BWW Review: SERGEI POLUNIN, London Palladium

BWW Review: SERGEI POLUNIN, London PalladiumBWW Review: SERGEI POLUNIN, London PalladiumIt happens every now and then that a reputation becomes so prominent, it's hard to see the person inside of it. Sergei Polunin, the Ukrainian ballet dancer, is dwarfed by two gigantic reputations: he is the "next Baryshnikov" according to everyone, except to those who call him a homophobic, fatphobic jerk.

It was on the basis of the latter reputation, and the rants he's posted online, that Polunin was dropped from the Paris Ballet Opera this year, and also why some agents stopped selling tickets to his ongoing London shows. It was Polunin's status as the next Baryshnikov, however, that allowed him nearly to sell out anyway.

The first of Polunin's London shows consists of three modern compositions. Fraudulent Smile is a creepy, clever piece, evocative of Berlin cabaret and puppet shows. The performance toes the line between playful and forceful, between fun and frightening.

Set to new music by Polish band Kroke, it's a piece that grapples with the same questions Polunin's critics have levelled at him: questions of power, gender, and culture. Fraudulent Smile doesn't provide any answers, but it shows that Polunin at least isn't oblivious to the thin line between provocative and pejorative.

It also gives Polunin a chance to show off the complete range of his technique, which is, as his fans say, possibly unparalleled in the world today. He is an exceptionally athletic dancer, capable of great leaps and precise landings. The finale of Fraudulent Smile is a rush of energy and form, Polunin manifesting a thunderstorm en pointe.

That's why it's so surprising that in the show's final act, Sacré, Polunin takes a nap. Set to a section of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, the piece features its star lolling around on the floor, playing with leaves, inspecting, exploring the stage at the pace of an inquisitive toddler. The action, supposedly, is internal, but thunderstorms aren't known for their subtlety. Polunin is one of the finest dancers in the world, but as an actor, he doesn't make much of an impact.

One unexpected delight is the performance of Russian dancer Alexey Lyubimov, who joins Dejan Kolarov in a pas de deux set to Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale. The actual conception is a bit hokey - the ballet of war! - but Lyubimov is an exquisitely graceful dancer who leaps above the source material.

Sergei Polunin at the London Palladium until 1 June

Photo by Alexey Kerkis

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