A Ballet Rebel’s Next Move

Bad to the bone—and brilliant (photo by Elliott Franks)

It seems like the ballet world always has one or two James Dean-y bad boys, super-talented men who buck convention—not always the easiest thing to do in ballet—and do things their own way. Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Carlos Acosta, Rasta Thomas (who founded, fittingly, the Bad Boys of Dance): They’re all amazing performers who, thanks to their skills and charisma, have been able to break away from the prince-in-tights stereotypes—or at least to play the princes they want, whenever they want.

Ballet fans have had their eyes on the newest member of the bunch, the phenomenal Sergei Polunin, ever since he left London’s Royal Ballet earlier this year. (And if you’re wondering whether he’s a true bad boy: He not only has about a dozen tattoos, he also owns a share in a tattoo parlor. Legit!) The 23-year-old has been bouncing around from gala to gala and guest appearance to guest appearance since then, but he’s made allusions to his big plans for the future.

Well, a few days ago, it was announced that he’ll play the lead in the UK premiere of choreographer Peter Schaufuss’ Midnight Express next April. It’s definitely not your grandma’s ballet: The work is based on the true-story book by Billy Hayes about an American stuck in Turkish prison after he’s  been convicted of drug smuggling. Marius Petipa would turn over in his grave—and I’m guessing that’s exactly the kind of effect Polunin was hoping for.

Here’s to Polunin and all of his fellow bad boys, for keeping the ballet world exciting!

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