THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH THAT CONQUERED THE BALLET SCENE
We bring you an intimate exclusive interview with Sergei Polunin, an artist that doesn’t need an introduction, he took the world by surprise and through magnificent displays of skill has secured a place in dance history.
by Claudia Toggweiler
Mr. Sergei Polunin, it is a great pleasure to have you back in Zurich. It has been four years since you have been at the Zurich Film Festival to present your movie, «Dancer» and a lot has happened since then. Is this how you imagined yourself to be?
Smiles Not really, I mean different things happened in the meantime. The best thing of course is to strategize your life, but I sometimes do spontaneous things. For sure it takes different turns in life and I am in a very different point of life then I ever thought I would be. Which is great! I always said as long as life is interesting. That’s the main key and it has to be always surprising. As soon as you know what is going to happen it becomes boring.
Last time you were here in Zurich you have told me that you would like to change the view of ballet. How are things processing?
Yes, we are still sort of working in that direction. We built-in performances, they are like a parallel system existing in system of ballet productions and performances. So it’s something parallel to the already existing theatres. It is good to have something different or competitive. Or I would not say competitive because I would never really compete with anything. I think we all should do our best with whatever we can do. But it is something that dancers are able to choose between and hopefully freely participate in whatever they want.
FOTO ©️ enscene.ch
FOTO ©️ enscene.ch
How was the transition from being a principal classical ballet dancer to a freelance artist?
I have to say it is much easier to be in one place because once you get in shape you’ll then stay in shape for the whole year. When you are a freelancer, you have to get in shape about 20 times a year, so it is much harder. And it is harder when you are actually free, because freedom gives you too many choices. It’s very different and you have to find a balance. I found very hard in the beginning to choose what I wanted to do or to have any line or vision of where to go. But after you find it, it’s nice to be able to choose from many things.
Do you see yourself more in the dance field or as an actor?
Dance is the center and acting is a plus I would say.
Are you currently working on a new piece?
Yes, we are working for Dante project in Italy. It will be shown at the Ravenna Festival in November for the 700th anniversary of the poet Dante Alighieri and we are preparing a ballet on that. So far there will be three different choreographers, three different music pieces, and three different designers.
Can you tell us more about the «Dante project» or is it top secret?
No of course. We are still at the beginning although there is not much time left. But now is the time where we are going to start really pushing and working on it. The music is key for the piece, so right now we are waiting for the musicians to write the compositions, then we will get everything together with ideas and visuals. I would like technology to be involved in the piece because we live in a weird time were dancers are not being able to dance together on stage, so I was thinking of how to go about it and whether we actually use dancers or if it is going to be more technology involved for now. It is hard when dancers cannot be on stage together.
Who did you select as choreographers for the «Dante project»?
One of them is Jade Hale-Christofi, who did the choreography of the video «Take me to church» and is my good friend. The second one is Ross Freddie Ray who did the choreography of «Little Red» and he is working at my company as a director. And the third will be me.
Wow, so you are also choreographing?
Yes, I am not crazy about it but life put it that way. Smiles
AS A CHOREOGRAPHER
From early on, you dwelled in choreographic work, and by 2014 you had reached the finals for the prestigious Hannover International Competition for young choreographers. Even with such credentials, today we would like to talk about Dancelab, which it’s celebrating its ninth edition this year.
For those unaware of this initiative, masterminded by Richard Wherlock under the name of Dancelab, it is aimed towards the dancers from Theatre Basel’s own company, with the goal of encouraging choreographic development amongst them. This is a great opportunity to enable the dancers to do choreographic work once a year with artists from within the company, alongside the vast infrastructure of Basel’s Theater with its technical bodies, such as scenography, lighting, costumes, amongst others.
Is it the first time that choreographies of yours will be shown?
It is not the first, I did parts of Satori. It is nice to push yourself but I would say it is not 100% what I need to do, because there are amazing choreographers and it’s about giving them an opportunity to work. But when I work with choreographers I am creating anyway, that is part of the process. I don’t need a particular choreographer, which takes time and it’s stressful and more time of thinking. But, as I said, it is very good to push yourself. But then again life did that. I have tried different options, but then issues with the virus happened or the theaters would not let a person go so I said I will do the third choreography.
