Review: Project Polunin - Satori - London Coliseum

Performance: 8 - 10 December 2017
Reviewed by Rachel Nouchi - Friday 8 December 2017

Recently watching Dancer – the documentary featuring Sergei Polunin and his troubled journey from the Ukraine to youthful stardom encountering genuine isolation from his family – it was hard not to embrace his latest triple-bill, Satori, with a zealousness usually reserved for football mums rooting for their children. “Come on, Sergei,” you could almost hear the audience chant. “You can do it.”

So with the evening opening to First Solo, a seven-minute party piece, choreographed by Andrey Kaydanovsky, featuring Polunin alone on stage looking torturous, it was with a deep sigh of relief to see that the boy can still dance.

Perhaps not with the same refined, near god-like precision associated with those early days as principle of the Royal Ballet, but whilst his critics still castigate him for turning his back on company life and balletic purity, there was raw power in his delivery and with it the ability to imbue emotion through movement.

Whether it was the desperate need for this production to be validated, given the response to Project Polunin’s first outing back in March, or just the sheer passion of being back in the limelight, there was sense of vulnerability expressed in First Solo. Using all the strength he could muster throwing every last sinew into his performance, Polunin looked hauntingly exposed on the bare stage, lit by a lone spotlight marking him out to the audience as if trapped in a self-imposed prison trying to break free.

Swiftly moving into classical territory, Scriabiniana reset the tone in a pleasant romp sewn together with a series of pas de deux and pas de quatre, free of narrative and relying heavily on framed photogenic shapes and forms to carry its action.

The piece floats seamlessly from one vignette to the next, some sensual, others more pastoral, but with little meaning outside of an overriding feeling of well-being found through the symmetry of form, recreating a Soviet aesthetic of the gymnastic variety that premieres to Western audiences for the first time, even though the piece was choreographed by Kasyan Goleizovsky, 125 years ago.

Noteworthy here is the genius casting by Royal Ballet soloist, Valentino Zuchetti, gathering principle dancers from ballet companies across Europe to dance together in this work breathing life into the choreography.

The final piece, Satori, inspired by Eastern philosophy, choreographed by Polunin, with designs by David LaChapelle, resembles a fairy tale on steroids. The stage is bathed in technicolour brightness and the picture book sets – cut out clouds, billowing sheets – punctuated by flickering images from hanging TV screens create a dreamy illusion of fantasy as dancers emerge from the misty shadows into the light.

Most memorable in Satori are the scenes with the boy, backlit by a godly yellow glow and danced with cheeky confidence by Tom Waddington. Perhaps a throwback to the former Polunin, this autobiographical touch revealed moments of real joy in movement – including a wide-brimmed smile from Polunin shot out to the audience whilst the two dance together.

The piece allows Polunin to be himself – an energetic bouncing ball – a virtuoso – either flying across the stage from leaping jetes into multiple pirouettes only to dissolve into an existential mess when he throws himself onto the stage – lost when the little boy is torn away from him.

The choreography skims along effortlessly in repetitive phrases. Polunin is clearly dancing to his own tune while the rest of the cast are there as back-up support for the main man – including the breathtakingly beautiful Natalia Osipova who is in every way an equal match to Polunin’s own artistic capabilities.

The parting shot momentarily re-addresses this balance in a sensually charged pas de deux where Polunin and Osipova – clad in flesh coloured leotards, literally cling together to create a unified being – banishing loneliness and angst off and up into the colourful clouds above.

Overall, Satori offers a lively and heartfelt attempt to bring ballet into a more commercial setting and while nobody likes change, you can’t blame the hugely talented Polunin for trying.

Satori was reviewed by Rachel Nouchi. Rachel is a writer/movement researcher from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and contributes arts based features and reviews covering UK performance. You can find her on Twitter @NouchiR

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