Controversial ballet star Sergei Polunin plays the role of Rasputin in a new work premiering near Moscow starting on June 1, saying that like the mystic who mesmerised Russia’s royal family, he battles his “dark side”.

Ukrainian-born Polunin, now a Russian citizen with a tattoo of President Vladimir Putin across his chest, has garnered a reputation as “the bad boy of ballet” – both for his passionate performances and off-stage behaviour.

“I do believe that (Rasputin) meant well and he had good intentions,” Polunin said ahead of the opening of the ballet choreographed by Japan’s Yuka Oishi.

“But he had dark sides that sometimes took him in a different direction.”

The charismatic holy man Grigory Rasputin won the trust of the last tsar Nicholas II with attempts to heal his haemophiliac son Alexei but was vilified by the public and murdered by a group of aristocrats.

The premiere comes months after the heavily-tattooed Polunin posted on Instagram that gay dancers are “an embarrassment” and overweight people should be slapped.

A ticket agency has refused to sell tickets for a planned London staging of Rasputin over his comments.

He has since deleted the posts but gay rights activists are also protesting against his performance in another work.

“I actually always have good intentions,” said Polunin.

“But yeah, I don’t think you can conquer demons. You can – I don’t know – you can go towards the light more. I don’t know how you completely destroy your dark side.”

Now 29, Polunin became the British Royal Ballet’s youngest-ever soloist known for his spectacular leaps before suddenly quitting and joining Russia’s Stanislavsky troupe.

Polunin is the latest celebrity to gain Russian citizenship, following French actor Gerard Depardieu and US former action star Steven Seagal. Depardieu has also played Rasputin in a widely-panned mini-series.

Since becoming Russian, Polunin has announced that he will be artistic director of a ballet school in the city of Sevastopol in Moscow-annexed Crimea.

“A new complex will be built, it all starts in June and in September we will already be selecting children for the school,” said Polunin. – AFP