On 8 July, after the dress rehearsal of the Bolshoi Ballet’s ambitious new ballet on the life of Rudolf Nureyev, the premiere was cancelled. Vladislav Lantratov was to have played Nureyev and, stunned by the announcement, wrote on Instagram,
I have no words… Just as you fall in love with a part, grow into it, feel everything starting to come together… in one fell swoop, this little creation of yours is ripped away from you. There is nothing worse for an artist…
The Director of the Bolshoi Theatre, Vladimir Urin, gave the official reason,
We did not calculate the scale of the work and leave enough time for it. We looked at the ballet’s readiness and decided that, at this moment, it isn’t ready to be seen on the stage of the Bolshoi.
He said that main rehearsals started on 2 July which, even for remounting a known work, is no time at all. Supposedly, principal roles were already being worked on weeks previously.
The company’s director, Makhar Vaziev, echoed Urin’s words,
I was very, very enthusiastic, but then when we started to rehearse on the stage, I understood that we are not ready.
However, The New York Times, stated,
The cultural elite, though, claimed that it was censorship reminiscent of the Stalinist era — that the Ministry of Culture was spooked by the idea that Russia’s most prestigious stage would be used to promote the life of a gay man who defected from the Soviet Union. One backdrop was a giant, full-frontal nude portrait of Nureyev, taken by Richard Avedon.
The largest Russian news agency, TASS, wrote,
The Bolshoi Theatre postponed the premiere of Kirill Serebrennikov’s ballet Nureyev on the personal order of Russia’s Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky.
Serebrennikov is Nureyev’s director, designer and he also wrote the scenario. A specially commissioned score was composed by Ilya Demutsky, and the choreographer is by Yuri Posokhov.
The TASS source, said to be close to the Ministry of Culture, stated that most of the dancers were supposed to perform their roles naked, and told of the offending naked photo of Nureyev seen during the ballet, which means that the work could be seen as propaganda promoting “non-traditional sexual values”, which is illegal in the country.
Urin said that there was no call from Medinsky, and the Ministry of Culture underlined that it doesn’t engage in censorship or prohibit performances.
I don’t want to comment. It’s the theatre’s decision. That’s what they’ve decided.
As Nikolai Tsiskaridze commented,
I sympathise with the dancers, who had spent so much time and effort in rehearsals, [but what] really saddens me about this situation is how much this story is going to be sensationalised by the world’s press. Instead of discussing art and its advancement, we are forced to regurgitate the scandal.
There is nothing worse for an artist…
In his Instagram post, using terminology associated with giving birth, Lantratov shows the emotion that is invested in an intense creative process, above all with a newly created role, where, after forming the character, you are ready to show it to the world. This cancellation, then, felt like a forced abortion.
When such a large company, after being told of the cancellation in the morning, still musters the strength to go out and perform in the evening – it’s nothing short of a miracle. It’s no longer just about the job, but something much more – a remarkable display of unity and our loyalty to our art. The tears, the hugs, the applause are all worth a great deal. I applaud every single member of the Nureyev cast who performed on the Bolshoi’s stage on 8 July.
Lantratov was talking to Hello! Russia a week after the slated premiere. The Melmoth blog has translated the complete interview.
Lantratov is convinced that the delay isn’t a way to eventually shelve the project.
The dancers and the crew have made every effort to ensure that it would happen by giving it our all during the dress rehearsal.
The staging process tends to have its ups and downs, especially when a ballet is being created from scratch. Sometimes, you have very successful rehearsals, and other times everything falls apart. The theatre’s management have made their decision.
No nude dancers in Nureyev
When asked if the rumour is true that other dancers had turned down the role of Nureyev because of the nudity, he surprisingly said,
This is the first time I’ve heard of such a thing. No one turned the role down. Especially since all the talk about nudity is false. I don’t think something of that sort would be possible on the Bolshoi’s stage. One dancer turned down the role of Erik Bruhn because he didn’t have the time to prepare it.
Lantratov continued by saying that he had no doubts about accepting the role, especially that he’d already collaborated with the choreographer on A Hero of Our Time, a full-length ballet for the Bolshoi created in 2015.
I was convinced that we would make something great together. This role offers an unfathomable range: for two and a half hours I get to live an entire life and go through ten different phases in his life. This production is a challenge for a dancer. Ballet is difficult enough from a physical standpoint, but in this case, one is presented with an additional challenge of a complex dramatic role. I am proud of what I have accomplished and the performance I gave on 8 July.
Even though the stage is filled with the chorus, the corps and actors, this is a one-person show. It’s about loneliness. Nureyev has it all: art, love, success. He appears on stage either with his teacher, Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin, or with his partner, Margot Fonteyn, or with Erik Bruhn. He is constantly in the midst of activity, always surrounded by people, but at some point, I realised that he was an incredibly lonely person.
The scenario – which, at first glance, appears to simply follow a sequence of events from Nureyev’s biography – demands not only a physical effort of the body, but a complete inner transformation. For example, in one of the scenes Nureyev shouts at his company. It’s practically an entire monologue, and I must deliver it convincingly!
Maria Alexandrova plays Margot Fonteyn
Here I can even draw a parallel between Nureyev and myself. The Rudolf Nureyev we know today was fashioned by Margot Fonteyn, and Maria played a great part in my own formation. She perfectly represents the old Moscow school of ballet. She saw something in me… and invested in me.
In two days’ time, the company opens at the Lincoln Center in New York with Jean-Christophe Maillot’s The Taming of the Shrew. Lantratov will be dancing Petruchio, in a stunning cast which also features Ekaterina Krysanova, Olga Smirnova, Semyon Chudin, Igor Tsvirko and Vyacheslav Lopatin, so life goes on.
This production is a favourite with the Moscow public. Now we must win over the American audience.
The Taming of the Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet
a ballet in two acts by Jean-Christophe Maillot
July 26–30, David H Koch Theater
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.