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11 SEP 15
No announcement was forthcoming today at the Bolshoi Ballet’s opening assembly of who will succeed Sergei Filin as ballet director. Vladimir Urin, the theatre’s chief, had said he would introduce the next ballet leader today, but in the event said this would now take place towards the end of this month.
He confirmed that Filin’s position as artistic director was being abolished, to be replaced by a position as artistic director, a change that is not altogether semantic. In the present terminology the artistic director has the artistic vision, sets out the choices, the casting, creates the image of the Bolshoi Ballet - there’s a connotation of having a choreographic eye, and the last word.
In the alternative word chosen, the implication is of a less powerful manager, more of a curator perhaps - analogous, according to Urin, with the artistic directors of ballet companies elsewhere in the world, such as no doubt London’s Royal Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet, with both of which Urin has close and amicable relationships.
Names rumoured to be in the frame for the job include retired Paris Opera Ballet chief Brigitte Lefèvre and the rising choreographer and Ekaterinburg Ballet director (and former Royal Ballet principal) Vyacheslav Samodurov - but whether either would contemplate a job whose artistic vision is now being constricted seems unlikely.
It is possible that a tussle is going on with the Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky - who decides the Bolshoi Ballet leadership - over striking a balance between present anti-West political feeling and the realities of what talented artistic leaders look for in a job. Urin’s declaration that the next ballet director will have, by implication, less autonomy seems to echo the position at the Mariinsky Ballet, whose ballet directors (currently “acting head” Yuri Fateyev) have long answered to theatre chief Valery Gergiev and a powerful artistic council.
Central to the appointment will surely be how to manage the attitude to the vigour and creative attraction of Western choreography and theatrical expertise. Alexei Ratmansky, by far the finest choreographer to be appointed to lead the Bolshoi Ballet, had a bitterly fraught experience of attempting to depoliticise the state flagship and raise its artistic credibility. Filin’s own internationalist outlook has been condemned by nationalistic critics, taking courage from Medinsky’s fierce antagonism to Western “decadence”.
The chief news agency TASS, reporting today’s announcement, adds that Urin obliquely addressed a new financial realism caused by a 10percent shrinkage of the Bolshoi’s budget since last year. No mention is made here of the costs of his new labour deal with the Bolshoi dancers, thrashed out over many months after the attack on Filin in order to quell the vitriolic atmosphere, but which included a doubling of holidays and new overtime payments.
I’ve appended an informative summary by TASS from July of the Bolshoi’s parade of ballet directors since the end of the USSR - nine of them. It’s questionable that the list omits the biggest ballet star director of the lot, Vladimir Vasiliev, though he did indeed double up as artistic and general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, rather than just the ballet.
The list shows that perhaps surprisingly Filin will have been one of the longest-serving of all, along with Alexei Ratmansky and Vasiliev. It would have been strongly against past practice for the Bolshoi to reappoint him, regardless of his health vulnerabilities.
The dossier also reminds us of the unique presence of a ballet artistic council in the Bolshoi, whose founding president (and now vice-president) is another of the ballet company’s former artistic directors, Boris Akimov, now working primarily as a senior coach. Thus there is precedent if Filin steps down from the top job and continues to work within the company in another capacity, as Urin has stated he is discussing.
Here is a translation of the TASS report.
New ballet leader to be named in late September
Sergei Filin’s successor as director of the Bolshoi Ballet will be announced at the end of September, general director Vladimir Urin announced today when the company assembled for the 240th season.
He said, “The post of artistic [as in “creative”] director of the ballet of the Bolshoi Theatre will cease. Instead there will be a job as artistic [as in “artistic matters”] director of the ballet company.”
He added that Filin would direct practically the whole of the coming season’s programme and that the company should obey his authority unquestioningly. Filin has been asked to continue working at the Bolshoi, in a capacity currently being discussed.
In January 2013 an attack was made on Filin and acid was flung in his face. He suffered burns to his face and eyes and has undergone several dozen operations. To this day his eyesight is still being restored.
Urin also announced that while the Bolshoi theatre had no serious financial problems, it had begun to account for its expenditure. “Today the Bolshoi Theatre is counting its money more carefully, and it now seriously appreciates the importance of suitable expenditure,” he said. “That is not to say that I have any bad feelings about it, I don’t have a guard on watch.”
