by Hannah B
First, here’s an except from an article in the Telegraph
Royal Ballet star breaks silence after storming out
By Patrick Sawer, Roya Nikkhah and Josie Ensor - 28 Jan 2012
He is a prodigiously gifted dancer who has been compared to Rudolf Nureyev and has taken Covent Garden by storm with his passionate and technically brilliant performances.
But last Tuesday Sergei Polunin stunned the world of dance by walking out on the Royal Ballet, which had nurtured him since arriving in Britain as a promising 13 year-old. Speculation has since been rife as to why Polunin quit the company, just at the point he appeared to have the world at his feet. Now friends and colleagues have spoken of their concern that the 22-year-old is struggling to cope with the tremendous pressure of performing at such a level.
The dancer is understood to have told the Royal Ballet on quitting: “I want to stop dancing. I’m not sure its what I want to do. I find the pressure enormous.”
Concern over Polunin’s state of mind has been growing since messages from him appeared on the social networking site Twitter in recent weeks in which he talked about buying heroin and pursuing a career as a tattoo artist. He recently Tweeted: “Does any body (sic) sell heroin? Need to bring my mood up” and boasted of late nights out at exclusive clubs.
One person close to the ballet world said: “He has suffered a personal crisis. The pressure of people comparing him to Nureyev at the age of 22 has been tremendous.” The source added that Polunin’s recent private life – he recently split from his girlfriend, 31-year-old Royal Ballet first soloist Helen Crawford – has been “a mess”.
Others have spoken of how the young Ukrainian feels the rigours of dancing for one of the world’s most famous companies have frustrated his creative impulse.
Polunin himself told The Sunday Telegraph he planned to spend the next few days “alone” before coming to a decision about his future.
“It’s a confusing time at the moment, I have made a big decision and the next one will be important so I don’t want to rush it,” he said, breaking his silence. ”For the moment I’m concentrating on ballet and on rehearsing. I need a few days alone to think about what I’m doing as I haven’t decided yet.”
Putrov said his friend had quit the Royal Ballet because he was fed up being ordered around and being treated merely as “an entertainer”.
“Ballet companies, and I’m not just taking about the Royal Ballet, have a strict hierarchy, but in today’s world, what makes people work in a creative way is atmosphere and whether people are inspired or not,” he said.
“Nowadays, a ballet principal is a creator, and can’t just be told what to do – a dancer has to take part in what they’re doing.
“Most of the time most of the Royal Ballet repertoire is what has been created already, so your place is to recreate.
“It is more interesting to create new works, that are satisfying for a dancer as an actor and an artist, not just being used as a physically fit body that just does movements. A dancer now is more of an artist than just an entertainer that is told to do this step or that step.”
The reasons for Segei Polunin’s departure are still largely a matter of hearsay/ speculation, which means everything written here is also speculation (and therefore potentially a load of rubbish). But even though Polunin himself hasn’t made any kind of official statement about his future intentions, Putrov’s remarks in the Telegraph still raise some interesting questions.
I do sympathise (to an extent) with the ‘plight’ of a talented young dancer (especially a male dancer) stuck in a large hierarchical institution like the Royal Ballet, spending all day being instructed by the ‘elders’. Such institutions haven’t exactly moved with the times in the way that the rest of the arts world – and the creative world in general (think Apple or Google) - seems to have done. (Working for a progressive company like Apple or Google would probably drive me up the wall though).
The expectation these days, and sometimes the reality too, is that if you are young, confident and talented you get to call the shots and be a maverick and everyone will love you for it and reward you handsomely (and that people over forty already belong to a bygone age and are probably full of outmoded ideas and inside-the-box paradigms).
But the ‘trouble’ with classical ballet, as if it needed spelling out, is that it is rooted in the past, built on tradition and usually requires a colossal group effort over an extended period of time. If rigid hierarchies and the high pressure factory-like conveyor belt approach were to be reconfigured, or even discarded altogether, how else might a company like the Royal Ballet operate? That’s a genuine question by the way, I’m not saying it can’t ever be done or shouldn’t ever be considered.
Having said that, Putin’s remarks did make me immediately think of the Monty Python, Life of Brian ‘Aqueduct Sketch’ ….. (“I mean, what have the Royal Ballet ever done for us?” ….. ).
It also made me ponder how many decent ballets have actually been conceived or choreographed or otherwise co/created by dancers in their early twenties.
The problem I suspect (in a wildly speculative kind of way, remember) is not really one of pressure or of too much instruction from the ‘elders’ (which for most non dancing employees in regular jobs would probably feel like having an unparalleled and luxurious level of support from your employers). The problem, I think, is one of limited opportunity, due to a lack of decent choreographers with proper theatrical vision (as opposed to a penchant for endless self indulgent noodling) and a company which is too small and thus far too heavily tied up in the work of dancing and rehearsing the current season’s ballets, most of which are inevitably going to be either quite old or very old.
A larger company would mean the dancers could specialise more on the ballets that really suited them while also spending a decent amount of time working with choreographers to develop new works (with everyone free to be as creative as they like…). It would also allow dancers to occasionally pursue other projects inside and outside of the Royal Ballet (crazy, I know). A larger company would, in short, enable the dancers to have a more healthy relationship to ballet and to performing the rep, and to feel more like worldly wise, plugged in, creative individuals. Less isolated from life outside the class/ rehearsal/ performance environment. Less injuries too no doubt.
And before anyone mentions the cost – I really don’t care! I’m just saying.
For all the competitiveness and poor working conditions in the world today, the economic collapses and the widening gap between the rich/ poor, we still live in an age where the notion of ‘selfhood’ is increasing like a wildfire. It can’t be stopped (although the globalist elitists are having a jolly good try – but that’s another topic altogether). The fact of the matter is that ‘pursuing one’s own creative path’ in life is what young people (not just dancers) increasingly want to do these days. Whether they attempt it in a misguided way or not, they see it as their birth right. And rightly so. And in an age where stable life-long careers, guaranteed pensions and a vaguely functioning economy no longer exist as givens, following your own path and relying on your own resources actually feels, for many, like a safer bet – and an altogether more rewarding experience – in a world guaranteed to be full of turbulent times and great changes ahead.
If the Royal Ballet (or any other organisation for that matter) fails to take this into account they might end up with more ship jumpers. I’m not sure that would be in either party’s best interests.