It is four months aback Sergei Polunin acclimated Instagram to abort his career. And what a job he fabricated of it. Aback the Royal Ballet’s youngest anytime arch ballerina accepted Vladimir Putin and showed off his chest boom of the Russian president, told his macho colleagues that they’d bigger man up and appropriate that fat bodies bare a slap, he appealing abundant alienated the accomplished world. In January, the Paris Opera Ballet appear it had accursed the Ukrainian, aloof afterwards announcement it had assassin him to comedy the advance in Swan Lake. The bad boy of ballet absent about aggregate – acting and modelling jobs, a Ted talk, sponsorship.
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It was a absolute act of self-sabotage – but by no agency his first. This is the man who absolved out of the Royal Ballet eight years ago, age-old abandoned 21, aback he was already actuality compared to Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Last week, I accustomed an email from Tatiana Tokareva, Polunin’s manager. She asked if we could accommodated because the ballerina “is attractive to explain his contempo action on amusing media”. I told her I apperceive annihilation about ballet. That’s good, she said, because Polunin hates talking about ballet.
The abutting day I ascend four abrupt flights of stairs to access asthmatic at the London attic collapsed area he is staying. The aperture is open. Polunin is sitting in a chair, topless, accepting his photograph taken. I can’t stop staring at his torso. The Putin boom takes pride of place, amid a alternation of slash-like scars to larboard and right, a bawl wolf, the Grim Reaper, a amphitheater of swastika-like symbols on his abdomen and “I am not a Human” inscribed forth his waistline.
“Make yourself feel at home,” he says with a smile. “Would you like article to eat?” He passes me a bag with two beginning croissants inside, and gets beeline to the affection of the matter.
“For abounding years I saw the apple as two sides: east and west, two powers. And I was aggravating to chase what is white, what is black. Both abandon capital me,” he says with alluring gravitas. Aback he was in Russia, he consistently heard that Britain and the US were bad, and carnality versa. He says he believed he could break neutral, embrace all abandon and advise the apple to love. At times, Polunin sounds messianic, at others like a absent little boy.
He looks like a jailbait Baryshnikov. His face is as sculpted as his body, and he has a candied boom on his audacity – a affable and a amount three shaped into a heart. He says this dates aback to aftermost September aback he stood in Red Square in Moscow and declared he capital to “unite England, Russia and Ukraine”. (Although he was built-in and grew up in Ukraine, he has consistently admired himself as Russian.) Again, it was all about love. “But annihilation happened,” he says. He sounds baffled rather than disappointed.
Fast-forward a brace of months to the night of his 29th birthday, 20 November. He was in Qatar to accomplish a abbreviate film, bags of afar abroad from home. The film-makers larboard him abandoned in the arid for a brace of hours. All he had for aggregation were the stars. Aback he got aback to his hotel, he was still buzzing. That was aback he absitively to actualize a acclamation of love, to put out on Instagram. Polunin shows it to me. “Plant or animal, atramentous or white, gay or straight, man or woman, I consistently see things added than aloof a surface. I consistently attending abysmal central the actuality and you will see a admirable actuality in every animal being.” But the bulletin banned to send. He anticipation this was a sign.
Throughout that night, his Instagram followers were sending him altogether love. He capital to accelerate his own adulation aback in a allusive way, but the acclamation was acutely not meant to be. So he chose another, beneath message. He had adored Putin aback he was a child, apropos him as a ballsy strongman. “I thought, maybe I can amalgamate adulation with this actuality to say we accept to adulation everybody. I said: ‘All your abundant wishes you’re sending me for my altogether I’m activity to accelerate to Putin’ because ‘I see ablaze aback I see him.’”
That’s aback the backfire started. “The acknowledgment was like: ‘Fuck you! We’re activity to annihilate you. This is a dictator.’ And I was like: ‘Oh my God – this is the adverse to what I’d wanted.’” He admits he gets arresting aback he is beneath attack. “Stubborn as I am, I was like: ‘I’m activity to backpack on accomplishing the aforementioned shit.’ So I wrote added and got added hatred.”
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By now he had absitively love-bombing the apple with Putin was not working. So he afflicted tack. “Instead of cerebration art and adulation can unite, I started to be biased and threatening. I said: ‘I’m activity to acquisition you, and I apperceive who you are, and you’re activity to pay for what you’ve done to my country,’ that array of thing.” He giggles and blushes ablaze blush at the memory. Polunin acquaint on Instagram that he was praying Putin would become “leader of the world” because “it would be ultimate win over evil”.
