Certainly quicker than it takes to escape from a Turkish prison, ballet’s bad boy Sergei Polunin has disappeared from Peter Schaufuss’ production of Midnight Express. The show is due to open on Tuesday in London but according the the London Evening Standard he has not shown up for rehearsals, is not answering his phone, and is not in his hotel. The official statement simply says he has withdrawn due to “unforeseen circumstances”.
His last disappearing act – from the Royal Ballet in January of 2012 – astonished the ballet world, but it was thought that becoming part of the Stanislavsky company under the watchful eye of his mentor Igor Zelensky had given him the stability and freedom he was searching for. A disappointed Schaufuss said,
I really hope that it’s not a repeat of last year when he walked out. He seemed to have matured a lot and become more confident. Until now, we had no reason to believe otherwise.
Zelensky is also in the cast, and the role, based on Billy Hayes’s autobiographical story of a young man jailed in Turkey for drug-smuggling, seems tailor made for Polunin, all of which makes his withdrawal even more surprising.
Just a month ago in an interview with The Times, Polunin stated,
I did try cocaine, but it was more of an experiment than an addiction. Though the shows were great, because coke gives you unlimited energy. But Igor Zelensky has been teaching me to get that energy from within myself and not to put my energy into clubbing; to put it into performance and enjoy the adrenalin you get from it.
However, as dance writer Graham Watts said in a recent series of tweets, nobody yet knows what is going on,
I’m disappointed to read that the #MidnightExpress affair is about Sergei vanishing or has anything to do with so-called “lifestyle” issues. I believe the problem is artistic differences between Polunin/Zelensky and the director which are irreconcilable. I am not taking sides but I believe that this is an artistic issue that could not be resolved and nothing more.
Quite possibly so (especially being that Zelensky, too, has left the cast), but as there must have been videos available of this production from way back in 2000, and knowing that many people must have bought tickets because of Polunin’s presence and not the rather shaky reputation of Schaufuss’ company after last year’s disastrous Tchaikovsky programme, it seems an irresponsible act, to say the least.
As Judith Mackrell said in The Guardian,
Certainly it’s hard not to feel nostalgia for the ethos that George Balanchine maintained during his four decades as choreographer and director of New York City Ballet: so strong was his belief that the choreography counted for everything that Balanchine resisted advertising the casting of ballets in advance.
Polunin will be replaced by Johan Christensen. The show runs from 9-15 April at the London Coliseum. The box-office are offering refunds to Polunin fans…
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.