There can be no ignoring the irony. Ballet’s ‘bad boy’ Sergei Polunin as the ‘mad monk’ Rasputin has an undeniable appropriateness.
It is a self-conscious expression of Polunin’s own complex relationship with his fans, his detractors and his motherland. Yuka Oishi’s new ballet is custom-built for Polunin and its teasing brevity suggests there is a longer work waiting to evolve.
The cast of five negotiates a set consisting of giant chess pieces as Kirill Richter’s in-your-face/in-your-ears score blares and crashes out of the speakers. Arms outstretched as if clawing down divine power from the almighty, Polunin grimaces and contorts, postures and preens while the Tsar and Tsarina interact joyfully with their son Tsesarevich until he succumbs to haemophilia. The narrative is relatively clear and follows the traditional story that has inspired everything from Hammer films to Boney M.
In spite of his eye-rolling theatrics, Polunin manages to inhabit the role with some intensity. There are moments in the first half, including a powerful duet with Johan Kobborg’s Yusupov featuring a blazing but disciplined series of fouettes en tournant and barrel turns, that convey a diabolical ecstasy.
Polunin’s handling of the sick boy, the elegantly acrobatic Djordje Kalenic, has a tenderness that contrasts appealingly with the thundering melodrama of the rest of work that becomes increasingly fractured in the second half.
The final scene has Polunin flinging himself around and strutting as if possessed by the demon spirit of Mick Jagger before succumbing to arsenic-laced wine and a bullet or two from Yusupov’s gun. Kirill’s jolting strings and ear-splitting percussion ensure that the mad monk does not go gentle into that good night. Cripes.