Strap yourself in for some hollow sentiment and hubris – ballet’s enfant terrible Sergei Polunin is back in town. The Ukrainian dancer’s most recent egregious antics include homophobic, misogynist and fat-phobic Instagram rants that got him fired from a guest spot at the Paris Opera Ballet. Plus a paean to Putin.
Still, this latest venture at the Palladium proves that the stream of bankrolling and indulgence that keeps Polunin afloat hasn’t yet run dry. First up is Ross Freddie Ray’s Fraudulent Smile, a work of cod-clowning and jazz hands about a charming psychopath (veteran dancer Johan Kobborg) who strangles sad women in their underwear (of course) and then turns his attention to Polunin’s character – a truly good bloke who forlornly brandishes a pineapple as a love token. The male ensemble of gurning mimes in braces appears actively under-rehearsed and Polunin pulls out some patchy bravura steps – big barrel turns and unsteady fouettés.
The next two pieces, Yuka Oishi’s Paradox and Sacre, both concern Nijinsky’s physical genius and faltering mental health, the implication being that Polunin, often compared to Nijinsky during his Royal Ballet career, is also a misunderstood visionary and victim.
The result is inevitably obnoxious, tedious and slightly depressing. In Sacre, Polunin has the stage for the entire duration of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring: he does light bouncing, erratic jogging and tortured crawling. He pulls a portentous rope through his crotch and tangles himself in it, presumably prey to interior demons and dance itself. The paying public shouldn’t be prey to him.