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27 NOV 13 While Monday’s court session was dominated in the press by the Tsiskaridze circus, the appearance of the former company manager Ruslan Pronin was barely noted. However, he gave a penetrating inside view into the reason for the hostility between the stricken artistic director Sergei Filin and the dancer accused of organising the acid attack on him, Pavel Dmitrichenko.
Pronin said Dmitrichenko was the one man who could say anything he liked to Filin and get away with it, because on his side he had the Bolshoi Ballet’s longtime Soviet-era chief Yuri Grigorovich (still active in the theatre aged 86).
As a result, Dmitrichenko had built up a degree of invulnerability, and was a natural choice to represent the mass of lowest-paid dancers fearful of speaking out.
His appearance as a substitute in the December grants commission had caused the normally docile grants commission to vote against Filin’s proposals for how to distribute the quarterly performance bonuses. The meeting, usually 2 hours long, had gone on for 10. Filin had been so angry, reported Pronin, that in January (before the attack) that he had drafted new rules for the commission to stop Dmitrichenko appearing again.
Pronin was on the commission at the time - he was once Filin’s close friend, but he was dismissed last spring by the then general director Anatoly Iksanov after he took Dmitrichenko’s side after the acid attack. (He then became Dmitrichenko’s stand-in as head of the dancers’ union during the trial.)
Faultline in Bolshoi workings
In Pronin’s revealing comments, the core of the discipline/authority problems of the Bolshoi is laid bare. Evidently, there was no chance of a Grigorovich favourite suffering for insubordination to a current artistic director, hence Dmitrichenko’s open refusal to recognise Filin’s authority, on which Filin testified earlier in the trial. The dancer himself said in his testimony last week that he acknowledged only his teacher and Grigorovich, but it is Pronin who has clarified what that meant.
Disrespect was also a major factor in previous artistic director Alexei Ratmansky’s frustration during his five years’ tenure, which appeared splendidly successful to the outside world, but which were bedevilled by an insubordinate Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who was also a Grigorovich protegé.
While a court is no place to solve this faultline in the Bolshoi Ballet’s workings, Pronin’s statement suggests answers to why certain things happened, going back over many years. There have been similar complaints by Mariinsky dancers about this extraordinarily partial and unfair way of paying them, which dates back to Soviet times, and keeps large numbers of unused, unhappy dancers on pittances, to be picked out for paying opportunities as per personal preference.
Here is a translation of the report of Pronin’s evidence on Monday in Izvestia.
‘Allocating the money was difficult’
Ruslan Pronin gave evidence at Meshchansky Court [in the trial of three men for the attack on Bolshoi ballet artistic director Sergei Filin]. Called as a witness for the defence, he told the court details of the distribution of grants between dancers in the Bolshoi Ballet.
The grants commission decides the size of bonuses. The members include artistic director Sergei Filin, the company manager, three representatives from teachers and coaches, a dancers’ representative and two from the technical staff.
Ruslan Pronin, who was company manager until 1 July and also a member of the commission, emphasised that its job was to assess the size of rewards for each performer individually, which, he said, was quite difficult. He said Dmitrichenko sat on the commission just once as dance troupe representative in December 2012. On this occasion, he was able to eliminate a number of violations with his suggestions and objections.
“It is not easy to distribute the money, especially when big money is coming into the theatre. The commission's work is not based on specific criteria, there are always issues over which they argue. From Pavel’s point of view, there were unfair elements in the allocation, and I agreed with him. For instance, artists who were transferred from the Stanislavsky company and had worked about 2 or 3 days were put down for quarterly bonuses, higher than the bonuses of performers who had been longtime employed in the Bolshoi Theatre. Thanks to Pavel, this money was taken back from them and it seemed to me that justice was restored.”
The witness also said that other members of the commission were “fainthearted” in previous meetings and had not resolved to contradict the artistic director to point out injustice from this or that decision. But Pavel Dmitrichenko “was always a kind of mouthpiece for the dancers to the management”.
Could speak openly
“The collective exploited this to some extent, knowing that Pavel would escape pressure from the artistic director as he had the favour and support of Yuri Grigorovich, and so could afford to say things openly,” said the witness.
According to Pronin, the grants commission that Dmitrichenko attended lasted a surprisingly long time: about 10 hours instead of the usual 3 to 4. During it, Pronin commented that Dmitrichenko’s proposals found support from other commission members and they took a fairly uncomfortable view of Sergei Filin. Filin several times left the meeting in apparent indignation, but returned at Pronin’s request.
Moreover, Pronin said, that in January - before the attack - Sergei Filin signed an order to alter the composition of the grants commission. In particular, one of the requirements was to exclude Dmitrichenko from the board. The reason for this, thought Pronin, was Dmitrichenko’s performance in the December meeting, and the resulting redistribution of moneys between the dancers.