Misty Copeland’s Under Armour ad, move over. The web has a new overnight ballet obsession: Sergei Polunin.
The viral performance video to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,” directed by David LaChapelle, is epic and beautiful and unique. (The moment at 1:37 when the camera rises with his cabriole is my personal favorite.) And there’s no denying it—the man is built like a Greek god of classical dance. But we all know why he is really called “the bad boy of ballet,” right? It’s about more than his increasingly numerous tattoos.
The Ukrainian-born dancer was a wunderkind of The Royal Ballet. He trained at the school and was a principal dancer with the company by 19. Many in the dance world expected him to be the next great international ballet star; some compared him to Nureyev and Baryshnikov. But two years after being promoted to the company’s highest rank, Polunin made global headlines when he walked out in the middle of a rehearsal—and never came back. He needed more freedom, the 21-year-old said, though he flip-flopped in interviews between wanting to explore other options within the ballet world or outside of dance entirely.
Despite that infamous departure and cheeky interviews bad-mouthing dance as a career, Polunin has not abandoned ballet. He’s made regular guest appearances since leaving the company, though he has been known to sometimes cancel last minute.
The fact that this new video is set in a mysterious Hawaiian forest is appropriate, given Polunin’s tendency to pop up unexpectedly in the dance world. The choreography isn’t improvised, but created by Jade Hale-Christofi, who trained with Polunin. Still, there are a few unpredictable off-balance moments, where it’s unclear whether it’s a stumble or a planned occurrence. Enjoy it, and remember this dancer who keeps us guessing is even more of a ballet bad boy than he seems at first glance.
Photos: film captures from Sergei Polunin, "Take Me to Church" by Hozier, Directed by David LaChapelle, Hana Productions