Could you imagine yourself becoming a mentor and inspiring new generations?
I mean I love teaching, it is just that teaching is very time-consuming and I will not be able to be in one place for a week. But at the same time it is very important. When I was a kid Jonathan Cope, Principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, came to teach and you remember it and it inspires you in different ways. So I find that very important to do. And when I go to guest somewhere, I try to do at least one or two teachings. But also with our foundation we are sponsoring children and the new foundation, which I am actually really looking forward to building in Switzerland, will be about sponsoring children. In Russia I sponsor with the Russian foundation already 12 children and in Serbia we sponsor the education of four boys at European ballet schools. And in Switzerland we want to be build a very big and important foundation because the charity sector is huge here and I would love to centralize things through Switzerland. I believe that Switzerland can potentially give me a lot of freedom.
Have you considered working also with Zurich Dance Academy under the direction of Steffi Scherzer and Oliver Matz?
I love helping. It’s about doing good things. Helping children is something good I can do for the world. So yes, if I get invited, then why not. I love doing that. I myself was sponsored by Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, so I could study abroad. So it’s an important thing to do and it’s about finding talented children. That is what I would partly love to do.
How did you spend the quarantine time? Did you enjoy spending time with your girlfriend Elena Ilinykh and your son Mir?
It was an interesting and fulfilling period because my son Mir was born. So me, Elena and him could
stay together and really spend time together, which
14 QUESTIONS + 14 ANWERS
TO KNOW SERGEI POLUNIN
Do you prefer day or night? I used to prefer for many years night. But now I prefer day.
Sweet or sour? Sweet
Comedy or Tragedy? Both
Do you usually judge a book by its cover? Yes, I find that important. It shows already a taste of what’s inside.
House or apartment? House
Who inspires you the most? Mickey Rourke
What instrument would you like to play? Guitar
Which sense you couldn’t live without? Vision
Perfect music? Electronic music with classicism
If you could travel in time, would you go to the past or the future? Future
What other language would you like to speak? Spanish
Do you collect anything? No not really.
Are you superstitious? No, I purposely do everything opposite. So whatever you are not supposed to do I do it to break that pattern. Otherwise you get used to rituals.
FOTO ©️ enscene.ch
How has being a father changed you as a person and/or as an artist?
You think it is impossible to raise a kid but it is a top thing to do. Once you do it you find the strength and it teaches you different lessons. It is like a slow process and you think of our own parents and different conversations with different people about their children, because now you really know what that means. And you just want to be better in a way. That’s a quite powerful thing. You look at your son and you want to be better as a person, as a human. I mean you serve as an example.
Laura Fernandez-Gromova is a former student of mine at Zurich Dance Academy and is now a first soloist at the Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow and you casted her as a «Little Red». May I ask how this collaboration started?
I give all the freedom to the choreographer to choose what he wants to do and build. Ross Freddie Ray decided to bring the story of «Little red» on stage and when we came to Switzerland with Rasputin I was dancing with Johan Kobborg, who staged «La Sylphide» before where Laura participated as a little girl in the production. So he suggested to Ross to use her and we did together the role on her. That is how it came together. Until now we only had three performances of the show but we have a proposition to do «Little red» in the Kremlin in Moscow, but at the moment it is better to do a smaller production.
You said that you are thinking of moving to Switzerland. What is it about this country that attracts you?
Every person has to find their own whatever that resonates with them. I love the nature of Switzerland and here is one of the most powerful places in the mountains I have ever been to. Everything here is very well done and in the right place. People are sophisticated and it will give me a lot of freedom to centralize things here and to move east and west. Switzerland is more neutral and people will be happy and feel more safe to collaborate with Switzerland. I would like to build a holding company and the foundation here, as well as my own private life living here.
Sergei Polunin and Claudia Toggweiler at Zurich Film Festival 2020.
Interview by Claudia Toggweiler / ©️ enscene.ch
FOTO ©️ enscene.ch