wed 27/05/2020

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Bolshoi leader quits in porn scandal

Bolshoi leader quits in porn scandal

Whispers of dirty tricks, but Russia's flagship company now leaderless

The Bolshoi Ballet's company manager, Gennady Yanin, has resigned after pornographic pictures appeared on the internet that were linked to him, just as he was being considered to take on the job of artistic director, which became vacant that day. As a result the world's largest ballet company is now leaderless, with an inexperienced dancer appointed to hold the fort.  SEE LATEST NEWS: Sergei Filin appointed artistic director for five years

The scandal has left Moscow’s vast company reeling, with a prestigious Paris tour looming in May, and the reopening in October after long and fantastically expensive delays of the refurbished Bolshoi Theatre.

Events began when last week the artistic director Yuri Burlaka's contract was not renewed, and talks appeared to be reaching a critical point with the man the theatre want as his successor, former Mariinsky ballet director Makhar Vaziev. Vaziev is currently director of La Scala Ballet, Milan, and his contract runs to the middle of 2012. It is said in Moscow that he is unhappy about breaking it, and could be arguing to run both jobs simultaneously until next year.

If Vaziev - who flew into Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the job - was to fail to agree, Yanin, a 42-year-old character dancer who has been the company manager for eight years, was being considered as a backstop artistic director. (Pictured below, Yanin as Alain in Ashton's La fille mal gardée, Bolshoi.)

Yanin_FilleHowever, on Monday a site created to resemble the Bolshoi’s appeared with a quantity of sexual material aimed at implicating Yanin, and links to it were sent to thousands of ballet professionals in Russia and abroad. On Tuesday Yanin, who is divorced and has two children, resigned. Within a day a soloist in the company, Yan Godovsky, aged 37, was named as "Assistant Ballet Artistic Director" for the rest of the season, though he has no management experience.

With Yanin out of the running for the top job, some commentators have been quick to put forward the name of star dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze as a "temporary" artistic director. The star, also 37, has never hidden his ambitions, and is close to the longtime Bolshoi iron man, Yuri Grigorovich, now 84, who is presently resident producer once again at the theatre. However, yesterday the theatre’s general director Anatoly Iksanov announced tersely that the job would stay vacant for the time being.

What is fast becoming a bad joke is the Bolshoi Theatre management's inability to find and trust an authoritative director

What is now fast becoming a bad joke is the Bolshoi Theatre management’s inability to find and trust an authoritative director since the 30-year iron rule of Grigorovich ended in 1995. Their most brilliant years - according to Western observers - came under the four-year reign of Alexei Ratmansky, one of the few major choreographers of today, who gave up the struggle with theatre politics in 2008 to move to the US, where he’s now American Ballet Theatre’s greatest asset. Burlaka, a quiet and reticent historian, was appointed to succeed Ratmansky, and it was not expected he would last long. The past two years' hugely successful London tours by the Bolshoi have majored on Burlaka and Ratmansky productions.

It now looks likely that the poker game will continue between Vaziev, the only qualified candidate, and the Bolshoi management. Vaziev has a less than perfect record, since during his 13-year tenure as Mariinsky ballet director, the Mariinsky’s boss, the conductor Valery Gergiev, steadfastly refused to give him the title of artistic director and regularly criticised his abilities.

But if Vaziev refuses in the end to come, the Kommersant dance critic Tatiana Kuznetsova - usually one of the best-informed journalists - pointed out in a report on Tuesday that “there are no other real candidates”. In such a vacuum, Tsiskaridze, who describes himself as the world’s greatest dancer and has become a hugely popular TV chat-show host, is considered by his supporters to be in an advantageous position. Though he failed to get the job when Ratmansky left in 2008, this time, with Grigorovich’s support and that of some of the tame press, he could win this time round.

The entire situation, even without the Yanin scandal - which some say is a dirty tricks stunt to remove him from the arena - is unimpressive. One major factor - probably the main one that the Kremlin cares about - is that the majorly embarrassing five-year saga of the reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theatre - costing more than £600 million, and battered by corruption and incompetence allegations - is due finally to reach a triumphant conclusion with a gala reopening in October, and the government will surely be hoping to put a long, inglorious, horrifyingly expensive project behind them. For the Bolshoi Ballet to have no leader for this no doubt spectacular occasion will be mortifying.

VazievYet it was not going to be hard to see this coming. Burlaka's contract was known to expire this month. So given that 50-year-old Vaziev (pictured left) has long been the Iksanov’s favoured candidate, and that his Milan contract was known to expire in 2012, the losing of not just one but two leaders at such an unpropitious time looks, as Lady Bracknell might say, more like carelessness than misfortune.

Moreover, Iksanov's leadership is increasingly under question. After Ratmansky quit as ballet artistic director in 2008, the highly regarded chief conductor Alexander Vedernikov left in 2009 with a blistering interview in Izvestia in which he said that: “It’s become clear that the Bolshoi Theatre doesn’t possess the slightest traits of an artistic organisation.” He claimed that the general director meddled in artistic decisions and did not take enough care of financial matters, and that the Bolshoi Opera was a relic and prisoner of factions and impossible working practices, which desperately needed to join the modern world of Covent Garden and the Metropolitan.

In such turbulent times, Kommersant’s Kuznetsova commented on Tuesday that it was rotten that all the pressure now falls on the only leader the Bolshoi Ballet now has - the inexperienced young dancer who has been so swiftly appointed to take over Yanin’s job, Yan Godovsky. As Kuznetsova says, he deserves every sympathy in a desperately tough position.

Bolshoi Ballet artistic directors

The definition of the Russian title hudruk (a contraction of two words) is creative director. This takes a slightly different nuance from artistic director in English, since it is often argued that it should be a “creative” person, ie a choreographer. However, of the six ballet directors at the Bolshoi since the end of Communism only two have been choreographers. The relative position of the ballet director to the chief conductor/general director/music director has shifted from equal (when Grigorovich was in charge) to subservient and back again, depending on how strong the music/opera director is.

The Mariinsky Ballet (formerly Kirov) last had a choreographer at its head in 1995 too, and since then - when Valery Gergiev took over as chief conductor and the overall artistic director - has moved more towards an administrative or managerial function for its ballet director (currently Yuri Fateyev).

  • Yuri Grigorovich 1964-95 (choreographer and chief balletmaster - made to resign)
  • Vladimir Vasiliev 1995-2000 (superstar dancer - overall theatre artistic director - fired)
  • Alexei Fadeyechev 1998-2000 (ballet director under Vasiliev - made to resign)
  • Boris Akimov 2000-3 (coach - contract not renewed)
  • Alexei Ratmansky 2004-8  (choreographer - resigned)
  • Yuri Burlaka 2009-11 (academic - contract not renewed)

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The more I read about what happened to Yanin, the more it looks like a set-up to me. And poor Godovsky does not know whether he is coming or going - a scapegoat by any other name. It is my experience from the old communist bloc that dance and theatre politics never mix. Many tried and it ended in tears. Let Tsiskaridze and other fools rush in. In the old days you could not say no, or you would have been marked. Surely the one single change has been that you can, in fact, say 'no' nowadays.

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