Leading theater critic says performance cancelled by Bolshoi Theater amid ‘gay propaganda’ rumors could have been the greatest ballet of the 21st century
On July 11, a new ballet directed by Kirill Serebrennikov was scheduled to premiere at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Three days before Opening Day, however, the theater’s management announced that the premiere was being delayed a full year, claiming that the performance wasn’t yet ready. Sources in the theater industry suspect that the decision to postpone “Nureyev” was made under pressure from Russia’s Culture Ministry, and possibly because Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky personally objected to the ballet’s supposed “gay propaganda.” The show’s final dress rehearsal was on July 8, and it was captured on video. Five fragments of this footage later leaked onto the Internet, as has footage from an earlier rehearsal on July 6. Tatyana Kuznetsova, a theater critic for the newspaper Kommersant, watched these videos and concluded that “Nureyev” appears to have been the best ballet produced by any theater in the world, so far this century. Meduza summarizes her review.
Tatyana Kuznetsova argues that the ballet by Serebrennikov and choreographer Yuri Posokhov, based on one of the most famous dancers of the 20th century, Rudolf Nureyev, has exceptional artistic merit. The theater critic watched five videos filmed during the ballet’s final dress rehearsal (totaling 53 minutes), concluding that the play showed no signs of being unfinished and was ready for the public.
This directly contradicts comments by Vladimir Urin, the general director of the Bolshoi Theater, who justified the cancellation of the ballet’s premiere on the grounds that the dancers still hadn’t learned Posokhov’s choreography.
The ballet's plot is anchored by scenes of auctions where Nureyev’s possessions were sold off. The different auction lots are tied to different periods in the dancer’s life: lessons at the Leningrad School, a production of “La Bayadère” at the Paris Opera, his romance with Danish dancer Eric Brun. In her review, Kuznetsova says the play tells Nureyev’s story tastefully, without even a hint of vulgarity. The ballet is not about sex, she writes, but love: “gay love and straight love, love of dance, love of life, and love of freedom.” The show’s choreography is like “breathing,” Kuznetsova says, noting that Posokhov packed the show with dancing while avoiding tedium and repetition.
In her review, Tatyana Kuznetsova concludes that the world musical stage has yet to see a ballet this century on the scale or significance of “Nureyev.” In her opinion, the show could have been a landmark performance for the Bolshoi Theater, as Alexey Ratmansky’s staging of “The Bright Stream” was more than a decade ago. Choreographer Yuri Posokhov should be asked to serve as the theater’s chief visiting choreographer, Kuznetsova argues.
Without a doubt, “Nureyev” could have become the Bolshoi Theater’s most successful and profitable ballet since the fall of the USSR. It was guaranteed sell-out crowds at every Russian performance and permanent inclusion in the touring repertoire. Now, against a background of growing social hysteria, it’s already clear that the play’s fate in Moscow is doomed. It’s unlikely that “Nureyev” will reach the stage on May 4 or 5, 2018, like the theater’s general director promised reporters. But this psychological blockbuster ballet could debut on any serious stage in the world with the same triumph it would have had in Moscow (though, sadly, without its remarkable Russian performers). I have one question: how many years will the Bolshoi Theater, which ordered and produced “Nureyev,” own the exclusive rights to stage the play, and when will Yuri Posokhov, Kirill Serebrennikov, and Ilya Demutsky be its true owners?