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Still via YouTube

American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside is known for more than just his uber-charismatic presence on the ballet stage; He doubles as both the drag queen Ühu Betch and the pop star JbDubs. Whiteside's newest musical release, titled WTF, came out last week, and is for sure his most ballet-filled song to date. Both the lyrics and the choreography are jam-packed with bunhead references, from the Rose Adagio to Haglund's Heel to a framed portrait of George Balanchine. Not to mention the fact that he and his four backup dancers (Matthew Poppe, Douane Gosa, Maxfield Haynes and Gianni Goffredo) absolutely kill it in pointe shoes.

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Dance in Pop Culture
In a still from The White Crow, Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) looks out over Paris from the roof of the Palais Garnier. Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

I caught a preview screening of The White Crow earlier this week at New York City's 92Y, and I have to say: Even with a solid grasp of dance history and a smattering of film studies knowledge, I had some questions when the credits rolled. The Ralph Fiennes–directed Rudolf Nureyev biopic dramatizes the events leading up to the ballet star's famous defection from the Soviet Union, touching on incidents from his childhood and his years at the Leningrad Choreographic School.

So before you check out the film (which has a limited release in NYC and Los Angeles today), here are a few details that might be helpful to know.

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Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nuryev in "The White Crow." Still via YouTube.

It's the moment many of us have been waiting for since early 2017: our first glimpse of The White Crow, a feature film about Rudolf Nureyev's 1961 defection from the Soviet Union while on tour with the Kirov Ballet. Directed by Hollywood A-lister Ralph Fiennes, the movie follows Nureyev from his birth on a train in Siberia to his request for asylum at Paris' Le Bourget Airport. It is based on Julie Kavanaugh's 2007 book, Nureyev: A Life.

THE WHITE CROW - Official Trailer - Directed by Ralph Fiennes www.youtube.com

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Aurelie Dupont explained she did not share Polunin's values. Photo via Instagram

Sergei Polunin, whose recent homophobic and sexist Instagram posts have sparked international outrage, will not be appearing with the Paris Opéra Ballet as previously announced.

POB artistic director Aurélie Dupont sent an internal email to company staff and dancers on Sunday, explaining that she did not share Polunin's values and that the Russian-based dancer would not be guesting with the company during the upcoming run of Rudolf Nureyev's Swan Lake in February.

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If you follow Sergei Polunin on Instagram, you've probably noticed that lately something has been...off.

Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:

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Dance in Pop Culture
Albert Watson, courtesy of Pirelli Calendar

We were beyond excited to see the annual Pirelli Calendar when it was announced last summer that Misty Copeland was to be one of four women featured in the 2019 edition. And now, the wait is finally over.

Albert Watson, courtesy of Pirelli Calendar.

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Sergei Polunin and Misty Copeland lead a corps of 18 dancers in choreography by Liam Scarlett. Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The wait for Disney's reimagining of The Nutcracker is over. Although The Nutcracker and The Four Realms is not a full-length ballet, woven into the plot is a five-minute performance by megastars Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin alongside 18 supporting dancers, with a CGI Mouse King moved by jookin sensation Lil Buck (aka Charles Riley). Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett led the film's choreography in his first major motion picture experience. "It was a call I didn't expect to get," says Scarlett. "I really am the biggest Disney fan, so I couldn't believe it!"

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Just for Fun
Sergei Polunin and Misty Copeland lead a corps of 18 dancers in choreography by Liam Scarlett. Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The wait for Disney's reimagining of The Nutcracker is over. Although The Nutcracker and The Four Realms is not a full-length ballet, woven into the plot is a five-minute performance by megastars Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin alongside 18 supporting dancers, with a CGI Mouse King moved by jookin sensation Lil Buck (aka Charles Riley). Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett led the film's choreography in his first major motion picture experience. "It was a call I didn't expect to get," says Scarlett. "I really am the biggest Disney fan, so I couldn't believe it!"

