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© Ismene Brown 1992-2019


Bolshoi theatre goes native

Arts fight threat of state censorship

     Filin speaks of life ‘before’ and ‘after’

"Alexei Ratmansky told me the new contract was more about making the dancers feel better than any need to improve  conditions, which he described as some of the best in the world"

4 JUN 14     The long-heralded collective agreement at the Bolshoi, intended to resolve all the disputes that led to its year of horrors last year, is said to be almost ready to sign. Dancers and employees will have a say in how performance bonuses are allocated - the main bone of contention that was claimed to be behind the vicious acid attack on ballet director Sergei Filin last year. They will also win some improvements in working conditions, guarantees of warm working temperatures and an extra month’s paid leave. Little luxuries such as health club passes and continental breakfasts have been won in return for the management’s extraction of tighter protections against industrial action and workers playing sickies.

For an article I wrote for this month’s Dance Magazine, former Bolshoi ballet director Alexei Ratmansky told me that the new labour contract was more about making the dancers feel better than any real need to improve their conditions, which he described as some of the best in the world.

The announcement of the imminence of a several- times-delayed contract coincides with a warning on Monday by Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky of a wholesale shakeup of arts world salaries that he intends to see through. I’m translating that separately, but the Bolshoi’s Urin is quoted as being critical about Medinsky’s plan - it’s unclear yet whether in fact the two are mutually incompatible.

Here’s the Bolshoi article (though the details have been leaked before - so there are no major surprises).

Bolshoi to sign three-year collective agreement on June 30

Izvestia, June 3, 2014, 14:01 by Yaroslav Timofeev

From the second half of 2014 the Bolshoi Theatre’s 3,000 employees will be living under new rules. On 30 June the theatre leadership will call a general conference of workers, at which a collective labour contract will be adopted, general director Vladmir Urin has told Izvestia.

“The draft agreement has already been signed off by both sides. The conference will be held on 30 June and on 1 July we will hold a press conference on its results,” said Urin.

The adoption of this document, crucial for the theatre, has been repeatedly postponed. At the start of the year the general director reported that the agreement would be signed by the end of March, then it was rescheduled for mid-April.

“The delay was linked to the touring of the Bolshoi’s opera and ballet companies,” he explained to Izvestia. “Now work is back to the normal conditions. On Friday 30 May and on Monday 2 June we continued discussing some amendments concerning regulations for theatre work routine.”

The previous draft treaty, which was worked on under former chief Anatoly Iksanov, was never signed; at the last moment the artists came out against it, indignant that the document did not take into account some of the specifics of theatre working. The new draft (which has been made available to Izvestia) indicates that the contract will be signed for 3 years, and will be in force even in the most unlikely circumstances - such as if the Bolshoi Theatre were to be closed.

For the artists and technicians there are provided both general and specific privileges. Artists can expect 28 extra days of paid leave (on top of the standard 28), though the theatre may withdraw them “in a case of disciplinary violation”. Musicians and dancers will have the right not to perform in temperatures below 19 degrees Centigrade - the agreement provides that such performances can only go ahead if the artists themselves agree.

Presidential grants

One of the major gains of the company is the obligation of the management to include company representatives in the committees that distribute the presidential grants [IB performance fees]. The outcome of the annual allocation of the 375million rubles [£6.3million] theatre grant has always been a subject of dispute and has fostered much mistrust in the collective.

“We think workers in the theatre as well as the leaders should be involved in handing out the grant. We would not want the situation with Filin to be repeated,” a source in the company told Izvestia, hinting that the distribution of bonuses was one of the main causes of conflict between the ballet artistic director [Sergei Filin] and [his attacker, dancer] Pavel Dmitrichenko.

All employees of the theatre are being promised a 40 percent extra payment for work after 22 hours, and every two years to get preferential passes to the Sputnik corporate resort in Anapa and the Silver Forest holiday village. They will also have the right to choose an alternative bank to the Bank of Moscow, which has traditionally distributed salaries to Bolshoi Theatre employees. There will also be a right to have a continental breakfast when on business trips and tours.

In return, the administration has strengthened the right to fire employees who conceal health problems that interfere with their performance of work duties, and also have extracted an agreement from the union to go to the maximum to avoid strikes.

The idea of a collective agreement became a matter of priority after the series of internal dramas last season. On 17 May 2013 a meeting of representatives of several unions in the Bolshoi agreed that the union should combine in order to develop new work regulations for everybody. The contract will apply to all of the 3,100 employees at the country’s largest theatre, but they have the right to take part in the drafting of the agreement, via a small group of elected representatives. 10 committee members represent the administration (including Urin, who also picked the others), the other 10 represent the collective: 5 for the technical and 5 for the artistic staff (one each for opera, ballet, orchestra, chorus and extras).

Bolshoi labour contract ready at last