Ballet Star Polunin and Tango at Florence Dance Festival’s Week 4

Sergei Polunin

The penultimate week of the Florence Dance Festival welcomes one of the most talented male ballet dancers the world has ever seen, on a par with the likes of Nijinsky, Baryshnikov and Nureyev. Despite his polarising character and scandalous behaviour that have made his professional trajectory far from straightforward, Sergei Polunin will go down in history as one of the greatest ballet dancers, making his appearance at the Florence Dance Festival a must-see event. Moving from tortured artist to tango, the end of week four hosts three evenings solely dedicated to Argentine tango, including fun dance gatherings and thought-provoking discussion panels.

Tuesday, July 23 and Wednesday, July 24, 9.30 pm

One of the most anticipated events of the festival is Sergei Polunin’s performance of Sacré. The bad boy of ballet, Polunin is controversial at times but indisputably a powerhouse of talent. He became an online sensation in the viral YouTube video of his dazzling performance to Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church,’ redefining the meaning of classical dance for over 27 million people. The Ukrainian-born dancer became an Étoile at the tender age of 19 and has not been afraid to ruffle some feathers as he rose to stardom with his rebellious approach to ballet, undoing the conventions laid out before him. 

This Polunin’s first appearance in Florence and he will be performing the two-act show ‘Sacré.’ The first act, ‘Fraudulent Smile,’ choreographed by Ross Freddie Ray, is a group performance of nine dancers dressed as French mimes, also starring ex-Royal Ballet dancer Johann Kobborg alongside Polunin. The epigraph of ‘Fraudulent Smile’ poses the question: ‘Why does a good man do bad things?’ and dramatises man’s struggle to swim against the tide of temptation. Kobborg is cast as the malevolent manipulator, standing in contrast with Polunin’s role of the ‘one good, true soul’ who falls victim to the tyranny of Kobborg’s character. Polunin’s trademark tortured artist persona that he brings to the stage lends itself eloquently to the role. 

In the second act, Polunin performs a dramatically emotional solo choreographed by Japanese dancer Yuka Oishi. ‘Sacré’ reinterprets Stravinsky’s 1913 ‘The Rite of Spring’ and also pays tribute to the legendary ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Polunin lays himself bare in the heart-wrenching performance that channels the turbulent struggles Nijinsky faced, living with the mental illness we now know as schizophrenia. Dancing in an enclosed circle of leaves, the staging offers a striking visual representation of the isolating, entrapping nature of Nijinsky’s illness, all the more enhanced by Polunin’s raw performance. 

Full admission is 100€, a reduced ticket for over 65’s, students under 26 and children aged 6 – 13 is 80€. Admission is free for children under 6 years old. 

Friday, July 26; Saturday, July 27; & Sunday, July 28

Over the following days the ETI – Encuentro Tanguero Italiano – will bring a touch of Argentina to Florence, breaking down cultural and geographical borders through the artistic ritual of tango. ETI will run various events over these three days such as milongas, spaces where people come together to dance tango, orchestra performances and conferences that delve into the rich historical and cultural significance of Argentine tango, named a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.

Friday, 26 July 

6.30 – 9 pm | Afternoon Milonga | Giancarlo Pastonchi Tango DJ 

9.15 – 10.15 pm | Conference: Tango in Italy during the ‘Belle Epoque’ | Roberto Finelli 

10.30 pm – 2 am | Evening Milonga: Tango Spleen | La Orquesta. Nicla Zonno Tango DJ 

Saturday, 27 July 

4.30 – 6 pm | Talk Show ‘The first Tango communities in the 80s – 90s’ | Roberto Finelli 

6.30 – 9 pm | Afternoon Milonga | Marina Mondini Tango DJ 

10.30 – 2 am | Evening Milonga | Sinfonica Milonguera / Damian Boggio Tango DJ 

Sunday, 28 July 

4.30 – 6 pm | Conference: ‘History of the Embrace in Tango’ | Prof. Mercelo Castelo 

10.30 – 2 am | Evening Milonga | Alfredo Petruzzelli MusicAlizador Tango DJ 

Full admission for each evening is 20€, a reduced ticket for over 65’s, students under 26, members of Unicoop Florence and dance students is 15€. Admission is 10€ for children aged 6 and 13 and is free for children under 6 years old.  (saskia brown)