Brett Nelson / DanceTabs

Project Polunin – Icarus, The night before the Flight; Tea or Coffee; Narcissus and Echo – London

Project Polunin

Icarus, The night before the Flight; Tea or Coffee; Narcissus and Echo

I begin this notice with a codicil. Let this preamble show my unbounded admiration for the spirit and rationale of Project Polunin. It is always a worthwhile experience to see this young man dance, even if it does serve to highlight all the missed opportunities for doing so over the past five years.

In case you’ve been in solitary confinement over that time, Sergei Polunin was the youngest principal dancer that The Royal Ballet has ever had but he gained more fame for walking out of that institution, aged just 21, in 2012, than he ever had as one of its leading dancers. Suddenly, this newfound notoriety took his name out of the arts sections and onto the front pages. At the time, he declared a desire to find A-list celebrity, perhaps as an actor in the USA; but, instead, he rediscovered a passion for ballet, in Russia, through the guidance of another great dancer, Igor Zelensky.

Today, Polunin is certainly ballet’s “A-lister” and thanks to 18 million views of his YouTube-distributed solo to Hozier’s Take me to Church, his celebrity has extended beyond the balletomanes. Ironically, now that he seems to be at peace with ballet, Polunin is breaking through into acting with a role opposite Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrows and a part in Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming Murder on the Orient Express.

It also helps to be one half of dance’s celebrity couple, alongside Natalia Osipova. Last year, he supported her Project, a triple bill of new work; this year, she returns the second fiddle favour for his triple bill. The similarity doesn’t end there. It seems to be an unfortunate truth that great dancers are, far more often, than not, incapable of making or producing great work. A 45 year-old reminder of this tendency is evidenced in the opening number, an example of all that was not so good about Soviet Union ballet in the 1970s.

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