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Dance in Pop Culture
Sergei Polunin joins the models dubbed the Balmain Army for the fashion house's Fall/Winter 2018 campaign. Photo by An Le, via Instagram.

Joining all of the fashion month festivities is Sergei Polunin—but you won't catch him walking down the runway. The dancer- turned-actor is dipping his toes into the modeling world as part of the campaign for Balmain's Fall/Winter 2018 collection in designs by Olivier Rousteing (known for his embellished creations favored by celebrities like Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez).

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Dance in Pop Culture
Misty Copeland on the set of The Nutcracker and The Four Realms. Photo courtesy Disney

Back in January, we took a look at Hollywood's 2018 dance card. While Red Sparrow and the Tiler Peck documentary Ballet Now have been released, several other films that piqued our curiosity are still in various stages of development. (And some have been radio silent, like the Carmen being helmed by Benjamin Millepied.) From Misty Copeland to Carlos Acosta, new trailers to first looks, here's the latest on the dancing we might just see on the big screen later this year.

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Just for Fun
Misty Copeland as the Ballerina Princess in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Photo Courtesy Disney.

It's August—the sun is shining, summer intensives are winding down, and Nutcracker seems very far away. But this new trailer for Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is already getting us in the holiday mood. While this modern take on classic holiday story, in theaters November 2, is not a dance film, it does include mega-stars Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin as the Ballerina Princess and Nutcracker Prince.

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Screenshot via YouTube

Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin doesn't appear to have completely shed his bad-boy skin. A new video from Rankin Hunger Magazine, "Sergei x Rankin," shows us what happens when Polunin is given total freedom to explore his tendency for raw, emotional movement. Paired with British photographer Rankin, the duo creates a captivating video that explores our primal need for unrestrained expression set to an alternative rock soundtrack by Husky Loops.

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Dance in Pop Culture
Isabella Boylston admits to being both intimidated and impressed by Jennifer Lawrence. Photo by Jayme Thornton

Big Hollywood movies featuring dance are few and far between, so curiosity about the thriller Red Sparrow, opening Friday and starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian ballerina-turned-spy, is understandably at a high pitch. The production, which also stars Jeremy Irons, includes not one but four familiar dance names: Sergei Polunin, the enfant terrible of the ballet world, plays Lawrence's ballet partner; Justin Peck choreographed all the dance sequences; Kurt Froman, former New York City Ballet dancer, trained Lawrence; and American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston performs as Lawrence's dance double.

How'd you get involved in Red Sparrow?

Justin Peck, who choreographed the movie, reached out to me. I've never done anything like that. And any chance to work with Justin...

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Dance in Pop Culture
Oleg Ivenko and Ralph Fiennes on the set of The White Crow, an upcoming feature film dramatizing Rudolf Nureyev's defection. Photo via variety.com

Oh, Hollywood. In any given year, Tinseltown's use of dance in film veers from the woefully disappointing to the surprisingly delightful, but one thing's for certain: It's rarely boring. Here's our not-at-all-comprehensive and completely-subject-to-change list of the new dance-related movies coming soon to a theater (or laptop screen) near you.

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Photo by British Broadcasting Corporation and Polunin Ltd., Courtesy Sundance Selects.

Sergei Polunin has a penchant for unexpectedly bursting into the news. Since DANCER, a feature-length documentary that proved to be a sympathetic portrait of ballet's favorite bad boy, he's been increasingly visible, popping up everywhere from "So You Think You Can Dance?" to Sadler's Wells. So what's the international star got next on his dance card?

Teaching a Master Class

Some very lucky ballet students will be taking class with Polunin at Danceworks London on July 18. (It's currently sold out, but interested students can add their names to a wait list.) It was announced this spring that Polunin would team up with the studio for a scholarship to its summer dance program, the Sergei Polunin Inspiration Scholarship, which has since been awarded to two young dancers.

