Numerous explanations have been postulated in the wake of Sergei Polunin’s hasty departure from The Royal Ballet. His well-documented comments in recent interviews and on Twitter suggest he is harbouring some resentment at a life dedicated to ballet, feeling like he is missing out on life having avoided hanging out on street corners. Ballet can be all-consuming, but like other professions that require years of training to get to a professional level, it’s all about achieve a work-life balance.
While being a ballet dancer is difficult – to progress it takes constant work and maintenance over the course of a career – the hours aren’t excruciating. While it is true that on performance days you might not get out of the theatre until 11pm and be expected to turn up for class in the morning, large portions of the year are spent rehearsing, which would rarely top 40 hours per week. Many other professions require a significantly higher time commitment. That said, few take such a physical toll as that of a ballet dancer and with “rest” being a necessary component of the working week if optimum performance is to be ensured and injury is to be avoided, the aforementioned work-life balance becomes tipped in favour of the latter.
Most professional dancers will have started some form of dance training at a young age and will have taken it seriously from quite early on. Dance, broadly speaking, is a discipline which is quietly competitive and can easily become the focus of a young person’s life; when this does happen, it is difficult to give equal footing to academic studies or other hobbies. Professional dancers are usually the primary source of inspiration for young dancers, and quelling the desire to emulate one’s idols is very difficult. So, from a long way out, those dancers with professional aspirations can become restricted, sometimes by their own ambition and sometimes by proxy.
It is easy to see that dance, like other creative avenues, is a vocation: it is something you will only pursue if you truly desire it and isn’t something you can just fall into. A common result of growing up with such tunnel vision is that once you get to a certain point on the journey, outside influences can present themselves, and a whole world, which was previously intangible, becomes available for enjoyment and rebellion seems like an enticing prospect.
Dancers aren’t creators, they are interpreters. Every role or piece of choreography is enriched and fleshed-out by the dancers own life experience. While it might seem like 100% dedication is required to succeed, rebellion, albeit in it’s most self-aware and controlled form, can go a long way into making a dancer more human – this will not only translate to the stage, it will come in handy when the last curtain drops and the ballet shoes are hung up for good.