Sonia Hadj Said
Four Eastern European women were sat on the Piccadilly line. Two of them with purple hair, one long and curly, other short. High boots that made sure to showcase their long thin legs. Third woman had high heels on with a sparkly black dress and long black hair. Fourth, a blond, leather leggings and boots. Talking passionately in their own language, they reminded of so many other women. In particular, my own mother, my friend’s mother, all of women I have seen throughout my life in Poland.
I would have to explain it to the English many times. How it was different. How back then mothers were tough. They wanted more for their children and would achieve so by being brutally honest. By pushing with no remorse, no questions asked, just a goal ahead: be more than me, achieve something, have a better life.
I have yet to forgive my parents for such upbringing. Years of arguments, fights and threats of sending me to a private school for dummies. Years of not being able to explain that some things didn’t feel right since, as a child, you can’t possibly know who you are yet, even though your destiny might be clear to others.
Sergei Polunin’s mother knew his destiny alright. The sacrifice she made shown in ‘Dancer’ seems somewhat cold along with her personality. No regrets on her strong and confident face contrast Polunin’s bitterness towards her. A family spread around the world to support his dance education. His promise to bring that family together broken by news of a divorce. Blame. But who is to blame? While the documentary clearly states dancer’s position, you are free to make your own judgement just as my friend is free to make hers.
As we all, artistic souls, agreed that the film was so intense, we didn’t want to talk about it, we had to talk about it. And I had to drop the question: “do you wish your parents pushed you as hard?” to which my friend nodded her head without any thought, almost as thinking about it all along.
“It started as a passion and then quickly became just a hobby”, she shrugged. Sorrow in her voice would not go unnoticed, but it presents the sad reality. In our years you would become what your parents expected of you. If they were wrong, you had to suck it up and get through before probably migrating to another country (so often melancholic London portrayed in the film).
Steven Cantor could’ve made this documentary about just the dancer, but instead he made it about the sacrifice. The difficulty of a ballet world that pushes until there is nothing in you. The life you didn’t ask for, it shows an empty promise to those who think the work is done once you get there. The worst part? Polunin’s grandmother hugging him and apologising. The dancer asks, “what are you apologising for?”. A lost childhood, separated family, a better life for him without his permission.
Ultimately, you can feel sorry for Polunin as well as for yourself. You might cry to see the scene where his mother leaves the 13 year old Sergei in London to be on his own. Maybe it will only make you cry because your own parents never saw this kind of promise in you when you thought you had it. Maybe your parents were too busy to make ends meet to waste time on your artistic skills. Maybe you vowed to buy a big house to a family that also doesn’t exist anymore. But there is one and only question out of this film: who are you going to end up as and is it entirely your own choice?
Banner image: Jose Romussi