Sergei Polunin, Unapologetic About His Social Media Spiral, Is Somehow Still Getting High-Profile Dance Jobs
After a slew of homophobic and misogynist Instagram posts got Sergei Polunin dropped from an engagement with the Paris Opéra Ballet and a host of other opportunities, we thought we'd heard the last of him for a while.
And he has been relatively quiet for the past two months, at least on social media. (In one interview he says that he deleted his Instagram; in another he says it was hacked and shut down.) We hoped he was taking time for a much-needed intervention—some of his posts were truly disturbing and suggested deeper issues at play.
Screenshot via Instagram
But the quiet didn't last long. Yesterday, The Guardian released an exclusive interview with Polunin—one that he initiated, approaching a writer who didn't know about ballet because Polunin "hates talking about ballet."
Polunin wanted to explain his recent activity on social media, his manager told writer Simon Hattenstone.
Great! We could all use some clarification about why he said that he wants to slap fat people and effeminate men. (Not to mention an explanation of his chest tattoo of Vladimir Putin.)
But the story left us with more questions—and made us wonder why his unacceptable behavior is still being normalized by those who continue to hire him for performances and program him for appearances.
In the interview, Polunin claims that his social media spiral began from a place of love. In September, he posted on Instagram that he wanted to "unite England, Russia and Ukraine." But "nothing happened," he says. It's unclear if he means that his post did not inspire the three countries to "unite" or that he didn't get a satisfactory amount of praise for his diplomatic efforts. Another "manifesto of love" intended for Instagram wouldn't send. This was enough of a "sign" to redirect Polunin to post a message about his admiration for Putin instead.
From there, Polunin's downward spiral seems to be a series of intentional acts of self-sabotage. When showing love for Putin didn't inspire the feedback he wanted, he started posting threatening political messages instead. (He was then banned from returning to his home country of Ukraine and told by the "Russian administration" to "stop polluting" Russian media space.) The revelation of the chest tattoo came soon after.
Polunin's Putin tattoo.
Screenshot via Instagram
Polunin told Hatterstone that he was enjoying the deluge of criticism. "The energy attacks your heart, your stomach, it almost throws you off balance. And it's amazing to feel it because you feel a connection to the world," he says. "The only way I knew how to build is to destroy everything and build from scratch. The most amazing feeling in the world is destroying. It takes so much strength and patience and time to build, and destruction is fast, fast, fast. Explosive."
We know what came next: The homophobic posts that finally made the dance world take notice. "I see lots of pictures of males wearing pointe shoes and this is disgusting because you cannot flatten female and male energy because they are two different things," he told Hatterstone. "Why are you lifting your legs like girls? What are you doing? Be a man."
Screenshot via Instagram
While making a similar point during an interview with journalist Tanit Koch at the DLD conference in January, Polunin goes as far as to say: "Everybody agrees with me. In the ballet world, everyone thinks that."
As for the fat-shaming, he says that was a joke made only to get a reaction. But in the DLD interview Polunin says that "he doesn't agree with when kids are fat."
And while he admits that he isolated his friends and lost a significant amount of money, he doesn't regret his recent behavior, instead calling it a "revelation, an epiphany."
It's easy to make a joke out of Polunin's situation. And Hatterstone often does. But the dancer's downfall should be taken seriously—both because of what it implies about his mental health, and because of the deeply troubling ideas that we normalize when we tolerate his behavior.
Take his swastika tattoo. "The ancient Slavik swastika is one of the nicest symbols if you carry it well. If you do destructive things, like Hitler did, it destroys you," he told Hatterstone. "I really want to change this horrible thing about this beautiful light symbol." Obviously, this tattoo and his justification of it would be unacceptable even if there wasn't a rising tide of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism in the West.
Polunin in Spartacus.
In the DLD interview, he claims that everything he's done has been on purpose, and that he's been aware of the consequences all along. "To get attention sometimes you need to do something off," he says.
We can't excuse his behavior by supposing that he's struggling with mental health or drug issues. But both scenarios are possible, and obviously, delicate.
Perhaps more delicate than Hatterstone's tongue-in-cheek tone allows. And certainly too delicate to pretend like Polunin can go on performing as usual.
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Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.