Project Polunin - Satori, London Coliseum, review: It puts some fine dancers through a murk of glum philosophising

Zoë Anderson
Sergei Polunin performing in 'Satori' at London's Coliseum: Tristan Kenton

There’s a lot of flailing in Project Polunin. A programme of works chosen to show off the starry but erratic Sergei Polunin, it puts some fine dancers, including Natalia Osipova, through a murk of glum philosophising.

Polunin’s career has been both meteoric and messy. A highly gifted classical dancer, promoted to principal of The Royal Ballet at just 19, he walked out abruptly and has danced with a range of companies since. He reached a wider audience on YouTube, dancing in a David LaChapelle’s video set to Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” – which will also be performed in a special matinee aimed at younger audiences. Since then, he’s pursued Hollywood as well as dance, appearing in Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express.

His own Project Polunin launched with a helplessly silly first programme that included Polunin posing in a sparkly jockstrap as Narcissus. There’s less glitter in the new show Satori, but the self-indulgence is still thick on the ground.

In First Solo, choreographed by Andrey Kaydanovskiy, starts with a crackle of voices, before Polunin angsts about the stage, wrestling his inner demons. It’s athletic but woolly, with exaggerated facial expressions and rolling around. This whole programme gives little sense of Polunin’s current level of technique: the performance is weak, but it’s also playing it safe.

Scriabiniana is more interesting. It’s a reconstruction of a ballet by Russian Kasyan Goleizovsky, whose early work was an influence on George Balanchine, but who was sidelined by the Soviet dance establishment. Performed by dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet and elsewhere, it’s a series of short numbers. The style is very mid-century Soviet, with lots of heroic gesture and big lifts, like a low-energy Yuri Grigorovich.

There’s a classical solo for Osipova, and a bright quartet for four women, but most of these dances are duets with an oak-and-clinging-ivy view of gender. Men rage at the gods, while women drape themselves over manly torsos. Polunin’s partnering is shaky in his duet with Osipova, while there’s more overacting in his angry solo.

Choreographed by Polunin, with designs by David LaChapelle, the new Satori is an ego-trip trudge through our hero’s psyche, vaguely inspired by Eastern philosophy. He sits under a tree while screens show flickering images and shadows loom through the dry ice. While Polunin is firmly in the spotlight, other characters are half-lit or barely visible. A young boy represents hope, while Osipova flutters about the edges. Polunin’s choreography is barely there, a lot of wafting and grappling with a few flashy, conventional steps for himself and Osipova.

Until 10 December (londoncoliseum.org)