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Bad boy of ballet Sergei Polunin, the face of Pal Zileri's autumn/winter 16 campaign, proves that it pays to dance to your own tune

Wearing little more than threadbare leggings and blackened ballet pumps, a dancer writhes and leaps in an empty warehouse to the rousing vocals of Hozier's Take Me to Church. On its release last year, the four-minute video, shot by acclaimed director David LaChapelle, swiftly went viral. Attracting more than 16 million views to date, it has propelled its star, Sergei Polunin, to global fame.

Yet it wasn't just Polunin's obvious and extraordinary talent that caught the public's attention. Like all great dancers, he conveys both strength and grace, making the most physically demanding manoeuvres look effortless. But it's his raw, unbridled energy that sets him apart from his contemporaries - that, and his penchant for tattoos. Polunin's numerous inkings - which include a portrait of the Joker on his shoulder, tiger scratches on his chest and a stark crucifix on his forearm – are the antithesis of the traditionally prim, clean-cut ballerino. Usually covered up when he appears on stage, they are defiantly and proudly on display in his music-video debut, symbolising a newfound freedom from the insular world of ballet.

The film marked the 26-year-old Ukrainian’s first creative venture outside the classical world following his sudden departure from the prestigious Royal Ballet School less than two years after becoming its youngest-ever principal dancer. Despite his turbulent relationship with its establishment, dance is still clearly at the centre of his life. This year, he launched Project Polunin, in association with Sadler's Wells, to connect young dancers with musicians and choreographers in order to create new ballet works for stage and film, providing financial and emotional support throughout.

These days, Polunin has the much-longed-for freedom to explore opportunities in dance and fashion on his own terms. As well as taking part in a joint photo-shoot with girlfriend and fellow ballet superstar Natalia Osipova for British Vogue earlier this year, he is the subject of a new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Steven Cantor. Dancer, charts his early rise to fame, his struggles with the ballet industry and the fallout of his controversial decision to quit.

Now the man The Telegraph dubbed the 'James Dean of the ballet world' has added yet another string to his bow: he is the face of Pal Zileri's autumn/winter 16 campaign. The collaboration has proved a natural fit and it's all part of the 'Avant-Craft' philosophy of the brand: traditional craftsmanship with an edgy, contemporary aesthetic. 

The campaign was shot on location in Williamsburg, New York by Maciek Kobielski. Key looks including tailored pieces with a hint of glamour and rich fabrics paired with luxe sportswear and striking accessories. Polunin's insouciant gaze, chiselled features and distinctive tattoos exude a rebellious style that perfectly encapsulates the unconventional spirit at the heart of Pal Zileri. Creative director Mauro Ravizza Krieger had nothing but praise for ballet's enfant terrible: 'Sergei fully reflects our concept of innovation and tradition. He is a man whose world rocks through his dancing, tattoos and artistic inspiration.'

Sergei Polunin, ballet's unrepentant rebel, fronts Pal Zileri's traditional-yet-innovative autumn/winter 16 campaign, shot by Maciek Kobielski. 

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