Review: Project Polunin – Satori

Project Polunin’s Satori

London Coliseum, until 9th December 2017 with a special mixed programme on the 10th.


Review by Soraya Scrivener

One of the greatest ballet dancers of our generation, Ukrainian, Sergei Polunin had everything most ballet dancers can only dream of at 19. He became the youngest ever principal of The Royal Ballet Company. He shocked the ballet world 2 years later by abruptly moving on to Russia. Notorious for his tattoos and wild streak he became an online sensation with his solo to Hozier’s Take Me to Church. Directed by David LaChapelle, the video has now reached a whopping 22 million views on YouTube. It features at the end of his 2016 documentary film Dancer and is included in the different mixed bill on the 10th. Polunin is now a freelance dancer/actor/model. Last month we saw his acting debut in the film Murder on the Orient Express and he will feature in 3 more films next year.

Following the bad press of his initial project at Sadler’s Wells in March, his company Project Polunin perform this week a new triple bill, including a World premiere titled Satori. This is a Buddhist term, meaning enlightenment. Polunin begins in First Solo and then the rest of the evening he is joined by a stellar international line up including the Royal Ballet principal Natalia Osipova.

Photo Credit Tristram Kenton

In First Solo the Intermittent mixture of music with poetry by the late Russian poet Alexander Galich works well. This piece is close to Polunin’s heart, and Andrey Kaydanovskiy’s choreography strongly expresses the stars personal inner struggle to seek freedom from the dance that enslaves him. Full of touching moments when Polunin is drawn to the single spotlight it is perhaps a little melodramatic and not as exciting as his classical past.

For the rest of the evening the Orchestra of English National Opera conducted by Gavin Sutherland impress. Firstly, in the London premiere of the early Russian contemporary ballet Scriabiniana. It marks the 125th anniversary of the choreographer, Kasyan Goleizovsky’s birth. This is a mixture mainly of multiple pas de deux and pas de quatre to Alexander Scriabin’s composition. With interesting upside down lifts, each section was executed perfectly as expected by the high calibre of dancers such as Valentino Zucchetti (Royal Ballet). I particularly enjoyed the female quartet. Natalia Osipova delights in her solo which is as delicate as her floating skirt. An ethereal quality that is mesmerising. Partnered with Polunin they give a heart-felt performance, full of fabulous spins. A great actor throughout, Polunin leapt with abandon but perhaps flinging himself a little too dramatically to wow.

Photo Credit Tristram Kenton

The World Premiere, Satori, choreographed by Polunin himself is much more stimulating with its story. With over 700 words the synopsis included lines such as ‘…sacrificed a piece of his soul to the fire of initiation’ and ‘…realization of a sky-like essence.’ It somewhat irked me that this took all the interval to digest. It would be fascinating to know how many of the audience enjoying their interval drinks understood this piece. I am always amazed nowadays how many people do not buy a programme at the theatre. One took a picture in the interval of a page showing the cast list and then afterwards I overheard a group discussing what they thought the story of Satori was. I urged them all to buy a programme to discover the much deeper meaning.

With striking hanging multiple projection screens and a beautiful tree of life, Satori opened in style. Praise must go to set designer David LaChapelle and lighting designer Christian Kass. The muddled overlapping voices were cleverly taken over by the orchestra playing an original atmospheric score by Lorenz Dangel. I particularly liked Polunin spinning under a spiral spotlight. It was a shame there were a few set malfunctions as clouds descended too low and the backlit curtain got caught, blinding the audience and spoiling a superb shadow scene.

Photo Credit Tristram Kenton

Osipova and Polunin showcase their magical chemistry and Osipova follows with a sublime solo exhibiting the miraculous lightness of her jump and ethereal arms. Tom Waddington an 11-year old Royal Ballet School Junior Associate, keeps up with the accomplished cast. It was a joy to see Polunin smile with him in his scene amidst the darkness of the evening’s programme. I especially enjoyed the choreography between Polunin and his 2 shadows.

In summary

This company dance from their souls. Perhaps Polunin is spreading himself in too many directions for his creative vision to fully take off, but long may he continue aiming to convey the joy of dance.

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