Thursday, January 12, 2017

DANCER: Steven Cantor's documentary about ballet bombshell Sergei Polunin hits DVD


When DANCER arrived in theaters last fall, it was greeted with appreciation by audiences and generally good reviews -- with the exception of The New York Times, Village Voice and San Diego Reader, the first of which, unfortunately, still tends to call the shots where docs, foreign films and independents are concerned.  The negative feedback concentrated mostly on the fact that we see too little of Polunin's dancing and too much of his personal angst. His dancing is spectacular enough to warrant more of it, to be sure, but what we see often so stunning that we're open-mouthed and blown away. Boy, can this boy can move. And leap. He's got a great body and face, too. And, yes, a whole lots of problems regarding family and drugs and maybe ego and discipline, as well.

TrustMovies says "maybe" because the film, directed by Steven Cantor (shown left), for all its seeming entry into Polunin's personal life, ends up leaving us high and dry regarding almost anything that's really personal about Polunin. Is he straight or gay? Did/does he have any kind of relationship, other than to his family (a heavy-duty stage mother and a father who went absentee in order to earn the money spent on his son's training), along with a few seeming "friends" whom we learn even less about?

Our entry into this guy's personality is consistently prevented by the "facts" of his upbringing, training, performing and history as "the bad boy" of dance. Newspaper headlines must stand-in for "character." I suspect that Polunin, shown above and below, actually wants to keep his audience at bay. Well, that's his right.

Fortunately, what we see of him dancing is enough to peak our interest and hold it for the movie's mere 85 minutes -- the final fourth of which is spent on the now famous online video, directed by David LaChapelle, of Polunin performing to the song, Take Me to Church. (The video, a still from which is seen below, is impressive, all right, but it strikes me as not nearly so much so as some of the snippets of his dancing in the ballets we've seen earlier in the film.)

Dancer is especially impressive as a document of Polunin's growing up. His mom -- or someone -- managed to take some remarkable footage, as we see Polunin at ages 8, 9, 11, 13, 15 and onwards, as he learns first gymnastics and then ballet, and then becomes a the youngest principal ever (only 19!) at the London's Royal Ballet.

And then he gives it all up, with the reasons, while clearly stated and obvious, barely explored here. Well, his private life remains private. It's his dancing that counts. The movie is titled Dancer, after all, and that's what comes across most strongly. What a great dancer Polunin was, and still is. I hope he continues to perform.

From IFC Films, the DVD hits the street this coming Tuesday, January 17 -- for purchase and/or rental -- and includes the movie's trailer and some deleted scenes as Bonus Extras. While balletomanes will rightly kvell at what they see here, Polunin is sexy, charismatic and gorgeous enough to build a huge fan base from merely that, whether or not his career in ballet moves onwards.

2 comments:

Rafael's Mum said...

A little research will answer all the questions you have. If anything there is a lack of privacy rather than secrecy !

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for commenting, Rafael's Mum, but I was not suggesting "secrecy." Rather, than the filmmaker did not address certain areas strongly enough. Also, one ought not have to do research after watching a documentary to learn things that might have been included.