sun 21/07/2024

Bankruptcy won't stop the ballet | reviews, news & interviews

Bankruptcy won't stop the ballet

Bankruptcy won't stop the ballet

Their boss may be bust, but Mikhailovsky Ballet confirm London trip with all stars on board

Free spirit: Natalia Osipova as an unstoppable Kitri in 'Don Quixote'Darin Yusupov

The Mikhailovsky Ballet's general director, Russia's fruit tycoon Vladimir Kekhman, may just have been declared bankrupt, but the company is pressing ahead with its star-studded London trip in March. 

Fraud investigators last week raided the offices of the Mikhailovsky, St Petersburg’s “other” company (ie, not the Mariinsky), looking for connections between Kekhman's business activities and the theatre. Nearly six years ago the "Banana King" became the 180-year-old theatre’s general director and donated a billion rubles to fix its crumbling walls and renovate its programme.

But last October he was declared bankrupt at London’s High Court of Justice. His company, the JFC Corporation, is said to owe Russian banks and other bodies more than a billion rubles but under UK law a bankrupt’s assets are now protected from seizure by creditors abroad.

The Russian police’s visit to the Mikhailovsky Theatre seems to show they’re not being deterred from asking questions, however.

Kekhman's millions and no-holds-barred celebrity approach are said to be his principal weapons in luring away top stars from both the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky, who it's confirmed today will be heading the London Coliseum tour.

polina semionova italian vogueThe sensationally exciting young couple Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev will perform the opening nights of Giselle, Don Quixote and Laurencia, while former Mariinsky principal man Leonid Sarafanov will feature with another of today's most talked-about ballerinas, the willowy Polina Semionova (pictured by Italian Vogue 2012), in Giselle and contemporary works by the Mikhailovsky's artistic director, Nacho Duato.

The company is pulling out all the stops, including bringing its orchestra for the fortnight's season from 26 March to 7 April, backing up Kekhman's declaration last week that despite the fraud police raids, the theatre's future was in no way at risk from any inquiries into business matters. More here.

The repertoire combines popular favourites such as the tragic Giselle and comic Don Quixote with modern work by the artistic director, and an enjoyably revived Soviet ballet, Laurencia, about a feisty heroine of a Spanish peasant revolt, filled with brilliant dancing.



26-29 March, Giselle, the landmark romantic tragedy. A girl is betrayed by her lover and dies. He is condemned by forest spirits to die, but his ghostly lover battles to save his life.

  • 26 March (7.30pm): Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vasiliev
  • 27 Mar & Thursday 28 Mar: Polina Semionova, Marcelo Gomes
  • 29 Mar (7.30pm): Olesya Novikova, Leonid Sarafanov

30-31 March, Don Quixote, the most brilliant of comedies. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza get lost in a Spanish village where a sparky young couple compete with each other in flirtatious mischief.

  • 30 & 31 Mar (7.30pm): Osipova, Vasiliev
  • 31 March  (3pm): Oksana Bondareva, Denis Matvienko

2 & 3 April, Laurencia, a monster hit of the Thirties, a cross between Spartacus and Don Quixote in its themes of love, heroism, villainy and dancing bravura. Both performances star Osipova and Vasiliev 

5 & 6 April, Multiplicity, Forms of Silence and Emptiness, a full-length work by Nacho Duato in tribute to J S Bach. Both performances star Polina Semionova and Leonid Sarafanov

7 April, Without Words/ Nunc Dimittis/ Prelude, three works by Nacho Duato. Starring Sarafanov. 


Mikhailovsky did cancel in America and an announced China tour. Not many companies would continue to employ a bankrupt as a General Director let alone one reported as being subject to a fraud investigation. So it’s all a bit of a mystery as the Mikhailovsky site says that, the now bankrupt, Kekhman funded the previous tours so if this proposed London visit happens it would be interesting to know who is funding it this time. After looking through the programme of the previous visit to find those involved in the UK who made their debut happen they are, as yet, not mentioning this visit on their websites.

When Diaghilev couldn’t pay his bills for Sleeping Princess the sets and costumes were impounded.

The two stars Kekhman is said to have lured away from Bolshoi were supposedly interested in doing new work and having new creative challenges and opportunities. Yet they are not listed as appearing in London in any of the new choreography just new staging's of the old war horses of the ballet repertoire. They now also seem to be appearing in the Covent Garden summer season of the Bolshoi – so not so upset by scandals there they don’t want to work with them. Perhaps they now feel that their names have not been enhanced by Mikhailovsky and rumours of a return to Bolshoi have some foundation.

Now it looks as if Nacho Duarto is leaving them for Berlin :

Could they put a freeze on box office takings ?

This article says that Kekhman has been restricted from travelling outside Russia for six months while bailiffs chase down an alleged 285million rubles (£6m) debt to Russian banks. Last week police searched the Mikhailovsky theatre offices, in connection with money owed to banks and creditors by his fruit corporation JFC which is said to top 10 billion rubles (£214million). Kekhman claims that he himself called for this search in order to clean up JFC operations that he says he was not connected to.

There are logos of Gazprom and Wingas at the tour's page at the Mikhailovsky site, so evidently the tour is sponsored by these business structures. Mikhailovsky has always been financed from the state budget plus sponsor money, so Kekhman's financial problems shouldn't be crucial for the theatre. About Osipova and Vasiliev: there's a big interview with them at the last Sunday Times Culture issue in which they state that joining the Bolshoi company for the Flames of Paris this summer is their way to thank Ratmansky. In December, they danced at Nacho Duato's Romeo and Juliet premiere at the Mikhailovsky, which was a great success.

We can only speculate as to who all the sponsors may be or as to why a Russian company might want to advertise that it sponsors ballet shows in London and by how much and what their return is but all the sponsorship seems to be Russian and no banks are concerned as any bank would be sad, mad or bad to be involved given that the General Director’s debts seem to be owing huge sums to banks.

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