Project Polunin: Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova dancing at the Banqueting House

Dubbed the most gifted dancer of his generation, Sergei Polunin shocked the dance world when he left the Royal Ballet with absolutely no warning, a move that cemented his reputation as the “bad boy of ballet” gained through the multiple tattoos scattered all over his body and his colourful drug past. Polunin felt the urge to dance from an early age – a feeling he described as being a “prisoner to your own body” – and eagerly pursued his passion, seeing it as the key to mend his broken family and gain independence and freedom.

But Polunin’s dream turned to a nightmare when, after becoming the youngest principal at the Royal Ballet in London, he realised that making it to the top didn’t make him enough money to pay for dinner, live in his own flat and bring his family over from Ukraine to live with him. On top of it, his contract at the Royal Ballet meant he couldn’t pursue that dance projects that really mattered to him. The decision to quit the dance world became, thus, inevitable.

Take Me To Church, David La Chapelle’s famous music video, was supposed to be Polunin’s adieu to ballet. Instead, its success prompted him to give dance another chance – this time, on its terms. In 2015, much to the relief of his fans, Sergei Polunin returned on the dancing stage with a new venture, Project Polunin.

Based in London, Project Polunin aims to create new ballets that challenge the perception of dance through live perfomances, support the work of dancers and choreographers and foster new talents. To achieve its aim, Polunin has enlisted the help of contemporary, world-renowned artists in every art field, from music to film.

This year’s programme includes three classic and model pieces, two of which have never been seen before: on the agenda at the Sandler’s Well Theatre are Tea or Coffee, a company piece choreographed by Andrey Kaydanovskiy; the world’s premiere of Narcissus and Echo, created by Polunin himself with composer Ilan Eshkeri; and the UK premiere of Icarus by Vladimir Vasiliev’s. Project Polunin 2016 opens on March 14th and tickets are already selling fast.

I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Project Polunin last Friday at the exclusive Banqueting Hall in Whitehall and was absolutely mesmerized by it. Clad in black from head to toe, Sergei Polunin and his partner Natalie Osipova twirled on the stage with a performance that was full of passion and pathos while solo ballerina Maria Saschakan, dressed in pure white, was equally captivating in her solitary endeavour.

Seeing Sergei dance on the stage, as everyone who was lucky enough to witness it well knows, is a magical experience. He’s a true force of nature, combing perfect technique, extreme precision, refined elegance and an incredible stage presence in every move, jump and pirouette. Words are not enough to describe how happy I am that Polunin hasn’t abandoned ballet as it is absolutely clear that he was born to dance.

It was a thoroughly amazing night and I have no doubt that Project Polunin will be a huge success, propelling this art form into an exciting new direction and capturing the hearts and souls of a whole new audience.

Project Polunin: Maria Saschakan dancing at the Banqueting House

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