Friday, March 6, 2015

Ballet's Good Boy?

If there’s a moral to this story, it may be that you’re better off stupid as a post, or maybe possessed of a peasant sensibility, inclined to do hard work and happy to be paid for it. Or maybe not, since would I have known anything about Sergei Polunin had he not done the unthinkable, the unimaginable, and walked out of the  Royal Ballet, where at age 19 he had become the youngest principal dancer in the company’s history…if all of that improbable stuff hadn’t happened, would I have seen him, with millions of others last month, dancing to something called “Take me to Church?”

But I was a Lady’s house, talking about the ballet, and Lady—being significantly more in the world than I (OK, there’s Emeritus Pope Benedict)—immediately played me the clip. So I admired, I ogled, and I put that away as one of those interesting experiences: A talented dancer, a likeable tune, interesting shots. And it’s nice to see that ballet can grab seven million hits on YouTube. Yes!

A few days later, I was looking up Swan Lake on YouTube, and the site suggested “Take me to Church,” so I clicked on it again. And that led, as so often it does, to seeing the original “Take me to Church,” which has garnered 135 million hits. This would automatically disqualify it as anything I might ever imaginably see, since the shaded area of the Venn Diagram of Marc and 135 million people is impossible to imagine. But I was curious, since I read that the clip was in protest of the treatment of LGBT people in Russia.

And that was an issue, since Naïa, Lady’s 13-year old daughter, had appeared a few days earlier in tears, asking if it was true: Lady and her husband could go to jail in Russia if they said anything about gay people to Naïa. Lady gulped, and said yes.

“And Marc could go to jail, just for being gay?”

No way out: Lady had to say yes.

Naïa was silent for a moment, then turned and announced she was going to go cry in her room. Oh, and then she said…

“…I’ve lost all faith in humanity.”

Well, we both agreed: 13 is young for such an existential state. It does, however, occur to me now that that speaks more to our fortunate state than it does to the conditions of the world today.

So I called Naïa a few days later, and told her: I’m more confident about the state of humanity than I ever have been. Imagine, I said, when I was thirteen I could not even admit that I was gay, much less that one day I would marry. In fact, as a child I was terrified of my wedding day—since of course it would happen (it does to adults, right?) and I knew that I would be horribly unhappy. Oh, and also make my wife utterly miserable. So we agreed: When the Supreme Court strikes down all the marriage bans in the country, Raf and I will get married in Puerto Rico, and Naïa will be part of the wedding party.

“Marc, I was just kidding!”

So today’s conundrum: What in hell is going on in the mind of Sergei Polunin? Because I had now read that he had been born in the Ukraine, that he had been pushed into first gymnastics and then ballet at the age when most kids are contemplating the breach between kindergarten and first grade. And that came with a price, since it meant that he was separated from his mother. How did that feel? Well, according to one source, Polunin has refused to allow his mother to see any of his performances. She does, however, follow his career electronically via the fan pages.

I was then looking at the clip of why Polunin left the Royal Ballet, and the reasons stated—a need for artistic growth—seemed a little unlikely. Here, I give you the Guardian:

The fact that he was pushed into ballet training, sent off to the Royal Ballet school when he was just 13, left Polunin with a deeply conflicted relationship to his own prodigious talent. Three years ago he suddenly exited the Royal, claiming he was unable to work within the constraints of the company’s discipline. And although he subsequently moved to Russia to dance with the Stanislavsky and Novosibirsk ballet companies, he still did not settle. In September last year he announced his intention to leave ballet altogether and begin a Hollywood career, and while he is still dancing it’s unclear for how long.

While in Russia working with the Stanislavsky and Novosibirsk ballet companies, he had as a mentor—something he apparently never had—Igor somebody-or-other (and my apologies both to him and to you, since the Internet is taking an afternoon nap, or perhaps has snuck out for a little illicit Friday afternoon golf… So be warned, anything I write after this is completely unverified….)

Igor was a famous dancer, and is now choreographer for the Stanislavsky and Novosibirsk ballet companies; more importantly, he was also rich. And that, from what I remember from this morning, was the big thing. Because Polunin said that ballet is not cool, baseball is cool, since that way you can make a real killing.

Oh, and one more thing about Polunin: He likes tattoos, and one of the tattoos he sports—all of which have to be covered with makeup before each performance—is the flag of Chechnya. The Educated Readers of this blog don’t have to be reminded that there was a little unpleasantness between Russia and Chechnya, just as there is that little pebble in the path between the Ukraine and Russia, and just as there is—OK, skip the ironic tone—enormous enmity between Russia and gay people. And that was the point of “Take me to Church,” since it became to protest song for the treatment of gays in Russia. And if you have Internet, and parental advisement, you can see the clip, which features gangs of masked youth attacking and throwing onto a fire a gay man.

I’m about as stunned as I would be if I were thrown into the ring with Mohammed Ali in his prime.

And what has happened to Polunin? Is he still in Russia, and if so, in how many pieces? There’s a phenomenal talent there, but is that enough? And more, what is it that drives a dancer at the absolute pinnacle to walk away? And I asked myself…

…is it moral?

Then I thought, ‘well, haven’t I spent four hours this week doing something I really have no interest in doing?’ Because after all, I have been teaching a very nice lady English these last weeks, and five days ago, she wrote me a check. Because I teach well, does that mean I can’t walk away from it? Just because Polunin gets called “fabulous” by The New York Times, does that mean he has to crank out a decade or two of Coppelias and Nutcrackers?

There’s a difference, I say, but is there?

My head has no answer. My gut tells me that it’s unspeakably sad, the life that Polunin has had, the prices he has paid, the sacrifices he has made, but more especially, the terrible price he will pay if he has done all of this just in the pursuit of more money. People venerate the arts, worship the great artists, bring to performances all the awe and adoration that the masses brought to the church, all those centuries ago. Polunin poses the question…

…have we been wrong?