When I interviewed Sergei Polunin just before Christmas I certainly got no sense that he was about to do a runner from the Royal Ballet – yet there were some comments, even then, that stuck me as odd. We were in discussion with Ivan Putrov about the changing profile of men in ballet and Putrov was talking with passion about his desire to extend his career well beyond his 40s, and well beyond the role of classical princes. "Dance is dance," said Putrov happily. "I love it." Yet when he turned to Polunin for agreement, the latter simply laughed and said: "I want to retire when I'm 28."
And Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House -- home of the Royal Ballet -- appeared to leave the door open to a return.
"I think we've just got to support him -- he deserves that -- through his thinking at the moment about his life," Hall told Channel 4 News. "The pressures on him are of course enormous."
One ballet insider said: "This is really unexpected and it is really quite shocking, he was ballet's boy wonder and a remarkable dancer." They added: "In career terms, it doesn't sound like a brilliant decision. He was given a lot of backing by the Royal Ballet and he was their biggest star."
It is believed that Polunin had become frustrated that his performances at the Royal Ballet meant he could not accept guest invitations with the American Ballet Theatre and in Russia, but there was no clue as to what triggered his departure.