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It's hard not to resent Sergei Polunin a little bit. After walking away from his principal position at The Royal Ballet at age 23, frustrated—as he later told Dance Magazine—by the lack of support, money and exposure he was getting as a ballet dancer, now it looks like he's having his cake and eating it, too.

Polunin modeling Marc Jacobs for Numéro Homme

Not only is Polunin dancing again—under Igor Zelensky in Munich's Bayeriches Staatballett, and with girlfriend Natalia Osipova in her program of contemporary works—but he's also getting the Hollywood attention (and paycheck) he's always wanted.

In addition to starring of his own bio-doc, Dancer, Polunin recently confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that he'll be appearing in two major upcoming movies: the spy thriller Red Sparrow, featuring Jennifer Lawrence (who plays a ballerina-turned-Russian spy who falls for a CIA officer) and the whodunit classic Murder on the Orient Express starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench. For now, Polunin's roles in both movies are unknown. But we're keeping our fingers crossed they include some dancing.

Don't let yourself get too bitter. Sure, he's landed numerous priceless opportunities in spite (or maybe because) of his "bad boy" reputation. But watching Dancer, you realize he's struggled the same as every aspiring dancer. What's more, he's determined to give back: He says his new Project Polunin is designed to be a company to support other dancers by setting them up with resources like scholarship funds, lawyers looking out for their interests and agents who can connect them with other industries—like film.

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Love him or hate him, it's hard not to be intrigued by Sergei Polunin. When someone with that much talent quits The Royal Ballet to become part-owner of a tattoo parlor, only to then star in a splashy David LaChapelle-directed viral video and start dating fellow ballet wunderkind Natalia Osipova, you can't help asking, What's going on with this guy?

A new documentary about Polunin's troubled path, Dancer, comes out both in theaters and on demand this Friday, September 16. The sympathetic portrait sheds some light on the forces that led to his conflicted love-hate relationship with ballet. Fresh off his So You Think You Can Dance appearance earlier this week, Polunin sat down with Dance Magazine to talk about the film—and why he keeps dancing today.

What's it like to watch a documentary about yourself?

I didn't want to see it. But I was hanging out with David LaChapelle in LA, and he was like, Oh, we're going to watch it tonight with some other dancers. I had like nine beers. I was sitting next to him, squashing his leg. It was really intense. I wanted to see myself from an outside eye, but you can't really, because it triggers something raw inside of you.

Footage from boyhood

Had you seen all that old dance footage?

No—I didn't even remember that my mom had a camera! It was such a strange thing for her to do.

Does the film feel like an accurate depiction?

It's really real. It's a human story. Rather than digging into one thing, it had many layers. I want dancers to see it. It shows how much a dance career takes for parents, too.

In the film, you say you considered "Take Me To Church" your goodbye to dance. What made you continue?

Well, at that point I did not like dancing; I was upset with the industry. You know, footballers and actors get so much money, have so much exposure and I don't think dancers are less talented, and if anything, they work much, much harder. But you don't get that same reward. So I was really upset. I had to decide if I wanted to stay in L.A. and become an actor.

Filming "Take Me To Church" took nine hours. And to open myself up for this piece, I got very empty, like really emotional. It gave me nine hours of just thinking about what I'm leaving behind. I felt really sad. Then I saw David and how much he loved dance, and I thought, This is strange, maybe I'm missing something.

A rehearsal scene in Dancer

After that shoot, I got strength back to do something. I went back to Russia, and told Igor Zelensky at Stanislavsky Ballet that I don't want to get paid, I just want to do it for the love of dance. I had to understand that I liked doing it for that reason rather than for anything else.

Igor is now director at Bayerisches Staatsballet, and has made you a "permanent guest artist." How much will you be dancing there?

Whenever I'm free. I was lucky to have Igor to come back to when I was traveling to America to try other things, search for things. It's like a cushion.

What inspired you to start Project Polunin?

