So, here’s an interesting thought for you: in London, ballet and contemporary dance is kind of a big deal. And when I say a big deal, I mean dancers are recognized on the street and performances sell out. I’ll say that again: Performances. Sell. Out. Amazing, isn’t it?
I just got back from a ticket-buying trip to my friendly neighbourhood dance venue – which, incidentally, is Sadler’s Wells, the UK’s leading dance house – and that little trip got me thinking. Late yesterday afternoon, Sergei Polunin, Principal with The Royal Ballet and quite the ballet superstar in many people’s opinion, resigned. And not in the polite I-would-like-to-move-on-when-my-contract-is-up-way. No, it was more like taking his ballet shoes, slamming the stage door and saying f**k you, Royal Ballet and Dame Monica Mason (who, by the way was lovely enough to promote him at the age of 19, thus making him the youngest principal dancer in Royal Ballet history). I mean the kid is 21, but still – manners, please! Anyway, my point is this: within minutes of the news breaking via press release from the Royal Opera House, Twitter was all aflutter with speculations as to why he would resign so dramatically. Within hours, articles had been written for The Evening Standard and BBC News and this morning Mr. Polunin was on the front page of The Daily Telegraph. And I realise that this is partly due to the nature of his resignation, but there’s more to it than that. Let me explain: About a year ago, Kristoffer Sakurai retired from The Royal Danish Ballet at the ripe old age of 30. For years, Sakurai was my ballet-crush. He was a stunningly gorgeous dancer with equal amounts of heartbreaking beauty and well-deserved cockiness. He had this way of ending a difficult variation with a sparkle in his eye that said »Yeah, that was pretty awesome…« But it was never too much. And then he resigned – due to injuries. And I only know that because I have inside sources (doesn’t that sound cool…), because there was never a press release or a statement of any kind. Again, I realise that this is much less dramatic than Sergei Polunin’s stunt, but still: I don’t think retiring that quietly would have been an option, had Kristoffer Sakurai been a dancer with say, The Royal Ballet here in London. Because principal dancers with The Royal Ballet are superstars. People camp out at The Royal Opera House in the wee hours of the morning to get tickets that have been returned for sold-out performances – and the line has been known to stretch all the way around Covent Garden.
Please don’t get me wrong – I love The Royal Danish Ballet with all my heart and soul. It’s an amazing company that has, unfortunately, been going through a very rough time recently. And all the wonderful artists in the contemporary scene in Copenhagen are very close to my heart as well. But moving to London has caused me to view dance in a completely new way. I am still getting used to the fact that I have to book my tickets more than a few days ahead of a performance – at least if I don’t want to pay the price of a small car for them. And as I’m typing this, I am watching a story on Channel 4 News entitled How hard is the life of a professional ballet dancer? – about the resignation of one Mr. Sergei Polunin. Primetime news? I rest my case.