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"They tried quite unlawfully to fire me from the Bolshoi, and I have good reason to think that there will be a similar attempt soon"

28 MAR 15  

Svetlana Lunkina, the Bolshoi ballerina who moved to Canada three  years ago claiming to feel under threat in Moscow, has apparently finally resigned from the company, effective this summer.

A much loved artist on stage home and abroad, Lunkina, now 35, has been a voluble partisan in the animus against Bolshoi ballet director Sergei Filin since he was attacked and maimed with acid two years ago. There has evidently been much personal bad blood between them, as well as complicated business relations between her husband and a Moscow colleague who fell out over the financing of a ballet film. Lunkina has since claimed that her family are being menaced by heavies from Moscow, and hinted that the Bolshoi was involved.

Past Izvestia reports have claimed that Filin has links with her husband’s foe, former TV comedian Vladimir Vinokur, who runs an influential arts foundation. However, the different standards in Russia of factual accuracy and impartial reporting in what is evidently an implacable conflict make it impossible to tell what is true.

For the past three years, it is known, Lunkina has remained technically on roll at the Bolshoi but on unpaid leave, as she made made her family home in Canada where her husband and children have citizenship, and she is now employed as prima ballerina at the National Ballet of Canada.

But she has this week told Izvestia (a newspaper which has often transmitted her hostile views on Filin) that she has sent in her resignation to the Bolshoi.

The paper reports that Bolshoi chief Vladimir Urin has not yet heard of her plan, and says he and his predecessor had both tried in vain to get Lunkina to come back to the Bolshoi.

Lunkina amazed London when, aged just 18, she made her tour debut as Giselle with the Bolshoi. Later the British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon chose her for a leading role in his Hamlet ballet at the Bolshoi 10 years ago, Misericordes. She also led Bolshoi casts in Wayne McGregor’s modern Chroma (picture below, with Vyacheslav Lopatin, photograph Damir Yusupov), and was said to have been intended as the lead in his aborted Rite of Spring, a Bolshoi creation intended for 2013 which he cancelled after the attack on Filin.

She was felt to embody the ethereality and gossamer delicacy of the best of Russian ballerinas, and was often partnered by Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who himself was dismissed from the Bolshoi in 2013.

Here’s a translation of the Izvestia report.

March 25, 2015, 00:01, by Yaroslav Timofeyev

Prima ballerina quits the Bolshoi

Prima ballerina Svetlana Lunkina is leaving the Bolshoi Theatre, the company she joined in 1997. The Honoured Artist of Russia has sent the Bolshoi general director Vladimir Urin and ballet artistic director Sergei Filin notice of her resignation from July 27, 2015.

She told Izvestia, “Last summer they tried quite unlawfully to fire me from the Bolshoi, and I have good reason to think that there will be a similar attempt soon. I don’t now see any need to spend further precious time continuing to resist the intrigues of the directorate, especially that of the ballet company.

“I will always have with me my memories of my beloved coach Ekaterina Maximova, the support of intelligent spectators, the Bolshoi’s traditions of which I’ve always been an exemplar and which I will always carefully maintain, memories of excellent relationships with my colleagues, and the accumulation of experience of an enormous number of productions on my beloved stage. All of this will stay with me. And in that sense I will never actually leave the Bolshoi Theatre. I am taking the Bolshoi Theatre with me.”

Svetlana Lunkina has not danced at the Bolshoi Theatre since 2012: for the last two and a half years she was on leave for family reasons. According to the ballerina, the theatre administration was going to dismiss her on 1 July 2014 due to the expiration of her contract signed in 2012. Lunkina claimed that the contract was never signed, which the Bolshoi Theatre agreed, and prolonged her leave for another year.

"Why occupy a position on the theatre's roll if you are not working in the Bolshoi?"

Bolshoi general director Vladimir Urin has so far no yet received the ballerina’s resignation.

He said: “I am not aware that Svetlana Lunkina is resigning from the Bolshoi. You’ve given me new information. I think it’s probably necessary to recall some of the background to this question. Svetlana Lunkina is living now with her family in Canada. Almost three years ago, Anatoly Iksanov, former director of the Bolshoi Theatre, signed the ballerina off on annual leave without pay.

“After that, over two years I signed similar notices for Lunkina. Generally speaking, I myself highly value her as a ballerina, and in my correspondence with her I wrote that the Bolshoi Theatre would be very happy if she decided to return to her stage. But this, of course, must be her decision.

“On the other hand, to renew her leave for yet another year, and this would be the fourth season, does not seem to me appropriate. Why occupy a position on the theatre’s roll if you are not working in the Bolshoi?”

As Izvestia has previously reported, the ballerina emigrated from Russian in 2012 claiming threats to her person and her family: she arranged leave from the Bolshoi and went to Canada. According to Lunkina, representatives of the Vladimir Vinokur Foundation for arts and culture were pursuing her. Vinokur had formerly been the business partner of Lunkina’s husband, the producer Vladislav Moskalyov.

A financial conflict had arisen between Vinokur and Moskalyov in which it appeared that Lunkina was involved. Vladimir Vinokur has confirmed to Izvestia that his fund decided to send the leading theatres of the world a letter concerning embezzlement allegedly committed by Moskalyov. In the letter it was alleged that Moskalyov laundered some stolen money with the help of his wife. On this point, Vinokur himself averred that Svetlana Lunkina was “simply the wife of a man who has committed a crime and is hiding in Canada.”

According to the statement, a criminal case was brought against Vladimir Vinokur alleging the theft of money from the Fund, and he filed several law-suits in Canadian courts.  

The first of these trials ended in May 2013 with victory for Moskalyov. In July his wife Lunkina went to court and won compensation for the hurt caused by Vinokur’s legal claims.

Svetlana Lunkina, an Honoured Artist of Russia, graduated from the Moscow Academy of Choreography in 1997 and at once was hired by the Bolshoi. In her first season the 18-year-old dancer performed the leading role in Giselle by Vladimir Vasiliev, becoming the youngest Giselle in Bolshoi history. From 2005 Lunkina was ranked a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi.

Her repertoire included lead roles in the ballets Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Anyuta, The Pharaoh's Daughter, Spartacus, The Bright Stream, Esmeralda, Notre Dame de Paris, Queen of Spades, Diamonds, Symphony in C, The Lesson and others.

In August 2013 Lunkina became a guest prima ballerina at the National Ballet of Canada, and a year later joined the company roll.

Lunkina finally resigns from the Bolshoi

Lunkina in Giselle (photo Reuters/Denis Balibouse)

Lunkina to quit Russia for Canada as lawsuits mount

Lunkina joins National Ballet of Canada fulltime

Tough on foreigners, new deal calms Bolshoi artists