- Actors: Sergei Polunin
- Director: Steven Cantor
- Film Format: Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
- Language: English, Russian
- Subtitles: English, Spanish
- Region: Region 1
- Number of discs: 1
- Rated: Not Rated
- Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
- DVD Release Date: January 17, 2017
- Run Time: 85 minutes
Some documentaries are driven by a message at the center of the narrative, meant to convince the audience of a certain view. Other documentaries are more biographically focused, concerned with information rather than opinion. Watching Dancer, up to the very end of the documentary about Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, I was unclear what the purpose of the film was. At times it seems to be a straightforward biographical documentary, albeit one without much resolution beyond the release of a popular YouTube video, and then there are moments when the film seems to investigating the sacrifice a dancer must make in order to succeed, but filmmaker Steve Cantor’s message ultimately feels noncommittal. Those who enjoy the dancer’s work already may find the film enjoyable for the onstage footage alone, but the documentary offers little for those not already a fan.
Dubbed the “bad boy of ballet” for his excessive partying, tendency to dance while high on drugs, and excessive tattoos, Polunin should probably also have this title due to his habit of quitting dance companies and threatening to retire from dancing altogether. At the very least, if the filmmakers wanted an unbiased portrayal of the dancer, they should have investigated the bad habits beyond celebrating the way it made him look like a rebel. While I’m sure there are many dancers who use drugs in order to perform, Dancer does not investigate this, nor do they press for more information after we witness Polunin downing his special concoction prior to taking the stage. This documentary is clearly a fluff piece, made to appease fans while rarely criticizing the flaws of its subject.
Instead of investigating the bad habits, Dancer attempts to explain them away by pointing the finger elsewhere to lay the blame. It isn’t Polunin’s fault that he drinks excessively and parties so hard that he becomes burnt out, because he can blame his parent’s decision to send him away in order to study dance and eventually become the youngest principal dancer for the Royal Ballet in England. Rather than forcing him to take responsibility for the drugs, the documentary talks about the physical pain that comes with ballet dancing. There is no depth to the film beyond a blatant attempt to make Polunin as sympathetic as possible, despite some questionable behavior in his past and present.
The justification of this behavior also comes in the form of dance footage, which is undeniably impressive. This is perhaps the worst argument of the film, seeming to imply that any behavior and substance abuse is acceptable, as long as the end result is remarkable enough to warrant it. Without his looks and talent, Polunin would be unlikely to get away with much of his behavior without criticism, in real life or in this documentary.
Even if you are a fan of Polunin and don’t mind the blatant flattery of the film, it is a movie that feels incomplete, because the narrative is unfinished. Despite having found great success at several dance companies across the world, the climactic point of success in the documentary is a YouTube video, which seems slightly insulting to the art form and its rich tradition. While there is definitely some validity in mentioning the success of the video David LaChapelle created of Polunin dancing to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,” I don’t exactly agree that a viral video was the peak of his success, as the documentary seems to imply. I find the many sold out performances with respected dance troupes far more impressive than a video which can be watched for free by fans without having to leave their home.
The DVD includes a few deleted scenes and the trailer.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 2/10