Observations: Jump to the music

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The Independent Culture

The Royal Ballet's Sergei Polunin jumps up – and seems to soar further, hanging in the air. An "oooh" runs around the audience. High leaps are one of ballet's spectacles, particularly for male dancers. For women, pointework and flexibility get the headlines; for men, it's the jumps.

At 5ft 11in, Polunin is tall for a high jumper. In ballet, as in gymnastics, the highest leaps tend to come from smaller dancers. Nijinsky, Baryshnikov and Nureyev weren't tall.

Wayne Sleep, whose technique was phenomenal, found that his ballet career was restricted by his height: it was hard to find ballerinas who wouldn't tower over him. Dancers like Sleep can find themselves typecast in virtuoso soloist roles. La Bayadère has one of the most famous in the Bronze Idol, who spins and jumps for all he's worth – but has nothing else to do.

The excitement comes from more than the height of the jump. Polunin surges upwards, but he also holds his pose in the air, clear and bold. Back on the ground, he moves with considerable authority. At the very young age of 19, he is already dancing leading roles – carrying a whole ballet, not just brightening it with glamorous bursts of technique.

In La Bayadère, the hero Solor has a vision of his beloved. She vanishes as the scene ends, Solor bounding after her. As Polunin landed, you could see the moment in which his hero woke from his dream. The soaring jump was followed by a moment of surprise and loss, visible in his whole body.

Polunin appears in 'DGV: Danse à grande vitesse' tonight and in 'Dances at a Gathering' from 11 March (www.roh.org.uk)