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:: Dancer

Ukranian-born Sergei Polunin’s devotion to ballet dancing gets the royal treatment in Dancer, a documentary directed by Steven Cantor (Chasing Tyson). Using video clips of Sergei from his childhood on through his later dance training and performances, the film convinces us of the man’s extraordinary talent. He is also the bad boy of ballet - he has tattoos, and he parties. At first, the documentary Dancer promises to deliver on a tell-all bio. Instead, it allows Sergei to tell his side of the story unchallenged.

Sergei earned fame at a very young age. He was accepted into the Royal Ballet School in London and ended up as an admired principal dancer for ballets performed not just in London but also in Moscow as well as back in the Ukraine and in other international venues. The short clips of Sergei in these magnificent ballet performances are great value. All alone with no parental supervision (his mother was refused a visa to go to London with him), Sergei began rebelling at an early age, testing the limits. Later, as the company pushed him to perform more, he pushed back, hard. He would go on drug benders, miss rehearsals, disappear for days at a time, and often perform under the influence of cocaine, which he claims made him a better dancer. Finally, in 2012, having achieved virtually everything a dancer could accomplish by the age of 22, he quit.

Because of his bad reputation, he was rejected by every prestigious ballet company in the United States. So, Sergei turned in the other direction and went to Russia, where he performed on a reality TV/contest show where his talents were largely wasted. Tired of the system and the harsh life of a professional dancer, he later quit yet again. When Sergei performs his famous last dance, “Take Me to the Church,” he takes our breath away. That entire dance was posted on the internet, and it went viral. People all over the world were inspired by watching his video. Toddlers even began copying Sergei’s moves in front of the TV set.

There are plenty of longtime friends here to offer a sympathetic view of the dancer’s behaviour. However, never are Sergei's detractors given a voice except in brief news clips. Hardly ever do we hear a critical point of view. Even though the film does a fine job of presenting the audience with his humble beginnings, the filmmakers never really take the time to examine the rebellious behaviour. It's a bit of a missed opportunity to make a larger statement about the world of ballet and celebrity.