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Project Polunin – Satori review at the London Coliseum – ‘a messy affair’

Sergei Polunin and Tom Waddington in Satori. Photo: Tristram Kenton Sergei Polunin and Tom Waddington in Satori. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Satori is the Japanese Buddhist term for ‘awakening’ or ‘seeing into one’s true nature’. And if anyone needed a lesson in self-awareness, it is Sergei Polunin, the Ukrainian dancer most likely to inherit the mantle of Nureyev.

That is, until he tossed it away by flouncing out of the Royal Ballet like a prima donna. The process of reinstatement as one of the most gifted and exciting male dancers of his generation has taken time, but Polunin has made some inroads with his rehabilitation among hardcore ballet fans. Meanwhile, he continues his pursuit of another audience entirely, who slavishly adore his rock-and-roll approach to classical dance, as displayed in the lamentable video Take Me to Church.

After his derisory last outing, this is an improvement. His self-choreographed Satori may be over-designed, with flickering video screens, a gnarled tree and Disney/Dali clouds as well as smoke and lights more befitting an arena gig than a ballet, but it reflects his current condition; Polunin may be making baby steps back into the classical world but he still enjoys his rock star status.

It’s a messy affair, much like the whole evening. There are moments of serene grace as Polunin finds comfort in the arms of his ex, Natalia Osipova, and genuine joy when he dances with a boy who might be his younger self. Such moments are overwhelmed by a tsunami of melodramatic music and over-emoting in which the Boy Wonder throws himself around in passages of torment and self-interrogation – much like the solo piece that opens the evening.

This aesthetic schizophrenia is unsettling as he commutes from classical movement – fizzing pirouettes, elevated jetes – to slouching, freeform flinging himself around that probably feels more exciting than it looks. Cherry-picked dancers from international companies flit in and out – especially in Scriabiniana, a disjointed jumble of duets, solos and ensembles in which Osipova is lumbered with a pretty but vacuous solo of a fairy dancing unobserved in the moonlight.

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The tattooed Ukrainian tearaway brings light, shade and confusion to this dodgy mixed bill