Whatever Happened to Sergei Polunin?


Photo by Rick Guest

Scandal and Loss

Sergei Polunin, the Royal Ballet principal who walked out of Covent Garden last January with the intention of quitting ballet created quite the stir. In follow-up tweets and interviews, Polunin seemed to be done with dancing, a possibility which shocked the dance world.

“The main impact though, was a sense of loss. A dancer like Polunin comes along every two or three decades; to see him demonstrate a movement is to see a blueprint of perfection…Polunin has it in him to be the heir of both stars (Nureyev and Baryshnikov), adding Nureyev’s feral impulse to Baryshnikov’s phenomenal virtuosity and clarity…” says Julia Kavanagh in a recent interview with Polunin.

Some Answers

The Economist’s Intelligent Life section just published a lengthy article about Polunin’s choice on that January day in London. It also discusses where he has landed some eight months later. While he may have given the impression that he had tired of the disciplined life of a ballet dancer, it turns out he needed something very specific. And he found it in Igor Zelensky, the new artistic director of Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theatre.

“(Zelensky) knew I was going to like him, as a father figure. And he was right. That’s what really convinced me. It’s him,” Polunin told Kavanagh. And so he took a contract with the Stanislavsky, where he will dance for the next four years. Kavanagh says that Polunin found in Zelensky a friend and a mentor. “Always what I needed was a person who believed in me. Like a teacher. I don’t need them to say anything. I just need their support,” said Polunin.

That quote seems to sum up what had been missing for him at the Royal and how finding it has brought him back to his passion for dance. I am particularly thrilled that he’s back onstage because watching him dance live is on my bucket list.

Lessons from Yoga – Lesson 1

Three years ago, I started to practice yoga. It was something I had always meant to do, but somehow never got around to it. After I was diagnosed with arthritis in my feet and it became too painful to do ballet classes for fun, it seemed like a good time to give yoga a try.

Now I cannot imagine NOT practicing yoga. It has changed my body, my strength, and the inner workings of my mind in ways that I could not have imagined. I’m going to share some of the lessons I have learned from practicing yoga that you might find applicable to your ballet training. Let me also say that if I had practiced yoga as a dancer, I think it would have helped me enormously. If only I had known…! *

First Lesson: Yoga is a Practice.

You might have noticed that I used that word a lot above: I practice yoga; I have a yoga practice. It took me a while to stop saying “I do yoga” or even “I take yoga.” “Practice” just sounded weird to me, but now I get it. Doing and taking aren’t the right words for yoga: we come to the studio and we practice. Which suggests a few things that are worth considering as a dancer:

  • We don’t expect perfection. The word practice gives us permission to work for something other than perfection. We don’t expect someone who is practicing piano to be perfect. Same thing here. In some ways, we almost expect mistakes, right? After all, we’re just practicing! What a relief both mentally and physically.
  • It’s a process. Practice implies a process: we are where we are, but we’re working to get better. It’s not about being able to do the poses, it’s about the daily process of getting there. I find this relieves pressure; if I don’t get it today, maybe tomorrow will be better.
  • Progress is ongoing. I have yet to hear a yoga teacher compare one day’s success with another day’s failure. In fact, they never say the word “can’t”- instead, they say things like, “Move into full lotus, if you can access it today.” Or “Just do headstand prep if your headstand isn’t available today…” Isn’t that a great concept? That some days, certain things just aren’t available? They’re not gone forever, you didn’t lose them, they’re just not always available on demand. It’s a much more gentle approach to progress than perhaps we allow ourselves in dance. I remember the frustration of feeling like I had lost my pirohuettes to the left- the agony! It was truly devastating.

I think this approach could have some major benefits for dancers. I also think the idea of having access to different areas of technique at different times is much more realistic than what we’re used to. Why not demand a little less in terms of outcomes and focus a little more on the process of our training? It might relieve some of that internal pressure we put on ourselves to be the perfect dancer every day.


* Or if only I had listened to my mother who suggested yoga on many occasions to me, but for some reason, I never listened. Argh!