This week’s muse is a rare breed. He’s been called everything from a prodigy to the official bad boy of ballet. He got a reputation as such for getting sick of the ballet company he was employed by and breaking ties. Which seems simple, right? Wrong. So very wrong. Rumors of drugs swirled around him. He got a reputation for being difficult. But much like everything else in life, ballet goes on whether you’re a part of it or not. He wanted to quit. I don’t think many people would have blamed him for it. But like the temperamental beast it is, ballet drew him back in. And thankfully he’s stayed with it for the time being. But whether it’s in ballet or on film, a lot can be learned from the rise and fall and rise again of Sergei Polunin about being an artist.
People are going to think what they want to think of you. They learn a few extraneous details and their head fills in the rest. They hear you quit a job, and all of a sudden you’re some kind of roguish figure. Let them think that. It doesn’t really matter what they think anyway. Keep to yourself. Never stop trying to figure out who you are. Keep experimenting. Ignore labels. Labels make people boring. Bad boy. Rebel. Dancer. Only one label is great in the grand scheme of things, and that’s artist. Nothing is nobler. No matter the form. If you are reading this, then there’s a good chance you know that this is your path. What people think can’t get to you. Not for long, anyway.
It’s okay to be complex. In fact, I would argue that it’s actually ideal. And it’s okay to not aways know every facet of you. The only important part of this is that you keep trying to figure out who you are anyway. Even if you know you may not ever know with complete certainty. Complete certainty is a bore anyway. Who wants to know everything all the time? Where’s the grand adventure in that? The media has labelled Sergei a hundred different things a hundred different times. And I, for one, really don’t give a fuck what they think of him. Just like I like to think I wouldn’t give a fuck if it was me in the spotlight. I may never know that for sure either. But isn’t it a grand adventure to find out?
It’s okay to not always know what you’re doing. In fact, it may well be the better way of going through your life. If you know what you’re doing, you’re comfortable. You don’t have to trust your instincts for anything at all because this path is already so damned simple. And if anything kills an artist, it’s comfort. Art is work. But it’s also fire. It’s passion. It’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach that this and this alone is what you have to do. And it’s alright if that evolves as you do. It should. Because the path of kismet isn’t a perfectly straight one. There are turns. There are rises and there are times that you will fall. But these are the times that an artist thrives.
It’s okay to break from what people expect of you. People are going to have expectations for you. Fuck them. Not literally. Unless you want to, of course. Talent is one thing. Drive is another. For a long time, Sergei had both. But one without the other is entirely useless. I don’t give two shits how talented you are. If people think you’re some kind of fucking genius. If you focus too intently on just one thing, you are going to get burned out eventually. Without exception. This is the reason for a lot of writer’s block. You aren’t Kerouac. Hell, Kerouac couldn’t even write at On the Road speed for too long of a period of time. And trust me, kid. You’re no Kerouac.
It’s okay to break the rules. You don’t always need a big, fascinating, logical as all hell reason to do so. Sometimes people just need to break rules. To feel in control. That doesn’t make you bad. In Sergei’s case, that doesn’t fundamentally make you a rebel. You either always were a rebel or you aren’t now. Don’t be afraid to call for a revolution if one is needed. Artists belong in the middle of the revolution. And in the ballet world, it’s quite likely that he’s right. No power is in the hands of the dancers, but the theaters they work for. And that isn’t really ideal. Not for any creative. We need someone to reign us in that we can trust. Someone who knows the rules and wants us to follow them. But doesn’t despise us if we don’t.
Because nothing is more important than creative freedom. One could call Sergei a freelance ballet dancer now. Which is interesting. Because it isn’t really a thing. Not in a broad sense. And I think we could all strive for a bit more creative control over our own careers, couldn’t we?