Take me to church: like a ballet dancer

Last Sunday, listening to the radio swatting up for the pub quiz, Hozier’s Take Me to Church came on.

Every time I hear that song, I can’t help being reminded of that video. You know the one: it went viral. A lone dancer in an impossibly beautiful barn, shafts of light pouring in at all angles. Powerful, moving and shattering any perceptions of ballet as simply about tutus, tiaras and tights.

Published to YouTube in February this year, the video has been viewed over 12 million times, and it’s even been recreated on the The Ellen Show.

Who’s the dancer?

So, just who is the dancer everyone’s fallen in love with?

I started to look into who was dancing, and discovered an even greater appreciation of this piece of work.

Like Hosier’s original video, whose characters are dramatically battling their demons, Ukranian dancer Sergei Polunin shows a striking similarity, and by finding out about his story, you can start to really appreciate where the power and the emotive performance comes from as he dances.

You’ve probably not thought much about the ripped tights and the tattoos proudly visible, but neither of these would be tolerated on the professional stage of Britain’s ballet companies. The piece is raw, unapologetic choreography to match; with both the song and Sergei’s story.

At the age of just 19, Sergei Polunin became the youngest ever Principal of the Royal Ballet, a prestigious role for someone who got into professional ballet training quite late. But by 22, he had left the Royal Ballet amid stories of drugs, late nights and disillusion with the discipline. He was fighting a very personal battle in the spotlight.

So, how fitting that, in this piece, he is conveyed naked, alone, seemingly wrestling with the choreography and dipping in and out of ethereal light. The barn is a constricted space, and some of the leaps seem constricted and frustrated by lack of room.

Ballet, but not as you might know it

This raw depiction of ballet perhaps resonates more easily with the majority of people. We have all felt alone and have grappled with demons at some point, however big or small. There’s something in the nature of Sergei’s performance, in it’s power and pain, that’s very real and emotional. He’s not the traditional dancer, but seen by many as the bad boy of ballet. He’s human.

Ballet isn’t just all about the prim and proper routines and carefully-choreographed steps of the traditional ballet performance. That’s the beauty of dance. It is whatever you want it to be, and it’s personal.  Sergei has brought the personal to the masses thanks to the internet.


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