But he was still befitting his award-winning Putin abstruse back. A few canicule later, he unleashed his chest boom on the world. “Thank you to Vladimir and anybody who is continuing for good,” he wrote alongside the image. “Then I got alike added hate.” Not surprisingly, the Ukrainian government was amid those who took answerability – decidedly afterwards Polunin performed in Crimea, which Putin had annexed in 2014. “Ukraine told me I couldn’t return. They put me on a account of terrorists and war criminals.” Afresh he blushes and giggles.
Surely he charge accept accustomed some adulation from Russia? Well, no, he says. “The Russian administering told me to stop communicable their media space.”
Then article alike drifter happened. Polunin begin he was adequate the hostility. “The activity attacks your heart, your stomach, it about throws you off balance. And it’s amazing to feel it because you feel a affiliation to the world.” Is it addictive? “Yes, it’s absolutely addictive because it makes you feel.” For years, he says, he had acquainted nothing.
He got a bang from seeing his afterward falling away, antagonising governments and corporations, accident affairs and friends, accident his life. “The abandoned way I knew how to body is to abort aggregate and body from scratch. The best amazing activity in the apple is destroying. It takes so abundant backbone and backbone and time to build, and abolition is fast, fast, fast. Explosive.”
I’ve met a cardinal of self-destructive artists, but cipher absolutely so blissful in their carelessness as Polunin. He has consistently been a arguable figure. At the Royal Ballet he begin rehearsals boring, claimed to accept performed on cocaine and appear that he capital to alive fast and die young. (James Dean is a hero.) Shortly afore he quit, he tweeted: “Does anybody advertise heroin?” He action about it today. “I anticipation it was funny. A brace of hours afterwards it was on the BBC news. Everybody anticipation I was a biologic addict. And in one ages accomplishing Twitter, I bankrupt my reputation.”
He additionally had amazing talent. The Guardian’s ball critic, Judith Mackrell, wrote that by the age of 11, his “skinny limbs” were “already shaped by a admirable band and advanced control”. Aloof afterwards he abdicate the Royal Ballet, Mark Monahan wrote in the Telegraph: “In agreement of raw ability, he is on a par with Nijinsky, Nureyev and Baryshnikov – except that he’s taller than the aftermost two, and far added beautifully ample than Nijinsky.” Best importantly, the critics said he knew how to abide a character.
But his accord with ballet has been ambivalent. He has said he was affected into it by his parents – his mother Galina, in particular, saw it as a way out of their drab, bankrupt actuality in the anchorage burghal of Kherson, southern Ukraine. At the age of 13, he won a abode at the Royal Ballet School. To abutment him, his ancestor Vladimir went to assignment as a architect in Portugal and his grandmother went to Greece to be a carer. Polunin, an abandoned child, dreamed of the day he would acknowledgment home a brilliant to attending afterwards them. He had been in Britain a year aback his mother Skyped him to acquaint him she and his ancestor had separated. He was devastated. “Something broke. I absitively I will never cry. I will never be emotional. I won’t affliction about anything. I became actual cold. I was actual affecting about aggregate before. I was actual affiliated to things.”
While dancing fabricated him feel free, he additionally associated it with pain, apathy and exploitation. He said he had not been accustomed acceptable artistic freedom; that “The artisan in me was dying … so I apprenticed the annul button.” The annul button has become a leitmotif for Polunin.
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In the amid eight years he has rebuilt his career a cardinal of times and, inevitably, apprenticed that annul button again. He went to Russia, area he was an unknown, won a civic aptitude competition, became a superstar and absolved away. In 2015, he danced in a video for the Hozier song Booty Me to Church. It was absolute Polunin area – tender, tortured, athrill – and alien him to a new audience. He was a brilliant again. This time, not aloof in ballet, but in the movies, too. Kenneth Branagh casting him in Murder on the Orient Express; he played adverse Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow. He started a foundation for adolescent dancers, and Paris Opera Ballet arrive him to comedy the prince in Swan Lake.
Which brings us aback to today. By this January he had ashore his approaching in eastern Europe with his Putin posts, but the blow of the apple hadn’t taken abundant notice. He admired the activity all that blame gave him and capital added of it. So now he started absolution rip in added aberrant English. “Man up to all men who is accomplishing ballet there is already ballerina on date don’t charge to be two. Man should be a man and woman should be a woman … That’s a acumen you got balls. Aforementioned anticipate Outside ballet, Man what’s amiss with you? Females now aggravating booty on the man role because you don’t fuck them and because you are an embarrassment.” He said that men bare to act like lions and wolves and adapted a slapping for actuality effeminate.
He insists that it was abandoned aback he angry his absorption to ample bodies (“Let’s bang fat bodies aback you see them. It will advice them and animate them to lose some fat. No account for laziness!”) that Paris Opera Ballet alone him. Aftermost week, Hozier distanced himself from Polunin, anecdotic his comments as “fucking depressing”.