Talking to David, I realized every other industry has support—agents and managers. You give a small percentage, but you gain protection, knowledge, connection. Most dancers don't have that. And there are sharks who'll use you. So we built a company to support dancers called Project Polnuin. It's so many angels—bankers, lawyers donating their time, we have a board to develop a structure, and we'll connect dancers with other industries like fashion, movies, music. We want every dancer to join it. We're just at the beginning of the journey.

When I left Royal Ballet, I had no one I could ask for an opinion. I didn't know what I was searching for. I wish I had someone who would say, "You should do that audition." "If you want to model, this is the company that will develop that." "What's your ability? How do you see yourself?"

Footage from the wings in Dancer

Do you think this film will change the way you're seen in the dance world?

When I meet people now, they're much warmer. I don't think any human is a bad person, they're just misunderstood.

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Polunin modeling Marc Jacobs for Numéro Homme

Ballet's favorite bad boy, Sergei Polunin, is in the limelight again. He's the subject of a new bio-doc, called DANCER. The international trailer was just released this week, and it's as dramatic as you'd expect.

Fittingly, the background music is none other than Hozier's Take Me To Church—you'll remember the music video because it featured Polunin dancing like a wild man (and racked up almost 15 million views). The trailer gives us even more tantalizing glimpses of Polunin dancing—in the studio as a kid with unbelievably beautiful lines, onstage as a professional with unbelievably high jumps, at home goofing around with unbelievably endless turns. It also hints at his tortured backstory, and how he grew so disillusioned with dance that he walked away from his prodigious Royal Ballet career at only 25.

(There's also plenty of shirtless footage to check out his many tattoos.)

Screen Daily reports that the feature-length documentary will be shown to potential buyers at Cannes before an anticipated fall festival debut.

In other Polunin news, he told The Guardian this weekend that he'd now like to re-join The Royal as a guest artist, presumably so he can dance more often with his girlfriend, Natalia Osipova. The pair will be performing works by Arthur Pita and Russell Maliphant together in a program Osipova commissioned herself, which opens at Sadler's Wells in London next month. We're keeping our fingers crossed it makes its way stateside. If not, at least it seems like DANCER has plenty of performance and behind-the-scenes clips of Polunin we can enjoy.

 

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Music videos are embracing concert dance more than ever.

It was the music video the world couldn’t stop talking about. Sia’s “Chandelier” featured “Dance Moms” star Maddie Ziegler moving with reckless abandon in a forlorn apartment. The video became the 17th most viewed on YouTube, and won the award for Best Choreography at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. After two more collaborations, Sia’s projects starring Ziegler and choreographed by Ryan Heffington have collectively garnered over a billion views on YouTube.

Though we don’t yet know who will take home a VMA this month, one thing is for certain: Dancers are no longer just a backdrop. They’ve become the heart of many videos, like in Taylor Swift’s dance mash-up “Shake It Off” and Carrie Underwood’s splashy “Something in the Water,” featuring the dancers of Shaping Sound.

Pop culture and dance have already come together in television, on shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Breaking Pointe.” But music videos, generally with a three- to four-minute window, pack in only the most impressive movement. It’s a quick dose of culture packaged for consumption. “What we have been creating these past few years are products of evolution and sit in the confines of current culture. There is no chance I could have created this work a decade ago,” says Heffington, who has also choreographed for Arcade Fire, FKA twigs and Florence + the Machine. “The more people see dance in music videos, the more they can relate to it.”

But is boiling dance down to a few minutes of flash good for the art form? The success of a music video is generally determined by its director, says Jade Hale-Christofi, who choreographed a viral video to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,”danced by Sergei Polunin. He says that director David LaChapelle’s understanding of dance helped give himself and Polunin the freedom to develop a powerful final product. “If it’s done right and it’s done with care and love for the art, more dancers would definitely go into music videos,” he says. “Anyone can look at it and understand the piece. And I think that if you can inspire enough people to watch ballet, that’s a great thing.”

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