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Speculations Surround Bolshoi Postponement of Nureyev Ballet

Last minute rescheduling of premiere could be connected to its controversial hero, a gay Russian dancer who defected to the West during the Cold War. 

11 July 2017

One of the most anticipated premieres of the ballet world has been rescheduled for next May, fuelling speculation that the decision is just the latest act in the long-running cultural wars in Russia, The Moscow Times writes.


Moscow’s famed Bolshoi theater cancelled the premiere of “Nureyev,” a ballet based on the life of gay Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev, just days ahead of its 11 July opening, leading some to wonder if the topic might have been too sensitive for some of the country’s ruling elite.


Nureyev frequently danced with English prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Image via Katja/Flickr.


Considered one of the greatest dancers of all time, Nureyev fled the Soviet Union in 1961, and died from AIDS-related illnesses in 1993, The Guardian writes. Some sources alleged that the planned ballet’s explicit depiction of his sexuality might have been one of the reasons the show was at least temporarily scrapped, given Russia’s existing laws criminalizing gay propaganda.


“[The story of Nureyev] was the wrong topic, by the wrong guy at the wrong time. Everything was against this performance,” an unnamed source at the top of the Moscow ballet scene told The Moscow Times.

Still, on Monday, the theatre’s general director Vladimir Urin said at a press conference that the rehearsals, which showed a “very serious leap in quality,” were the actual motivation for the postponement, AFP reports.


State-owned news agency TASS, quoted by Reuters, reported that Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky had spoken to Urin beforehand, but denied that the order to cancel the premiere came from above.


"Yes, there was a long conversation with Urin, but a ban is not the ministry's working style," Irina Kaznacheeva, a spokeswoman at the ministry, said, adding that she didn’t know the details of the conversation.


Another theory tied the cancellation to the ballet’s director Kirill Serebrennikov, who has fallen out of favor with the authorities, both for his criticism of censorship in the arts, and his controversial ballet adaptations, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “The Golden Cockerel,” which, the Guardian writes, “he transformed into a biting satire on Kremlin politics.”



  • A forthcoming autobiography of Beryl Grey, a former prima ballerina who collaborated with Nureyev in the 1970s, detailed the dancer’s difficult temperament. “As a great artist and a fantastic producer, he was an inspiration for our dancers, but I detested his foul language, rudeness, and unpredictable bad moods.”


  • The cut-throat atmosphere at the Bolshoi last become apparent in 2013, when a one-time star dancer and two others were convicted and sentenced for an acid attack on the theater’s artistic director, Sergey Filin, which caused extensive damage to his eyesight, face, and internal organs.



  • Leading Russian cultural figures have criticized police raids on the Moscow Gogol Center theater and the home of Serebrennikov, who heads the theater, in connection to the alleged embezzlement of state budget funds.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu

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