BWW Review: PROJECT POLUNIN, Sadler's Wells
One will rarely see Sadler's Wells brimming with more anticipation than at the premiere of a Sergei Polunin triple bill. Fans will always flock to see the Ukrainian star alongside his real-life partner, Royal Ballet Principal Natalia Osipova. However, Project Polunin feels sadly like the vanity project some feared it would be.
The evening opens with an indulgent pas de deux, Icarus, The Night Before the Flight. These classical dancers are often keen to express themselves in other forms, however they stick to what they do best in this first piece, with Sergei Slonimsky's intense score providing a dramatic backdrop to the story.
Polunin is a conflicted lover choosing between taking his morning flight and his beloved Aeola (Osipova). Polunin leaves the audience in no doubt of his strength and power in what is mostly a showcase of his skill. His effortless pirouettes and jetes across the stage to Osipova's ethereal beauty, who then desperately clings onto him through a series of lunges and leaps while wrapping a single leg protectively around his torso, makes for a delicious combination. One never worries that these two might not pull off a complex lift or jump, as they are so clearly in tune with each other. Osipova plays Aeola as a little needy but believably so.
The score continues to dictate the story - the narrative is secondary and not always clear, but it matters not. Polunin conveys his inner conflict well enough even if it's hard not to see it as one of the adolescent acts of rebellion that we're used to from him.
The second piece, Tea & Coffee, promised an insight into the banality of modern family life and features neither Polunin or Osipova - and that's not the only reason it is best forgotten. A work with its roots very much in Russia, it features a typical four-piece family set-up. The mother and father, and the brother and sister are paired up for the most. Polunin's choreography is hugely physical and the two pairs constantly cavort around the stage. The lights dim every few minutes and we hear the smash of a coffee cup. Repeat times four. It's a work that will leave even the hardiest of fans scratching their heads.
The centrepiece to this curious triple bill is Narcissus and Echo. One cannot review this work without discussing the role of the costuming, designed by Brett Alan Nelson. To be blunt, very little is left to the imagination, with Polunin's glittery jockstrap the main attraction. It took the ladies sitting next to me a good five minutes to control themselves at the start of this space age-themed work, also choreographed by Polunin.
The story focuses on narcissism and self-obsession, as Polunin's Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection and is eventually consumed by a murky pit at the back of the stage.
Osipova and Polunin are are supported by a cast of Nymphs and Theban boys, who are equally clad in very little but a flesh-coloured body stocking and small square of billowing material. Osipova's costume is perhaps the most bizarre of all: in a glittering bodysuit, she wafts elegantly amongst the ensemble.
Polunin spends much of the piece asleep on a glowing planet. It's a frustrating work that comes to no satisfying conclusion, no grand pas de deux, no great moment of reconciliation, their contributions feeling relatively isolated from one other - and, after this frankly quite baffling showing, I wouldn't be surprised if the audience felt pretty isolated too.
Project Polunin runs at Sadler's Wells until March 18
Image credit: Alastair Muir