Work/Life Balance

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.

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2 thoughts on “Work/Life Balance

  1. Yes, exactly!

    Polunin’s friend Ivan Putrov was quoted as saying Polunin was “fed up being ordered around and being treated merely as an entertainer… [as] a physically fit body that just does movements.” He insists that “a ballet principal is a creator, and can’t just be told what to do – a dancer has to take part in what they’re doing.”

    Cry me a river. Putrov’s naïve statement obscures the complex truth about a dancer’s unique role in artistic creation. We all know the greatest dancers DO often end up collaborating with choreographers and with ballet masters who set revivals. Dancers are not robots that “just do movement”; at their best they inspire choreography, they interpret music and movement, layer their personalities and their readings of the role onto the performance.

    Principals may understandably be frustrated if they feel their needs and wishes are not being heard. But most are simply grateful to be where they are, since the cold hard reality is that professional contracts are hard to come by and careers are so brief.

    Whatever his personal crisis, Polunin needs the support and private counsel of wise mentors, not inarticulate public rants by well-meaning friends.

    • I agree. On the surface it might seem like they are being supportive, but it’s just giving him further license to run wild, which might be what he thinks he wants, when really all he probably needs is some tough love.

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