In an interview with The Telegraph's Louis Wise, Sergei Polunin dodges the hand grenades he launches about comments in the past about homosexuals and women, and his jaw-dropping Vladimir Putin tattoo. However, in doing so Polunin manages to add a few more ‘I wish I hadn't said that' moments into the mix. A respectful, and charmed, Wise, is interviewing him because he has a book coming out – FREE: A Life in Images and Words – but he adds an arched eyebrow into his writing with comments such as, ‘No kidding' and ‘D'ya think?'.
Apparently, Polunin's getting rid of his tattoos. After looking at them (under the influence of LSD) he decided that they meant nothing. Including Putin?
It's, like, 40 times I've been [to Russia], and the blistering… (he sighs)… And every time I go I get a thankful letter from Putin, it's like: ‘Oh.' And I'm removing it. I'm just curious to see who I am.
Although he says, “A big part of creation is destruction,” his destructive attitude has cost him dearly with his social media outbursts resulting in companies he was associated with grabbing back their advances and running quickly to create the biggest possible distance between them and their former golden boy.
He has experienced cancel culture firsthand and empathised with his former Royal Ballet colleague, Liam Scarlett. When Scarlett's ties with The Royal Ballet were cut, Polunin got in touch with him.
I know how it feels… I just didn't want a person [to] go too low. And I wanted him to know there is an option. But he didn't reply at the time. And I guess this time, he just went too low.
He was a good human. He would hug you, he could kiss you on the cheek, but it's not like it's bad, you know? I think some people want to be victims: students, some of them are like 21 years old! It's like, the students would go and hunt you, you know? [Scarlett was] affectionate. You know – it's like some loving beautiful dog who licks your face. You don't go: ‘Let me investigate. Why did you lick my face?' You just cuddle that dog if you want, or not.
I'm not comparing Liam to a dog. I'm just saying… he was a beautiful person. He wasn't a bad person. And everybody knew everything – nothing was hidden. It just got too intense, this culture of cancelling things.
Of the ballet world, he says,
It used to be so bad. I think everybody, all the older generation, should be in jail!
Polunin feels that at the time of the documentary Dancer, which recounted his life, and his big screen cameo roles, that he was getting his life together again. Then came his social media ‘meltdown':
Of course, I ruined everything for a couple of years.
When confronted with comments he wrote – such as “females [are] now trying [to] take on the man role because you don't fuck them” – he now says,
That was more shooting myself in the leg, let's say. It's not, like, something I believe in.
About his homophobic slurs, he says, bizarrely,
In Russia, the gay community is strong. In politics, in entertainment, it's one of the strongest communities. I don't know why they're not openly going about it – maybe to keep their power?
To keep their power? Hm. In Moscow, he says,
There were lesbians kissing everywhere… I've never seen so many lesbians.
He says that his wife and son are the reason for the new Polunin:
I really would love to be more stable. I think men in general should be more like this.
Women are more… emotional, I would say.
Wise can't help but laugh.
But I'm an artist! I'm allowed!
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.