Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A tiger at the ballet: meet Sergei Polunin


He's 21, he's been called "better than Baryshnikov" and he has tiger scratches tattooed into his torso. Sergei Polunin, the youngest star of the Royal Ballet, makes his debut tonight as Des Grieux in MacMillan's ManonHis extraordinary roller-coaster of a story, from rags to incipient riches, as told to me a couple of weeks ago by the lad himself, is in today's Independent.

He's rather lovely - intelligent and self-aware, under that youthful bravado - and I couldn't help teasing him a little when he started talking about how he envies the street life of his former school friend back in Kherson, Ukraine, whom he encountered "walking around in a gang, looking cool". I asked where he lives and he named a reasonably rough bit of north London. Plenty of gangs there, I said. I'm sure they'd have you, what with the tattoos and all. Fortunately he recognises that he can't risk breaking a leg. Still, he's already seen more of real life in his 21 short years than many of ballet (and music)'s practitioners will experience in twice that.

Just look at this... an extract from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in which he dances Jack, with Lauren Cutherbertson - his Manon tonight and his Aurora for the upcoming cinecast of The Sleeping Beauty - as Alice.