He went on that in 2015 the Bolshoi Theatre budget had been shrunk by 10% by comparison with 2014. The Bolshoi Theatre, he added, has a 97% occupancy rate, with the remaining 3% accounted for by invited journalists.
“We have a profit, a security cushion which was carried over from 2014,” he said. “This September we got the figures, and they’re comparable to last year’s. There’s no decrease, but you will understand that we are doing foreign productions, we’re working with foreign specialists, and we don’t settle with them in Russian rubles. And then there is inflation.”
Bolshoi Ballet leaders: The dossier
Since the disintegration of the USSR the ballet company of the Bolshoi Theatre has been headed by nine people. On 30 July general director Vladimir Urin announced that the contract with the current ballet artistic director Sergei Filin which expires in March 2016 will not be extended. From 2016 the position of artistic director will be abolished, and replaced with that of ballet director.
Yuri Grigorovich (b 1927) headed the ballet company from 1964-1995 (until 1988 the position was called “chief balletmaster”). He is a People’s Artist of the USSR (1973). He was a soloist in the Kirov Theatre, and worked there as balletmaster 1961-64. He has staged eight original ballets at the Bolshoi, and also seven classical productions. Since 2008 he has been resident choreographer of the Bolshoi ballet.
[MY NOTE Vladimir Vasiliev, the great Grigorovich dancer, was appointed as Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Theatre 1995-2000, as well as its principal dancer. Under him was deployed a series of three ballet ‘artistic directors’ who were largely managerial.]
Vyacheslav Gordeyev (b 1948) occupied the post of artistic director of the ballet company 1995-97. A People’s Artist of the USSR (1984). He danced in the Bolshoi company 1968-1989. As the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director he revived Leonid Lavrovsky’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, and staged a one-act ballet Last Tango on Astor Piazzolla’s music. Since 2008 (and also in 1984-5 and 1997-2007) he has been artistic director of Moscow’s regional ”Russian Ballet” state theatre
Alexander Bogatyrev (1949-1998) fulfilled the duties of artistic director 1997-8. A People’s Artist of the Russian Federation of Socialist Republics (RSFSR) (1981). In 1969-89 he was a soloist at the Bolshoi Theatre. Since 1986 he has taught at the Lunacharsky State Institution for Theatre Art (formerly GITIS, the Russian University for Theatre Art), and also aroad. In 1995-7 he was a Bolshoi Ballet manager.
Alexei Fadeyechev (b 1960) held the position of artistic director from 1998-2000. The Bolshoi Ballet still performs his version of Don Quixote. An Honoured Artist of the RSFSR (1987). He danced with the Bolshoi Ballet company from 1978 to the 1990s.
Boris Akimov (b 1946) was artistic director 2000-2003. A People’s Artist of the USSR (1989). He danced with the Bolshoi company 1965-1989. From 1989 he was a coach-balletmaster. In 2013 he became president of the artistic council of the Bolshoi Theatre’s ballet copany, and is now deputy president of the artistic council.
Alexei Ratmansky (b 1968) held the position of artistic director 2004-2009. An Honoured Artist of Ukraine (1993). At the Bolshoi staged ballets on Shostakovich’s Bright Stream and Bolt, and on Stravinsky’s Card Game. In other periods he was a soloist of the national Ukraine ballet, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet of Canada and the Royal Danish Ballet. Since 2009 he has been choreographer of the American Ballet Theatre.
Yuri Burlaka (b 1968) was artistic director of the ballet company 2009-2011. An Honoured Artist of Russia. From 1986 he was a leading soloist with Moscow’s regional ”Russian Ballet” state theatre. The Bolshoi Ballet still performs his productions of Marius Petipa’s ballets Le Corsaire (together with Alexei Ratmansky, 2007), Esmeralda (together with Vasily Medvedev, 2009) etc. Since 2003 he has taught at the Moscow State Choreographic Academy.
Sergei Filin (b 1970) has held the position of artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet since 2011. A People’s Artist of Russia (2001). Soloist at the Bolshoi Ballet 1988-2008. In 2008-2011 he was artistic director of the ballet at Moscow’s Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theatre.
Galina Stepanenko (b 1966) fulfilled the duties of artistic director in 2013 while Sergei Filin was under medical treatment after the attack on him on 17 January 2013. A People’s Artist of Russia (1996). She performed in the Moscow Classical Ballet, the Stanislavsky Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet. Since 2013 she has been the company manager of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Bolshoi Theatre chief Vladimir Urin (photo TASS/ Sergey Fadeichev)