Bolshoi delayed Nureyev ballet’s premiere because ‘it was bad’, theatre’s director says after shock weekend announcement

Quality issues behind postponement of premiere of work about Russian dance great Rudolf Nureyev until May 2018, Bolshoi’s Vladimir Udin says, but admits receiving a phone call from culture minister about the ballet

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 11:24am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 6:08pm

Russia’s Bolshoi theatre has abruptly cancelled this week’s world premiere of a ballet about Russian dance legend Rudolf Nureyev, staged by a top director who has been questioned in a high-profile criminal probe.

Nureyev was set to premiere at the Bolshoi on Tuesday in one of the most hotly anticipated stagings of the season. But in a shock move, the theatre said last weekend the show has been indefinitely postponed.

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On Monday, the theatre’s general director, Vladimir Urin, announced that the premiere would now be held in May 2018, telling a packed news conference that he and artistic director Makhar Vaziev had pulled the show because of poor performances in rehearsals.

“In terms of the quality of the ballet, we realised it was bad,” Urin said, adding that the theatre’s management was “completely despondent”.

But a rehearsal on Saturday nonetheless showed a “very serious leap in quality”, he said, and the ballet would now have its premiere next May.

The last time this happened in the theatre was in the 1930s
Ballerina Maria Alexandrova

Rumours have swirled that Urin was furious at the show’s artistic content – reportedly featuring nudity and male dancers in drag – or that he received a call from government officials to pull the show.

Bolshoi ballerina Maria Alexandrova wrote on Instagram: “The last time this happened in the theatre was in the 1930s,” during Stalin’s Great Terror.

Urin denied the rumours, saying “there are no other circumstances here”, and added that Serebrennikov’s run-in with the authorities did not play any role.

But he acknowledged receiving a call from Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, known for his conservative views, though he said he was simply asking how to comment to journalists.

Medinsky had a “long conversation with Urin but a ban is not the ministry’s style of working”, his spokeswoman told the Tass state news agency.

The ballet has been hotly anticipated given Nureyev’s legacy, after his defection to the West and his death from an Aids-related illness in 1993.

It is being staged by Kirill Serebrennikov, one of Russia’s most innovative theatre and film directors yet one who has fallen out of favour with Russia’s cultural authorities in recent years and denounced increasing censorship of the arts.

The details of Serebrennikov’s production have been kept tightly under wraps, with even the name of the dancer performing the main role a secret, according to Tatiana Kuznetsova, ballet critic for the Kommersant newspaper.

Neither Serebrennikov nor the choreographer Yury Posokhov was present at the news conference, and Vaziev said nothing about the recent probe.

Urin said “there definitely will be arguments” over the ballet, since Nureyev was an “ambiguous figure with a complex fate, and telling this story will be quite difficult”.

Referring to the dancer’s bisexuality, he said the ballet addressed a “theme that could prompt a certain unacceptance among people”, but he insisted that “the artistic content will remain completely unchanged”.

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The cancelled premiere means “reputational losses undoubtedly, but for us the quality of the ballet is more important”, he said.

In May, Serebrennikov’s flat and the state-funded Gogol Centre theatre he heads in Moscow were raided by investigators in a probe into alleged fraud over state funding for arts.

Serebrennikov himself was questioned as a witness, while the accountant and a former director of a company he founded were arrested.

The director’s supporters called the raid a politically motivated attack on the independence of the arts, and Urin wrote to President Vladimir Putin to complain about the handling of the investigation.