Free to be a Dancer, Free to Be a Human Being, the world of international dance icon Sergei Polunin


Photo: Simon Hattenstone in conversation with the bad boy of ballet, Sergei Polunin

Millie Porter, Journalism Undergraduate, University of Roehampton

One bad rehearsal, one urge of intuitive spontaneity, and Sergei Polunin – the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer, global style icon and headline-making enfant terrible of dance – blew up his career. In his new autobiography, Free: A Life In Images And Words, the Ukrainian dancer reflects on how a life of dedication and rash decisions have ultimately led to great success.

As Polunin walked into Wimbledon Bookfest’s Robert Graves Tent, young photographers are instinctively drawn to the striking dancer, snapping his image as he passes. Photography plays a key role in Polunin’s new autobiography, which includes a collaboration with iconic Vogue photographer, Albert Watson.

In conversation with Guardian journalist Simon Hattenstone, Polunin explained that as a gymnast from the age of four, his whole life has been a strict fitness regime. The six-hour days of training gave him the determination and mindset for dance. And the belief that he was going to be a world-class dancer; that with work and belief anything was possible: “I see a vision and go for it”, he explained.

Polunin was just 13 when he joined The Royal Ballet School, which he enjoyed and made friends, but it was also tough. Coming from another county was not easy, let alone adapting to the strict training regime of the Royal Ballet School.

The hard work paid off and Polunin was cast as the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal dancer, but a bad rehearsal for the starring role in Swan Lake prompted Polunin to quit. The media portrayed this as a life crisis, Polunin explains, rather than 21-year-old man who was bored and ready to explore more of life.

Reflecting on his relationship with the media, Polunin tells the Bookfest audience that one time he tweeted for a heroin dealer. He insists he was joking. But it not only caused a media storm, but called into question his relationship with his fans. Polunin admitted to Hattenstone that he had been naïve: like any young person he was learning through his mistakes. But being a celebrity, meant he was learning in the spotlight.

Polunin has had both highs and lows to his career so far. If you don’t test your limits, you will never know how far you can get. “Part of creation is destruction,” he told the rapt audience.

Now, Polunin is using his talent in artistic, innovative, and exciting new ways. “I work with people to give them a place to collaborate”. He is eager to create a “new generation” of ballet dancers. And as his autobiography shows, he has more than enough experience, talent and hard-won life lessons to offer.

Sergei Polunin's Free: A Life In Images and Words is available to buy from the links below: