Capturing the dance

Sergei Polunin and Steven Cantor on David LaChapelle, family and Project Polunin.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Sergei Polunin:
Sergei Polunin: "David LaChapelle - it was always the idea of a dance piece at the core of the documentary." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Producer Gabrielle Tana (Stephen Frears's Philomena), joined with Baby Cow Productions partners Steve Coogan and Henry Normal as she connected photographer David LaChapelle, the director of Rise, to Dancer director Steven Cantor and Sergei Polunin. LaChapelle brought on Hozier's Take Me To Church. In the continuation of my conversation with the director and star we discuss the layers behind the dance, tattoo memories, family and Project Polunin.

"When Take Me to Church was released, people started to listen. We started this project called Project Polunin."

Dancer, with a score by Ilan Eshkeri, takes us on an emotional journey of a young man thrust into the limelight at lightning speed where he eventually loses his balance with work, family and colleagues. Sergei Polunin, the youngest ever male principal dancer for the British Royal Ballet decided to move on from a very high profile career he felt was imposed upon him by severing ties abruptly with the company.

Anne-Katrin Titze: How did David LaChapelle come into the picture?

Sergei Polunin: David LaChapelle - it was always the idea of a dance piece at the core of the documentary. As something special because dance is so important and we didn’t really have a dance. David did Rise, which is like a dance documentary and we looked at it and I thought it was amazing.

I thought, this guy has taste. This is a guy who has love for dance. So Gaby [Gabrielle Tana] put us together to make that piece. I didn’t think much. I just wanted to be done with it. And then it became a beginning.

Steven Cantor with Sergei Polunin on Hozier's Take Me To Church:
Steven Cantor with Sergei Polunin on Hozier's Take Me To Church: "The song was found by David [LaChapelle] before it was ever released."

AKT: With the song Take Me to Church what was the lure? Was it the religious component?

Steven Cantor: No. The song was found by David before it was ever released. It just kind of organically unfolded. It wasn't premeditated.

SP: I didn't really think about it. I didn't even listen to the what he was saying in the lyrics at all.

AKT: There are all those layers to it. You could think about a religious component or renewal, resurrection, self-determination - all of that. I think that's why it resonates, even with babies dancing.

SP: I was feeling on different levels. I was very emotional for nine hours. I was very empty. I was thinking do I really want to stop? That's nine hours of very important thinking time.

SC: And there's a secondary story to that. As Sergei said, this was going to be the sort of template dance piece for the film. Sergei was in this dark place of being done with ballet. He was thinking of retiring and the film was going to end with Take Me To Church. And then David sort of leaked it on the internet, not expecting it to be a big thing. And then it blew up.

AKT: Before the film came out?

SC: Yes. First we were kind of like angry and dumfounded that he did that. And then we were, wow, the response is actually amazing and Sergei is getting more famous here. And then Sergei got such an outpouring of love and letters from kids.

Sergei Polunin on one of his tattoos:
Sergei Polunin on one of his tattoos: "The rain, actually, it wasn't tears. It was supposed to be rain washes the memories away."

SP: You realise how much you can do with it!

SC: So we went from being angry with David for doing this, to all of a sudden we got the structure of the film.

AKT: You might have inspired kids to want to be dancers.

SP: I realised, A) I can inspire and B) I can do something for dancers. I realized the infrastructure dancers are missing. When Take Me to Church was released, people started to listen. We started this project called Project Polunin. We realised we need to integrate lawyers, foundations, charity, music, fashion, movies.

Every dancer should join this to be supported. I think it's important to have this system where dancers can ask questions. You have to protect them from bad decisions. There are so many crazy stories of dancers being conned. You have sharks as well as no help. We have at the moment lawyers who are retired who want to help dancers.

AKT: To have an infrastructure.

Dancer poster
Dancer poster

SP: Infrastructure, yes. So that once a dancer can retire he can look after the next generation. So you have a circle. Because right now, dancers are left with nothing.

AKT: This is very important work you are doing. Just to clarify - in the film, we see your two grandmothers. I like the shot of them next to each other. Larissa is the one who speaks a lot and Valentina is silent. Larissa is your father's mother?

SP: No, Vale is my father's mother and Larissa is my mother's mother. They were funny. They were never filmed [before].

AKT: There was one link between a tattoo of yours and a moment in the film. It is after your parents' divorce and you say you don't want any more memories and it was the last time you cried. Later we see your tattoo saying MEMORIES with tears. Is there a connection to that moment?

SP: Yes, that led up to it. That was such a strong point. I stopped being religious, it really deeply affected me. I became cold. I became really a closed person. And I decided to do that tattoo. The rain, actually, it wasn't tears. It was supposed to be rain washes the memories away.

SC: That's the second question you asked that nobody asked before.

Read what Steven Cantor and Sergei Polunin had to say on getting to know each other, Dancer composer Ilan Eshkeri and Dasha the cat.

Sergei Polunin and Steven Cantor will present Dancer at the BFI London Film Festival on October 8 at 6:00pm and October 9 at 12:30pm.

Dancer is in cinemas in the US and opens theatrically in the UK on March 10, 2017.

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