Huge scandal at the Bolshoi Theater: 'Nureyev' ballet is canceled

Rudolf Nureyev in New York, 1978.

Rudolf Nureyev in New York, 1978.

‘Politically motivated’ decision made just 3 days before world premier.

One of this year’s most anticipated ballets – about the life of Soviet dancer Rudolf Nureyev – has been controversially postponed until next year. The Bolshoi Theater spared no expenses in preparing for Nureyev, inviting renowned director Kirill Sereberennikov to pull the strings and prominent choreographer Yuri Possokhov to make sure the routine was faultless. The ballet’s score was also specially composed by Ilya Demutsky. All three worked on the hugely successful Hero of Our Time ballet, performed at the Bolshoi in 2015.

The Bolshoi’s general director Vladimir Urin revealed that the show will now be premiered on May 4 and 5, 2018 – instead of July 11 this year. The production was called-off just three days before it was set to go live, marking the first time in decades the Bolshoi has canceled a show.

On July 10, Urin called a press conference, claiming there was no pressure from the Kremlin. He did say he had been called by Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky who asked him how to handle questions from journalists.

Director of the Bolshoi Theater Vladimir Urin (R) and the ballet director Makhar Vaziev speaking to the media on July 10, 2017. / APDirector of the Bolshoi Theater Vladimir Urin (R) and the ballet director Makhar Vaziev speaking to the media on July 10, 2017. / AP

After the conference, the TASS news agency reported that the performance was postponed on Medinsky’s personal order, quoting a source close to the minister: “The Culture Ministry was outraged by the fact the performance looks like propaganda promoting non traditional sexual values.”

Provocative ballet

From the outset it was clear that the ballet would be provocative. Nureyev was openly gay and scandalously left the USSR in 1961. He was famous for his genius, but also gained a reputation for his eccentric behavior.

According to Kommersant, the theater bought the rights for using a nude photo of Nureyev – snapped by Richard Avedon – as the backdrop for the performance. “Transvestites” were also scheduled to dance in one of the scenes while the chorus artists would all be dressed as women. If the performance hadn’t been canceled, it would have perhaps signaled a general shift in attitudes toward homosexuals in Russia, despite the anti-gay propaganda law.

Rudolf Nureyev performs 'Les Sylphides' in 1972 in hommage to Sergei Diaghilev at the Paris Opera./ AFPRudolf Nureyev performs 'Les Sylphides' in 1972 in hommage to Sergei Diaghilev at the Paris Opera./ AFP

Suddenly canceled

After Urin watched the final rehearsal of Nureyev on July 8, the theater decided to replace all four planned performances with Don Quixote, without an immediate explanation. However, three days after wiping the ballet off the schedule, Urin explained during a press conference that Nureyev has been postponed until next year because the performance wasn’t ready: “After the rehearsal on July 7 we talked and Yura [choreographer Yuri Possokhov] agreed.”

Urin also said he understands how damaging this will be for the Bolshoi’s reputation, but also claimed the theater wouldn’t lose out financially. He apparently invited director Serebrennikov and choreographer Possokhov to the press-conference – but they didn’t come.

At the end of the conference, he noted that the scenography will remain unchanged, and rehearsals will begin once again in April, 2018.

A plaque announcing the 'Nureyev' ballet premiere in Moscow. / AFPA plaque announcing the 'Nureyev' ballet premiere in Moscow. / AFP

However, ballet critic Anna Gordeeva wrote on her Facebook page that Urin’s claims are false: "All the participants and witnesses of the general rehearsal say the performance was ready to go ahead and was in fact in better shape than many other premiers.”

Dancers from the Bolshoi told RBTH that they did not think the performance was “raw.”

“There have been more unprepared ballets in the past, but they were still performed to the public,” one person who witnessed the rehearsal noted. “It might even be one of the best Possokhov productions to date.”

Many agree that the premier was postponed for political reasons.

Reaction of the director and choreographer

Prominent director Kirill Serebrennikov has worked on the ballet since February without taking a pause, despite the authorities raiding both his home and this theater – the Gogol-Center – in May. He told the Vedomosti newspaper he doesn't want to comment, apart from: "It was the theater's decision.”

Kirill Serebrennikov. / Vyacheslav Prokofyev / TASSKirill Serebrennikov. / Vyacheslav Prokofyev / TASS

During the party to mark the season’s closing at the Gogol-Center, Serebrennikov said that while the authorities and rulers change, art is permanent – and the performance will eventually go ahead.

The composer for the ballet Ilya Demutsky wrote on Facebook: “I am not commenting on the cancellation/ the moving of Nureyev. There will be an official statement soon. I love everyone who worked on this canvas of stunning beauty – artists of the ballet for whom we should build a monument, artists of the orchestra who made me fall in love with my own music. Love. That’s what I feel for the 600 or so people who prepared for a ballet that won’t exist.”

UPD at 8 p.m.: The Minister of Culture has sent an official comment to TASS, saying it did not influence Urin's decision in any way, and put no pressure on the Bolshoi, but it supports the decision.

Read more: 5 things you probably didn’t know about the Bolshoi Theater

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