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2016 London Film Festival Review: Dancer – “A flawless piece of cinema”

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Many members of the YouTube generation may know Sergei Polunin as that guy who did an awesome video to Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’ (you can watch it below). In the ballet world, however, Polunin has developed something more of a reputation, as both the best ballet dancer around and the most unpredictable.

In this mesmerising documentary from director Steven Cantor, we take a closer look at Polunin’s unconventional upbringing as his family sacrificed everything to turn him into a star. Family members left the country to earn enough to send him to school in Kiev. Their whole world was him. Of course, this also put a tremendous amount of pressure on this young boy who would clearly have liked to see more of his family.

Dancer is a fascinating look at the level of dedication that is required in order to achieve greatness but it also explores the damage that can be done in pursuit of it. Polunin had an affinity for dance from a young age and when we see footage of him dancing aged 8 it’s a joyous thing to behold. He’s so light and free and talks about wanting to bring joy to those who watch him perform. As the film continues, his even-more-impressive performances take on a harder edge. There is more strength and power to them but there is also torment. You feel the raw pain and can really see that he is putting all of himself into whichever piece you’re watching.

After all the ups and downs of his teenage years, when he moved to London to study, and the pressure of his late teens/early twenties, you start to see just how much he is struggling. He talks about taking drugs before going out on stage, gets a lot of tattoos (which then, of course, need to be covered up before every performance) and generally losing the love he once felt. These battles then culminate in what many expected to be his ‘final dance’ – that Hozier video. I’d seen it and been impressed by it already but watching it again, as this incredible documentary draws to a close, there is a whole new depth to the piece. It’s a story, a battle and a piece of art that will be reflected upon for decades to come.

This is an intoxicating, captivating and beautifully put together documentary, with interviews with the man himself, friends, family and teachers. It really builds a picture of the wider story that was happening around him and elements he didn’t know how to process. Whether it’s to see more of Polunin’s performances or just to find out more about his story, this is a flawless piece of cinema for everyone to enjoy and think about.

Though his entire life has been dominated by ballet up to this point, Polunin is still only in his twenties. It will be really interesting to see what he does in the future. Hopefully, whatever it is, he can recapture the joy that brought him to dance in the first place and we can all continue to find joy in watching it. But after all this time, he’s more than earned the right to decide that for himself.

More London Film Festival coverage

5-out-of-5

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