, this should be his self-penned chance to shine. But having spent half the show backstage, Polunin here spends half the piece asleep, slumped over a glowing planet as his dancers perform a haphazard (under-rehearsed?) piece with as much emphasis on pomp, posture and melodrama as on the ballet choreography.
There are moments when Osipova and Polunin shine. But it's not enough to simply put two ballet stars and a famous choreographer onto the stage. So for Polunin fans hoping for a treat, go and see his film, Dancer. It seems Polunin's story, or his fully-edited final cut, is better than the real thing.
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