mon 24/06/2024

Will ballet public boycott the Bolshoi? | reviews, news & interviews

Will ballet public boycott the Bolshoi?

Will ballet public boycott the Bolshoi?

Opinions range as 50th anniversary tour booking opens in the wake of acid attack on director

Bolshoi personalities: from left, Tsiskaridze, Zakharova, injured director Filin, and SmirnovaBolshoi Theatre image © Pavel Rychkov

Is the Bolshoi Ballet going to have trouble selling its tickets for its London tour as a result of the acid attack on its artistic director Sergei Filin? A range of opinion is erupting among ballet-goers dismayed not only by the attack but by the exposure of vicious infighting inside the Moscow troupe and the subsequent public developments.

Filin's key opponent inside the company, the leading dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, has been billed to come over on the tour - he has so far expressed no sympathy for Filin's plight, while denying having anything to do with the attack, for which a Bolshoi dancer and two alleged accomplices have been arrested. But he is not yet announced in a partial casting list released yesterday (see below).

One known result of the ghastly event has been the cancellation of a new Rite of Spring by the Royal Ballet's Wayne McGregor, which had been intended as a centrepiece of the Bolshoi's celebration of the centenary of Nijinsky and Stravinsky's legendary work, and was to be performed in London. But without Filin to oversee it, the McGregor faced a fair amount of non-cooperation and was "postponed". Balanchine's Jewels has been substituted.

The tour from 29 July to 17 August marks the 50th anniversary of the Bolshoi's first Covent Garden visit in 1963 presented by Victor and Lilian Hochhauser, and it is considered the most prestigious of their global outings. Other dancers originally announced for London include the American star who left New York for Moscow, David Hallberg, and Svetlana Lunkina, who has since declared that she lives in fear in Russia and would stay in her second home in Canada.

Nothing is certain about Bolshoi casts even till the last minute

But nothing is certain about Bolshoi casts even till the last minute, judging from their last visit in 2010 when Zakharova pulled out with just days to go. At the time it was said she had a recurring hip injury, but it turned out that she was pregnant by the violinist Vadim Repin, now her husband. She has since borne a daughter.

Inconsistency can be expected this year too between the first announcement of personnel, just four days after Filin was doused with sulphuric acid outside his home, and the eventual casts, which may be shaped in the light of what the Moscow police turn up. Some Bolshoi dancers are energetically arguing that there is a mastermind who has not yet been caught.

Zakharova this week expressed deep shock at the attack on Filin, one of her favourite partners of the past, and if he accompanies the tour, as the Bolshoi hope he will, it is with Zakharova that he will be taking his bows to the opening night audience which can be expected to give him a tumultuous reception.

And the events unfolding day by day in Moscow have roused conflicted opinions among dance-lovers on the balletcoforum website as priority booking opened this week at the Royal Opera House. (Public booking for the season opens on 9 April.)



"Definitely staying away - to indicate my opposition to Putin's regime that allows such lawless tyranny to flourish."

"When I first read of the attack on Sergei Filin I was determined to boycott the season, I am still not sure."

"My concern roots from that I would hate to applaud someone who was involved in planning and/or organising this horrible attack."




"It's been hard to decide what to do. I think I've sort of come to the view that the incredible artists of the Bolshoi need support now."

"I had to think long and hard before buying Bolshoi tickets, but finally decided on Flames of Paris and a couple of others."

"I personally feel we should support the company in this difficult time."

"How can it help the recovery of Sergei’s health and spirit if ballet lovers start to hesitate about buying tickets for the Bolshoi’s performances?"

"[People] might possibly feel that staying away is a more civilised, and even a more effective, way to demonstrate a degree of dismay at the parlous state of affairs at the Bolshoi than slashing tyres or countenancing acid attacks. I'm with those who hesitated before booking for the London tour but decided in the end to do so."

Partial casting has been released showing first nights and the much-vaunted young star Olga Smirnova, but so far not revealing if Tsiskaridze will be dancing.

Swan Lake and La Bayadère will both open with the prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova, and she will also be the first-night performer of the Diamonds climax to Balanchine's Jewels. This week she revealed why she refused to sign an open letter by some of her Bolshoi colleagues asking for a new investigation into the Filin attack.

Nina Kaptsova will open the run of The Sleeping Beauty, with Zakharova and Maria Alexandrova as the other Auroras.

The explosive young couple who quit the Bolshoi, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, are scheduled to return for The Flames of Paris.

And the rising star Olga Smirnova will make her debuts to London audiences in Swan Lake, La Bayadère and Jewels, shadowing Zakharova.

The casts for these dates are announced (though as always, there may be changes):

  • Swan Lake - 29 July, Svetlana Zakharova/ Ruslan Skvortsov; 15 August Olga Smirnova/ Semyon Chudin
  • La Bayadère - 2 August, Zakharova (Nikiya)/ Maria Alexandrova (Gamzatti)/ Vladislav Lantratov (Solor); 3 August (eve) Smirnova/ Ekaterina Krysanova/ Chudin
  • The Sleeping Beauty - 5 August, Nina Kaptsova (Aurora)/ Ekaterina Shipulina (Lilac Fairy)/ Artem Ovcharenko; 6 August, Zakharova/ Smirnova/ Ruslan Skvortsov; 8 August, Maria Alexandrova/Smirnova/ Semyon Chudin
  • Jewels - Emeralds: 12 August, Evgenia Obraztsova/ Lantratov; 13 August, Kaptsova/ Dmitri Gudanov; 
  • Rubies: 12 August, Ekaterina Krysanova/ Gudanov/ Shipulina; 13 August, Kristina Kretova/ Andrei Merkuriev/ Yulia Grebenshchikova
  • Diamonds: 12 August, Svetlana Zakharova/ Alexander Volchkov; 13 August, Olga Smirnova/ Semyon Chudin
  • The Flames of Paris - 16 August, Natalia Osipova /Ivan Vasiliev

Watch film taken by audience member at Olga Smirnova's debut at the Bolshoi in La Bayadère in 2012: In an Indian palace the temple dancer Nikiya dances in agony in front of her two-timing warrior lover as he takes a princess for his wife - and murder is about to occur (YouTube via tuteetuteetu)

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I saw the |Bolshoi Ballet at Covent Garden in 1956 - Swan Lake with Rimma Karelskaya. That's 7 years earlier than 1963. It was the 1956 visit that took London by storm, made Ulanova a legend - and finally introduced us to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet from which it has never looked back!

Yes, you misread that, Waldteufel. It is billed by the Hochhausers as the 50th anniversary of THEIR first Bolshoi tour to Covent Garden, and their longevity and durability as impresarios is indeed worth pausing to consider and admire. The first visit in 1956 was promoted by the governments' agencies in a planned exchange of Bolshoi and Royal Ballet. See much more about that in my Hochhausers' Q&A.

Sold out- so much for your boycott...

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