Friday Video Review: Take Me to Church with Sergei Polunin

Welcome back to another Friday Video review! Today I’m going to poke at Sergei Polunin’s solo to the Hozier song “Take Me to Church.” This video went viral about a month ago, and yes, I know that’s basically centuries of internet time. Still, it’s relevant, so let’s have a chat, shall we?

If you haven’t seen it, have a look at the piece:

Mr. Polunin demonstrates incredible athleticism and powerful masculinity while still conveying raw emotion–a combination I have yet to see in an art other than dance.There are many things I like about this piece, and yet it is not a style I would probably choreography myself. There’s a bit too much rolling on the floor for my tastes–though I do like the ending pose on his knees. He makes choices with the timing that I personally wouldn’t make, but it works for the barely controlled energy of the piece.

The performance space itself is a character in the show. The high vaulting ceiling and streamed lighting through long windows evoke the eponymous church and create depth to what is essentially a plain rectangle of enclosed space in which he dances. Mr. Polunin uses the whole floor and the walls in a way that only a confined space can be used, making us reflect on the limitations of the traditional stage environment. A stage is a blank canvas, designed to be remade again and again, but there is an atmosphere to highly specialized sets that give special life to all productions. We as an audience are used to experiencing this in movies, and pure performance dance on location is less common, but just as fascinating and vibrant.

This piece is a major win not just for the dancer and his prodigious talent, but also for dance videography–and honestly this is the main reason I feel the need to discuss this video. I love the cinematography. The low angles, how the camera follows him, swooping and leaping–all makes the whole experience so much more dynamic and dramatic. Most people’s experience of dance–particularly ballet–is from the static view of a stage seat, and frankly that’s a shame. Obviously everything has trade-offs, but what we lose in a bird’s eye view we gain in intimacy and emotional intensity. I have *feelings* about the intersection of film and dance. Long takes, sweeping camera motions, interesting angles, more options for lighting–all adds a new and exciting dimension that I think has the potential to breath fresh life into an art oft considered strict and stuffy.

So what do you think, dear reader? How can a confined space and a camera create a different experience of dance? Do you like it? Prefer the traditional stage experience? Comment below, let me know.

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