Project Polunin is a new initiative spearheaded by the maverick Ukrainian dancer Sergei Polunin in order to collaborate with contemporary artists, musicians and choreographers. At Sadler’s Wells in London this week he is presenting a triple bill of modern and classical pieces comprising the UK premiere of Vladimir Vasiliev’s Icarus; Tea or Coffee, choreographed by Andrey Kaydanovskiy; and the world premiere of Narcissus and Echo, co-created by Polunin, composer Ilan Eshkeri and the photographer and artist David LaChapelle.
Eshkeri wrote the music for Dancer, the new Polunin documentary film, while LaChapelle launched the dancer to wider appeal by directing his performance to Hozier’s Take Me to Church. Narcissus and Echo is designed to reflect the idea that people are driven to create a carefully edited, “ideal reality” of themselves as a status symbol which leaves some people feeling inadequate. The pool is used as a metaphor for social media – it is a world of beauty to Narcissus but it is an artificial one.
Sarah Lee was invited to join Polunin and his company rehearsing Echo and Narcissus at Sadler’s Wells. She photographed them over several days, working with Eshkeri and the choreographer Andrey Kaydanovskiy.
- Sergei working on the choreography.
- Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova, left, rehearse; associate choreographer Valentino Zucchetti, right, oversees the dancers.
I am very lucky to work with Ilan and see him create. He cared and helped from the beginning and the music he composed touches you deeply - Sergei
- Adriana Lizardi, trained in Puerto Rico, currently dancing with the English National Ballet; and the Royal Ballet School’s Shevelle Dynott.
In 20 years’ living in London, I have never taken – or though I might want to take – a ‘crossing the Abbey Road’ picture. Sergei asked if I would mind taking it for him as they were all so excited to be there. The queue of tourists was agog when the dancers leaped from standing! - Sarah Lee
It is not usual for all the members of a dance company to be present at the recording of a show’s score, but the groundbreaking nature of this production meant that all the company was invited to the Abbey Road studio.
- Sergei Polunin and his ballet watch the recording of the music for Narcissus and Echo
“Whilst the orchestra were recording I made several changes to the music to make it sound exactly as I wanted it to,” says Eshkeri. “Sergei and I were being inspired by each others choices.”
- Matt Kingdon, one of the Abbey Road engineers, setting up.
Eshkeri continues: “Having never written the story to a ballet before, Sergei’s insight was vital. I then began composing and once the choreography began we would discuss narrative and music all the time to allow for the best of everything. The creation was symbiotic.”
The London Metropolitan Orchestra, conducted by Andy Brown, recorded in Studio 1 at Abbey Road. Eshkeri says: “It is always inspiring being there, even for the musicians who work there regularly. The walls are alive with the vibrations of the countless brilliant musicians s who have recorded there, and something about that makes you raise your game from the moment you walk in. The music begins in a traditional classical balletic style but transforms along with the story and ends up being very modern. The choreography reflects this.”
- Inside the control room at Abbey Road with Ilan Eshkeri; right, a 1960s analogue Mini Moog synthesizer, and racks of headphone units.
- The rare glass harmonica.
Telling stories through music has always been a fascination, whether writing for film, writing songs or classical commissions, narrative is part of my work. Ballet is another way to express that fascination – Ilan Eshkeri
- Polunin with Ilan Eshkeri and David LaChapelle in the studio; right, Polunin laughs with LaChapelle at the door of the studio; and far right, having a “Supremes” moment on one of the original 1960s mics in Studio 1.
The final tech rehearsals with orchestra, lighting, costumes and choreography all coming together was a wonderful moment, to see all this talent and creativity living and breathing as one thing was incredible - David LaChapelle
There were no previews for the show so the first performance was preview, press night and world premiere in one. There are a week of shows at Sadler’s Wells, after which the show will be revised and will tour internationally.
- Ilan Eshkeri fine-tuning the performance with the conductor and London Metropolitan Orchestra, in the pit in front of the stage; right, LaChapelle at the opening night; Polunin in the wings during the show.
Polunin waits in the wings moments after his character Narcissus has met his end, consumed by his own reflection.
Dance knows no borders – it brings people together regardless of religion, nationality, sexuality and political persuasion - Sergei
- Wayne Sleep with Daniel Lismore on the opening night.
The album Narcissus and Echo will be available on digital release on 24 March and CD and vinyl on 30 June