Sergei Polunin will dance at the Paris Opera Ballet. Sergei Polunin will not dance at the Paris Opera Ballet.
Barely 48 hours passed between a tweet on Thursday announcing a coming guest appearance as Siegfried in “Swan Lake” by Mr. Polunin, whom many consider one of the finest male dancers of his generation and an announcement on Saturday by the Opera that the invitation had been withdrawn.
The withdrawal came after a furor on social media, responding to news of the Paris performances. That’s because, over the last two months, Mr. Polunin, a former principal at the Royal Ballet in London, has posted around a dozen Instagram messages trumpeting his dislike for homosexuals and “females now trying to take on man role”; and his desire to slap fat people for their lack of discipline. (This last, most recent message has been removed from Instagram.) Beyond those, he has used social media to address his admiration for Vladimir V. Putin, whose image is tattooed on his chest, and his support for Donald Trump.
Mr. Polunin, 29, who has more than 170,000 Instagram followers, has achieved fame beyond the ballet world, thanks in part to his solo to Hozier’s “Take Me To Church,” filmed by David LaChapelle, which attracted over 26 million views on YouTube.
On the day that the news of his invitation to dance at the Opera was announced, Mr. Polunin wrote on Instagram: “Got strong feeling What if Vladimir Putin would become the leader of the world. I will pray for that because it would be an ultimate win over evil.” He added: “I believe this will be the future and my energy will help him to do that.”
The Ukrainian-born Mr. Polunin, who holds both Russian and Ukrainian passports, has also posted several messages about the need to unite those two countries.
Over the past two weeks, Mr. Polunin’s posts have seemed increasingly incoherent and troubling. He expressed homophobic and sexist sentiments in a rambling rant about male and female roles onstage and off: “Man up to all men who are doing ballet there is already ballerina on stage don’t need to be two”; “Man are wolfs man Are lions man are the leaders of there’s family you suppose to take care of everything”; “Stop being weak be a man be a warrior what’s wrong with you???”
Several Paris Opera Ballet dancers, dance critics, and others, were quick to express dismay. Adrian Couvez, a corps de ballet member, addressed Mr. Polunin directly on Twitter. “Such an embarrassment you are,” he wrote, adding in French, “to invite someone like this to Paris in 2019 is just impossible.” Other dancers and members of the public weighed in, most criticizing the decision to invite Mr. Polunin.
By Saturday, Aurélie Dupont, the artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet announced that Mr. Polunin would not appear with the company. A press representative confirmed that Ms. Dupont had written in an internal email that while she “recognized Mr. Polunin’s talent, she had discovered public statements that had shocked her, and which didn’t correspond to her values or to those of the institution she represents.” In response to a request for further comment from Ms. Dupont, a Paris Opera Ballet press representative said she “has already responded and clearly stated her position.”
Other social media commenters were critical of Ms. Dupont’s decision. “A renouncement that puts in question her authority and confirms political correctness,” wrote one, while another wrote on Facebook that Mr. Polunin merely expressed “things any rapper band has been bawling with impunity for decades.”
Mr. Polunin’s public unraveling is dismaying to the many who consider him a huge talent whose best dance years have been largely lost to the ballet world. Many of his followers have expressed concern for his mental health; others have defended his right to hold whatever political views he pleases. Mr. Polunin did not respond to a request for comment.
His story is well known to ballet fans, and was the subject of a 2016 documentary, “Dancer.” The film shows his passage from an impoverished childhood in Kherson, Ukraine, to his arrival at the Royal Ballet School, speaking no English, at 13, and on to his meteoric success at the Royal Ballet, where he became the company’s youngest-ever principal dancer at 19.
Two years later, he abruptly resigned, declaring he was bored with ballet, its punishing physical regimen, and meager financial rewards. He tweeted about taking drugs, drinking and going to parties, and about the tattoo parlor he co-owned. The British media wrote endlessly about him, calling him “the bad boy of ballet,” and bemoaning the loss of his talent.
Mr. Polunin has since pursued a film career, appearing in small roles in “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Red Sparrow” and “The White Crow.” But his dance career has faltered. After leaving the Royal Ballet, he danced with the Stanislavsky Company in Moscow and he has been a “permanent guest artist” with the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Munich. (Igor Zelensky, the director of the Munich Ballet, was unavailable for comment.)
But Mr. Polunin’s own venture, Project Polunin, and a joint program with his former girlfriend, the ballerina Natalia Osipova, have met with a tepid critical reception. He is currently scheduled to appear at the London Palladium at the end of May in what is described as “a new mixed program.”