Dancer (2017) – Review

Director: Steven Cantor

The Overview
Sergei Polunin is a breathtaking ballet talent who questions his existence and his commitment to dance just as he is about to become a legend. (Source: IMDb)

The Good
A huge name in the world of dance, Sergei Polunin was the youngest ever principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, who became somewhat infamous for his shock exit from the company in 2012, aged just 23. Quitting at the point when his career was about to enter stratospheric places, and with a penchant for partying hard, led Sergei to be media branded as the “bad boy of ballet”. Whilst he will already be familiar to those who follow ballet, many will now recognise him as the dancer behind the viral video sound-tracked by Hozier’s “Take Me to Church”.

This documentary is essentially leading up to the aforementioned video, providing a captivating and compelling insight into the man himself. The events are told chronologically, taking us from his childhood in Kherson, Ukraine, where prospects were limited and his entire family put his dancing career ahead of themselves after seeing how much promise he showed. The sacrifices the family made are quite extraordinary, and their split, both geographically and relationally, provided the catalyst for his rise to infamy, but also had a detrimental effect on Sergei emotionally. 

Carrying the weight of expectation from his well-meaning parents, it is evident that Sergei feels somewhat deprived of his ability to choose whether he wanted to pursue a career in dance, and it is simultaneously a blessing and a curse to him. When ballet is all he has known, it becomes as important to his survival as breathing, and despite the overwhelming fame that comes with it, and his obvious love for the art, it also becomes something he resents. The documentary touches slightly on his depression, and Sergei is somewhat of a tortured soul. The interspersed scenes of him dancing contrast wonderfully with some of the more withdrawn and contemplative moments, serving as a constant reminder of his incredible talent, and the sadness that he seemingly flew too close to the sun too quickly.  

The Bad
At around 85 minutes, Dancer is pretty short, and admittedly could’ve done with being a little bit longer. It didn’t touch on personal areas of his life, such as his battle with depression, as much as perhaps it could. 

This seems a strange thing to criticise, but Dancer is told in a very “standard” documentary style, and considering the subject matter, I think there were opportunities for more creative expressionism in the way it was conveyed, reflecting the incredible talent and skills of Sergei himself.

The Verdict
I saw this movie and you should too. Dancer is a fascinating look at Sergei’s rise, fall, and rebirth, and there is much to be appreciated even if you’re not particularly well-versed in ballet. If all you know him from is the “Take Me to Church” video, then this documentary offers a mesmerizing prelude to it, elevating the already visceral power of the viral video to even greater significance when his background and incredible career is taken into consideration. Absolutely worth checking out! 

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