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Project Polunin at Sadler’s Wells review: Electric return for bad boy of ballet Sergei Polunin

PUBLISHED: 17:28 15 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:28 15 March 2017

Sergei Polunin performing in Narcissus and Echo at Sadler's Wells. Picture: Alastair Muir

Sergei Polunin performing in Narcissus and Echo at Sadler's Wells. Picture: Alastair Muir

©ALASTAIR MUIR CONTACT alastair@alastairmuir.com

Atomic anticipation greeted the return of bad boy of ballet and dance virtuoso Sergei Polunin to the Sadler’s Wells stage last night.

Sergei Polunin performing with the trademark athleticism for which he is famous. Picture: Alastair Muir Sergei Polunin performing with the trademark athleticism for which he is famous. Picture: Alastair Muir

The Ukrainian-born star, who famously left the Royal Ballet in a blaze of publicity aged only 22 saying he had fallen out of love with dance, presented a programme of three UK premieres.

He set up Project Polunin, a charity, in 2015 to enable dancers to take control of their careers and mount evenings of explorative work - and this was the project’s debut performance.

Opening the night was Icarus, The Night before the Flight an extract from a longer ballet choreographed by former Bolshoi principal Vladimir Vasiliev, which Polunin describes as “old Soviet ballet” and representing his past.

Polunin and Natalia Osipova, who danced the role of Icarus’s beloved Aeola, tumble, arch and pirouette in a blithe display of love. But the choreography carries a wrestling note of menace as Icarus eventually pulls away in the dappled morning light to pursue flight.

Project Polunin performing Narcissus and Echo at Sadler's Wells
. Picture: Alastair Muir Project Polunin performing Narcissus and Echo at Sadler's Wells . Picture: Alastair Muir

Osipova’s brilliant pirouettes are a pure joy to watch, with both dancers fluid and strong with phenomenal technique. This was a visceral display of ballet.

In a complete change of pace and tone, Andrey Kaydanovskiy’s Tea or Coffee, sees four dancers engage in a push and pull tussle of a domestic black comedy within a strip-lit bunker world. The clink of teaspoons punctuates tense choreography that explores ideas of time and apocalypse.

The climax of the evening came with the world premiere of Polunin’s own work Narcissus and Echo.

Ever since his prodigious talent for dance was spotted at the age of eight, Polunin has been in the media spotlight and ideas of self and identity seemed to pulse through his choreography, which echoed the great Russian classics in ambition but was sometimes stilted as dancers moved in and out of lines.

Polunin himself performs many of the dazzling jumps and pirouettes for which he is so widely lauded against a Dali-esque opulent set.

The choreography builds to Narcissus writhing and wrestling with the beauty of his own reflection, as photographs of a naked Polunin are projected on to two “cloud” TV screens above the stage.

It’s a little self-indulgent you might gripe. But Polunin says he has once again started to find the joy in dance and so it’s easy to forgive him simply because it’s surely better for him to dance than not.

The programme spoke of a prodigiously gifted young ballet star still teasing out his dance identity - and becoming re-acquainted with the joy of dance along the way.

* Project Polunin is at Sadler’s Wells in Rosebery Avenue, EC1 until Saturday, March 18

Rating: 4/5 stars

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