October 19, 2000


The sudden changes in the administrative and artistic organization of the Bolshoi Theater that Russian President Vladimir Putin put into effect at the end of August, 2000, has had unfortunate, and perhaps, unforeseen consequences for the Bolshoi Ballet. To summarize: On August 30, Vladimir Vasiliev was summarily removed as director of the Theater; Anatoly Iksanov, former head of St. Petersburg's Bolshoi Drama Theater, was named general director and Gennady Rozhdestvensky, a world renowned symphonic conductor, was named artistic director. The Theater itself was once more put under the control of the Minister of Culture. As of September, Alexei Fadeyechev, who had been overseeing the renaissance of the Bolshoi Ballet---which just had wildly successful appearances in Japan, London and the United States---remained in place as artistic director of the ballet, and in fact was reported to have signed a new three-year contract.

So far, so good. It is well known that the Bolshoi Opera, suffering, like the Ballet from budgetary constraints brought about by the current state of the Russian economy, was in dire need of artistic revitalization. The desire to have someone with financial savvy to oversee the much needed renovation of the Bolshoi Theater itself, and to manage the temporary displacement of both companies to a new theater while the renovation was taking place, was perhaps a compelling reason for the reorganization.

But things began to unravel for the Ballet soon after it was reported that Yuri Grigorovich, who headed the Bolshoi Ballet as director-choreographer from 1962 to 1995, was to be brought back to restage Swan Lake. (Vasiliev's recent staging of the Petipa classic had generally received bad notices from press and audiences alike.) However, it soon became obvious that Grigorovich's influence was to extend beyond restaging that piece. (For a refresher on Nina's checkered relationship with Grigorovich, see Nina Alovert's interview elsewhere in this website) At the beginning of October, orders from "above" in effect cancelled all the new projects that Fadeyechev had planned for the next two years---including the staging, by Suzanne Farrell, of four more Balanchine ballets, namely Bugaku, Scotch Symphony, Symphony in Three Movements and Chaconne. Other new productions which have now been jettisoned are Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, both to have been restaged by Fadeyechev, Le Corsaire, in a staging by Peter Farmer, La Sylphide by Frank Andersen, a new ballet by Stanton Welch (which Nina still plans to produce elsewhere), and a staging of Delibes' Sylvia by Alexei Ratmansky.

All these were part of Fadeyechev's artistic vision for a revitalized company that would make the Bolshoi part of the world artistic process, and not just a remnant of a glorious past. Further developments made it clear that Fadeyechev would not have a clear hand in casting and other artistic and managerial decisions. (Even the revival of last year's new production of La Fille du Pharaon, scheduled for late November to early December, is in jeopardy, although plans by a French organization to film the ballet may yet save the performances.) Faced with such conditions, but concerned about contractual responsibilities undertaken with presenters outside Russia, Fadeyechev refused to resign, but compelled the authorities to terminate him, which they did. Boris Akimov since has been named as his replacement.

THESE DEVELOPMENTS HAVE PUT IN PERIL ALL OF THE BOLSHOI BALLET'S PLANNED TOURS, all of them negotiated during Fadeyechev's brilliant two-year stewardship of the company. The Ballet was to have had a month's residency at London's Covent Garden in July 2001; and there were plans for a Japan and a U.S. tour in 2002. It is reported that the current Bolshoi management has assured tour producers that the Bolshoi will honor its commitments. But the presenters are far from reassured. Among the obvious questions: " What repertory will the company bring," and, perhaps more important, "Will Nina be with the company?" The answer to that last question is, for now, a resounding "NO."

Political intrigue long has been a part of the artistic world---not the least in Russia. But it seems to us, the Friends of Nina Ananiashvili in New York, that these latest Bolshoi maneuvers are particularly inscrutable, if not suicidal. The Bolshoi Ballet, under the leadership of Fadeyechev, had obviously been on its way to an artistic renaissance. As well, Fadeyechev had proved himself a capable manager and businessman. (Contrast the universal acclaim, and profit, the company received this summer in the U.S. to the mismanaged and all but forgotten U.S. tour of 1996.) More than twenty-five of Russia's most respected publications have rallied to Fadeyechev's cause, so far to no avail. The Russian President has promised increased subsidies to the Theater, but no one really believes subsidies can make up for crucial foreign currency earned from touring.

Of course, the summer 2000 tour would not have been possible had Nina not been its main attraction. She is the company's undisputed prima ballerina, as well as one of the few truly world-class ballet superstars. Her career will continue to flourish wherever she chooses to dance. Yet, as consistently brilliant as she is, those who have experienced her performances with multiple companies over the years can attest that with the Bolshoi, she somehow finds extra reserves of energy and inner glow to make her appearances with the troupe super scintillate with power, passion and sheer joy of dancing. For now, she will honor her contract for eight to nine yearly performances with the company in Moscow. Does anyone in the Kremlin care that the rest of the world may never see Nina with her home company again?