Dancer

Review by Lena Hanafy

Directed by

Steven Cantor

Starring

Sergei Polunin

Anticipation.

Got to love a good dance film but don’t know much about the star in question.

Enjoyment.

Cantor succeeds in confounding opinions, presenting a well-structured, intriguing story.

In Retrospect.

An intimate portrait of an 
astounding artist.

This solid doc tells the the rags to riches back to rags back to riches tale of ballet-dancing bad boy, Sergei Polunin.

The world of ballet is typically depicted on-screen as a place where dancers strive for precision and athleticism. It is irrevocably associated with tutus and tights. Director Steven Cantor provides an intriguing perspective of the ballet world with his starkly-titled documentary, Dancer.

His subject is Ukrainian ballet prodigy Sergei Polunin, popularly known as the star of the David LaChapelle-directed viral video of Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’, but also the youngest principal dancer ever at the British Royal Ballet, from which he resigned at the age of 22.

At first, Cantor draws dangerously close to the classic biopic convention whereby the artist breaks down in the face of stardom. The film pays too much attention to Polunin’s ‘bad boy’ image, with numerous shots of newspaper headlines focusing on his drug habit, tattoos and erratic behaviour. The film over-does its attempts to defy preconceptions of ballet and supersede graceful, poised expectations with an almost hyper-masculine quality.

In spite of this, Cantor admirably succeeds in helping us relate to his star and subject. He uses home-video footage of his difficult childhood plus interviews with his family and friends to present an alternative image. He is a boy who simply wants to have fun and for his family to be reunited, but is almost hindered by the obligation of his talent. Pathos fills the space between subject and camera as Polunin states, “You’re a prisoner to your body, to your urge to dance.”

Unable to stop, unwilling to carry on, the subject embodies the nuance of dance as an art form in itself: as an expression, an expulsion, a curse. What we see is an artist who becomes disenchanted, loses his 
passion for the art and then his attempts to reclaim it on his own terms. By the end of the film Cantor plays the ‘Take Me to Church’ dance in full, signifying Polunin’s redefinition in light of all we now know. It is now the result of his own raw expression of internal struggle – a profound statement of his identity as a dancer and artist.

Published 10 Mar 2017

Tags: Sergei Polunin

Anticipation.

Got to love a good dance film but don’t know much about the star in question.

Enjoyment.

Cantor succeeds in confounding opinions, presenting a well-structured, intriguing story.

In Retrospect.

An intimate portrait of an 
astounding artist.

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