I ask Polunin if he meant what he said in his rants. “Yes. I don’t see any macho activity presenting us in ballet. I see lots of pictures of males cutting pointe shoes and this is abominable because you cannot abrade changeable and macho activity because they are two altered things. Why are you appropriation your legs like girls? What are you doing? Be a man.”
He says he sees this gender flattening in accustomed activity – and afresh he disapproves. “Like sex changes – giving accouchement the befalling to change sex, men cutting lipstick on TV! What ethics are you teaching people?” Alike aback he rants, he does so quietly, with an atoning smile.
Polunin insists his point about adult activity has annihilation to do with animal orientation. “Somebody like Brando is my hero. Brando is the manliest man there is. He was bisexual. Nureyev had macho energy, Freddie Mercury. Alike Elton John has macho energy. They are not weak. if you are activity about actuality weak, activity will abort you.”
Was he talking about sex aback he said men had to be like lions and wolves? “Yes. It’s accepted ability that if man has sex with a woman she’s happy, and she’s not activity to be blessed if you don’t accept sex with her. And what is crazy now with the #MeToo movement is man is now afraid to coquette with women.”
Does he accept sex like a lion/ wolf? He blushes again, and about whispers his answer. “No, I accept in distinct adulation and I don’t accept in sex as mechanical. It’s spiritual.” Polunin, who acclimated to go out with the Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova, is currently single.
Well, that’s good, I say. We’ve austere up one thing: it’s all about macho activity rather than homophobia. He pauses. “For me it is not accustomed to watch it.” Watch what? “If two men kiss, I’m like [he makes a babble as if his abdomen is churning] because it is not accustomed to me.” Aloof aback you anticipate you’re accepting a anchor on Polunin, he blindsides you. Alike now, it’s adamantine to apperceive for abiding whether he agency it.
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He admits there is one affair he did say absolutely for effect. “When I said about fat people. I never saw bodies as fat or skinny. It’s article a acquaintance of abundance says, and I begin it funny. As anon as I did this affair about fat people, bodies were like: ‘Right, this is enough.’ It beyond the line. ‘This is abandon adjoin people!’”
It didn’t amount to him that everybody was walking out on him – he was accepting too acceptable a time. “Even my accompany were saying: ‘I’m activity to stop alive with you.’ Everybody had larboard by then. Big companies, big agencies, blur agencies, announcement company. I had to acknowledgment all the money.” How much? “Not crazy – about £100,000. Still, it was acceptable I wasn’t sued.”
Then on 20 February, three months to the day afterwards the alpha of his Instagram carnage, Polunin came abolition down. It was addition out-of-body experience. “It was like I could about see time. I was flying, flying, flying, and again it was like, boom! I was like, fuck, the energy’s gone. And I instantly deleted aggregate on my Instagram. I started to realise how brainless aggregate was.”
He remembered how it had all started with his appetite to affiliate the apple in love. “I capital to allocution about endlessly all the wars, endlessly all the negativity we have. But what I was accomplishing was pissing bodies off and putting bodies adjoin anniversary other.”
Does he affliction what happened? He looks at me as if I’ve absent the plot. Of advance not, he says – he never abjure anything. His administrator Tokareva talks about what happened to him as a anatomy of breakdown. But Polunin pooh-poohs that. No, he says, it was a revelation, an epiphany. “I anticipation it was one of the best abstruse adventures I’ve anytime been through. I abstruse how association worked, who is loyal to me, who is not. What is important to me, what is not.” His Instagram apocalypse has absolved him, he says. “I feel the freest actuality aback then. I see added bodies sleepwalking, and I’m absolutely alive attractive at everybody and accept regained the joy.”
I’ve been with him for three hours. Throughout, he has been absorbing and alert – alike if some of his angle accept been outrageous. As I leave, I ask him about the boom on his stomach. “Ah, that’s a kolovrat. In Germany, they say I’m a absolutist for accepting it. But the age-old Slavik swastika is one of the nicest symbols if you backpack it well. If you do annihilative things, like Hitler did, it destroys you. I absolutely appetite to change this abhorrent affair about this admirable ablaze symbol.” I acquaint him he is angry a accident action on that front. He laughs, but Polunin actuality Polunin, it has apparently aloof fabricated him alike added bent to popularise the swastika.
For now, though, he is attractive advanced to all the rebuilding that lies ahead. He is focused on adroitness – meditation, painting, choreographing, producing. He has alike got a few dancing gigs that accept survived the aspersion – arena the appellation role in the ballet Spartacus in Munich, and shows at the Palladium in London. He may alike amusement himself to a new tattoo. “I appetite to address ‘Save and protect’ beyond my shoulders.”
It’s a nice idea, but it may be a little backward for that.
Sergei Polunin dances in a alloyed programme at the London Palladium from 28 May to 1 June, poluninink.com
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