Bolshoi Theater director Urin: ‘First of all the classics!’

Vladimir Urin: "It's important to understand that the general director is first of all responsible for the results of the artistic policy." Source: Pavel Smertin / TASS

Vladimir Urin: "It's important to understand that the general director is first of all responsible for the results of the artistic policy." Source: Pavel Smertin / TASS

In an interview with the Kommersant newspaper, Vladimir Urin, director of the Bolshoi Ballet since 2013, discussed the issues currently facing the theater, including pricing, the repertoire, the dancers, internal conflicts and the role of the government.

Vladimir Urin was appointed the director of the Bolshoi Theater in July, 2013 at the end of the most scandalous season in its history. In January, 2013 the ballet’s artistic director Sergei Filin was attacked with acid, resulting in the arrest in March of Pavel Dmitrichenko, a leading Bolshoi soloist, on suspicion of organizing the acid attack (he is currently serving a 6-year-term in prison). Several months later, in June, ballet star and teacher Nikolay Tsiskaridze left the company due to disagreements.

Kommersant: In your one and a half years at the Bolshoi the entire power structure at the theater has undergone a radical change. Now you, as general director, control the theater's repertoire policy – that is, you’ve taken not only the administrative management into your hands, but also the management.

Vladimir Urin: For me this is a matter of principle.

Kommersant: Your predecessor held a diametrically opposite position. Anatoly Iksanov gave freedom to the musical and artistic director, stressing that the role of the director is to facilitate the artistic process.

V.U.: This is also the role of the director, but it's important to understand that the general director is first of all responsible for the results of the artistic policy. I always discuss my decisions with my colleagues. If they deal with the ballet, I speak with Sergei Filin, if they concern the opera, then I consult [music director] Tugan Sokhiev.

They are the ones who sign the playbill. And if one of them categorically does not agree with me, I will never impose my decision. We have already created the 2015/16 playbill - the premieres and the current repertoire. We've also practically finished the 2016/17 season.

View the infographics: "Bolshoi theater: 190 years of high art in Russia"

Kommersant: What were the reasons for the conflicts in the Bolshoi [last year]?

V.U.: The usual ones, the ones that exist in every theater. Vanity conflicts, social issues, problems related to roles in the repertoire. The ballet dancer's professional life is short and everyone is very sensitive to this. Now I think our relations have assumed a more civilized character.

Kommersant: It’s difficult to understand how much tickets for the Bolshoi Theater cost. For example, at the opera in Paris the prices are displayed on the website, and performances are divided into three categories: the most expensive for the classics, the cheapest for experimental contemporary productions. But at the Bolshoi, if tickets to a performance are sold out, it is impossible to find out how much they cost - there's no information. Do you also divide performances into categories?

Watch the Bolshoi in HD!

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V.U.: Yes. We have from five to seven price bands for each genre – the same kind of banding as at the Parisian opera – but audience demand for a performance is also a factor. We will definitely put the categories of productions and their prices up on our website.

Kommersant: This season is filled with ballets arranged by contemporary western choreographers: McGregor, Forsythe, Elo, Kylian. However, Balanchine's Jewels will be shown only in Hong Kong during the tour. Does this represent a focus on the classics in the program?

V.U.: Not exactly. There are performances that no longer fit the repertoire – either the license expired or there are no performers. But my position is unambiguous and Filin agrees with it: first of all the classics, then the best from the 20th century, then 21st-century choreography.

Kommersant: Perhaps there is simply no one who can perform them? Out of the Bolshoi's 20 ballet masters who are working on the current repertoire with the dancers, all are experts on the classics, and only one can work with contemporary choreography. There’s, for example, Yan Godovsky, or Anastasia Yatsenko, who has left the theater.

V.U.: I agree. With this number of pedagogues who are oriented towards classical ballet we won't get anywhere. Filin and I had an important discussion about it. We’ll sign one-time contracts with Yatsenko. Hopefully we will find ballet masters in the troupe itself.

Soon we will restage [Jiří] Kylián's Symphony of Psalms and Alexei Ratmansky's Russian Seasons. And not only the Russian Seasons. I’m counting on his new production for the 2016/17 season.

Kommersant: Tell us about the dancers. One of them is David Hallberg. Relations with the U.S. are tense now. Will he remain in the Bolshoi?

V.U.: Everything will depend on his health, not on politics. He is currently being treated in America. We exchanged New Year's greetings. He hopes to return in the spring.

Kommersant: Will Natalya Osipova, who left the Bolshoi and became prima ballerina at the London Royal Ballet, dance at the Bolshoi?

V.U.: We told her that she could perform here any time she wants to. But all the dates that she proposed are the theater's touring dates. We’ve found one date at the end of February. She will dance Giselle on the historical stage. We’ll invite her again with pleasure; she is an outstanding ballerina.

Kommersant: During your directorship two government officials have joined the board of trustees: Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky and Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets. Is the government seeking to control its theater?

V.U.: It was my idea. I want you to understand that a large part of the budget is state money. It is important for me as the theater's director that these people are part of the council, that they know what goes on in the Bolshoi.

The council members approved my proposal. We did not bring in specific people, but positions.

Adapted from an interview published by Kommersant.


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