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Ukrainian Dancer Loses Paris Gig, Draws Ire Over Homophobic Posts

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jan 15, 2019

He commanded plenty of attention in the world of classical dance and then made an impact on popular culture when he performed a ballet, clad only in flesh-toned leotards, to Hozier's "Take Me To Church," a song that indicts the Catholic Church for its treatment of the LGBTQ faithful.

But Sergei Polunin's social media posts praising Russian president Vladimir Putin and American president Donald Trump - and harshing on men whom he deems not to be masculine enough - have raised enough hackles that barely two days elapsed between the announcement that Polunin would star in "Swan Lake" at the Paris Opera Ballet and his abrupt disinvitation by the renowned troupe, the New York Times reports.

Polunin has also outraged many of his own countrymen with his support of Putin and Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Polunin, 29, sports a tattoo of Putin on his chest and, the day his invitation to the Paris Opera Ballet was made public, the 29-year-old dancer and fledgling movie star took to Instagram to unleash another bombshell, writing, "Got strong feeling What if Vladimir Putin would become the leader of the world. I will pray for that because it would be the ultimate win over evil."

That post followed numerous others in which he aired anti-gay views, criticized men for not being "lions" and "wolves," and described a fantasy in which he imagined he would violently upbraid people he deemed to be overweight.

The Times reported that recent posts from the dancer - who has reportedly boasted online about hard partying - have been "incoherent."

Perhaps most difficult to reconcile is the disconnect between the Dave Chappelle-made video set to Hozier's anthem - a song whose lyrics take the Catholic Church to task for its institutionalized homophobia, and which racked up more than 26 million YouTube views - and the dancer's praise of world leaders whose tendencies have ranged from erasure of LGBTQ people to outright persecution. Under Putin's reign, Russia has enacted a draconian "no homo promo" law that punishes sexual minorities and their allies for any act or expression the state considers to be supportive of LGBTQs. In America, the Trump administration has moved to erase trans citizens from legal existence, dropped LGBTQs from the upcoming 2020 Census, and attempted to unilaterally ban trans servicemembers.

In rescinding its invitation to Polunin, the Paris Opera Ballet's artistic director, Aurélie Dupont, cited the dancer's "public pronouncements," reported UK newspaper The Telegraph.

Adrien Couvet, a lead dancer with the company, was less kind - and more direct. Calling Polunin's a "disgrace" in a post, Couvet declared, "It's frankly impossible for the Paris Opera to invite someone like this in 2019," The Telegraph article noted.

"Our company promotes values of respect and tolerance!" Couvet added. "This man has nothing to do with us."

Watch the Chapelle-directed video to Hozier's "Take Me to Church" below.



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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