Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bolshoi Changes

The big news from the world of ballet this past week was that Yuri Grigorovich will be returning to the Bolshoi Ballet.

Grigorovich was ousted as artistic director in 1995 after 30 years at the helm because of his authoritarian style and accusations that the Bolshoi's reperatoire had grown stale.

Dance Magazine noted in 1994 that when Grigorovich be came chief choreographer and artistic director of Bolshoi Ballet thirty years before, the company had many choreographers, including Nina Anisimova, Leonid Jacobson, Leonid Lavrovsky, Asaf Messerer, and Rostislav Zakharov.

"In the process of strengthening his grip on the troupe, however, Grigorovich wiped out his competition. These tactics left the Bolshoi with a limited repertoire consisting mostly of Grigorovich's own restaging of the classics."

During his tenure as artistic director Grigorovich produced only four original creations. But while he drew criticism from some of the Bolshoi's biggest stars, his supporters were just as devoted.

Fifteen dancers protested the decision with a one-day strike. Instead of performing Romeo and Juliet, They appeared on stage in jeans and t-shirts. It was the first time that a performance was cancelled by a dancers' protest since the Bolshoi was founded in 1776.

Grigorovich was replaced by Vladimir Vasiliev. Vasiliev was, in turn, unceremoniously fired by President Putin in 2000. Vasiliev learned he'd lost his job when he heard it on the radio.

Alexei Ratmansky, the current director, announced he would quit in December, in order to concentrate on choreography. During his four-year directorship his supporters hailed him as ushering in a new era for the company, while those of Grigorovich believed Ratmansky was taking the theater away from its roots and making it too "Western."

The Ukrainian-born Ratmansky had been given the reigns in January 2004 to guide the company as the Bolshoi's main theatre underwent a mammoth redevelopment.

The fact that some of the Bolshoi's biggest stars-- notably prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova, and the male principal Nikolai Tsiskaridze-- were critical of the direction allowed some talented newcomers such as Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev.

From January 2009, Yuri Burlaka becomes the artistic director and the bridge between the old and new garde. He has largely built his reputation on reviving 19th century dance classics. Alexei Ratmansky will remain the troupe's principal guest choreographer and will focus on new productions and Grigorovich will oversee his own ballets.

How will this approach to mixing innovation and experience play out? We'll have to watch and see.

Want to read more? Here are some of the articles that you might find useful.


Dance Magazine's 1994 article on criticism of Grigorovich
Dance Magazine's 1995 article on Griforovich's departure
Dance Magainze's 2000 article on Vasiliev's departure from the Bolshoi
Dance Magazine's 2001 article on Grigorovich's triumphant staging of Swan Lake at the Bolshoi
Dance Magazine's 2004 article on Alexei Ratmansky

Current Coverage:

CBC News, Canada
New York Times
London Telegraph
Times of London