On 28 and 29 January 2023, the Teatro degli Arcimboldi in Milan will present Rasputin, a project by and starring Sergei Polunin – the ‘rock star of world dance' according to the theatre's blurb.
We have at La Scala The Queen of Spades conducted by Valery Gergiev who has many times declared his closeness to Putin, so with the director of the theatre we are asking him to make his position clear against this invasion and if he does not do so we will be forced to renounce our collaboration with him.
Gergiev returned to Russia.
Anna Netrebko sat on the fence for a while before saying that she was against the invasion and had most of her contracts reinstated.
No artist has been more a fan of Vladimir Putin than the dancer Sergei Polunin who praises both Putin and justifies this war. His position is that if Ukraine returns under the umbrella of Russia, then there will be peace:
If love comes first, there will be no killing, there will be no hatred, there will be no pain and fear. I ask all people to help me unite this world through love. Together we will do it.
He infamously has a chest tattoo of Putin's face. To this (which he was removing) he has added two more Putin tattoos, on his left and right shoulders. The photo of him proudly showing them off in August was removed by Instagram from his account.
In September, during a performance in Uzbekistan, Polunin complained that he had been censored for dancing in a military uniform to a song dedicated to Russian soldiers killed in action. The Uzbek authorities said that it was because he had deviated from the agreed programme.
On 21 November, Polunin participated in a gala ‘in support of the Russian army'.
His Milanese performances of Rasputin have been delayed several times: first scheduled for April 2020 it was moved to July 2020, then October 2020, then June 2021, then February 2022, and finally to April 2022, with reasons related to Covid safety, according to the organisers. Then the April 2022 shows were postponed until January 2023 because Polunin had had an operation on his Achilles tendon after an injury in March during a gala of the Stars of Russian Ballet in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.
Polunin was born in Kherson, which was one of the first Ukrainian towns to fall to the Russian invasion but was reclaimed by Ukraine troops in November. The Italian ticket agency is advertising Rasputin as a show starring the ‘Ukrainian dancer' Sergei Polunin. While it's true he still has a Ukrainian passport, he has also had his Russian passport since 2018, and declares himself to be Russian.
Gramilano made a request for comment to the theatre yesterday morning but has yet to receive a reply.* Other theatres outside Russia have cancelled his performances. In a recent Russian interview Polunin said:
I lost a huge team in America and Britain – it's all gone. There were performances in Europe, but almost everything was cancelled. It's not easy because you have to pay back a huge amount of money, but we acted in a human way and gave the promoters money to our detriment, although we did not have to, because we did not cancel the performances. Tickets were sold out in Spain, Latvia… but the promoters say, “We don't want to take any chances.”
Iuliia Mendel, former spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on Twitter:
Putin-glorifying ballet dancer is going to perform in Milan, Jan 29,2023. Dear Italians, do you really think about esthetics when you're doing this? Will he perform so that you can see his putin tattoo or you prefer it covered to pretend you don't know? #BanPolunin #NAFOfellas
English dancer Jonah Cook, until July of this year a principal with the Bayerisches Staatsballett, is also among the cast of Rasputin in Milan.
* On 27 December the Arcimboldi Theatre sent the following message:
While believing in freedom of expression and in the apolitical nature of art, the management of the Teatro Arcimboldi in Milan is currently working on suspending the performances of the ballet “Rasputin – Dance Drama” with the dancer Sergei Polunin, first announced in our programming in December 2019.
TAM has always expressed its condemnation of war by hosting the Dance for Peace Gala with Ukrainian artists (April 2022) and the Pussy Riot collective (September 2022).
New announcements will be made in the coming days.
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.