In 2007, the Mikhailovsky was taken over by tycoon Vladimir Kekhman, who made his fortune importing fruit to Russia and has been dubbed "the banana oligarch". He has thrown more than £30m of his own money at the theatre, funding renovations, star acquisitions, and lavish sets, all with the aim of transforming the Mikhailovsky from a plucky also-ran to a force to be contended with. The signing of the Bolshoi's two stars this week is the biggest indication so far that his plan is succeeding. "We are the most experimental, the most creative and the most exciting theatre in Russia," Mr Kekhman told The Independent yesterday. "We match the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky in quality for most of our productions, and on occasion we better them."
Rumours have also swirled in the Russian press that Osipova -- seen by many critics as among the very greatest performing ballerinas alive -- was mightily offended to have been excluded from the cast for "Sleeping Beauty".
Filin revealed that this was a decision of Yuri Grigorovich, the legendary 84-year-old Bolshoi ballet supremo from Soviet days who has returned to revive the production.
The creative freedom that's most likely to be sought after by Osipova and Vasiliev is not so much the range of available repertory but the chance to travel. When Sergei Filin was appointed the Bolshoi's new artistic director earlier this year, he announced his intention to limit the number of guest appearances with foreign companies his principal dancers could make. That must have sat badly with Osipova and Vasiliev, especially after this last summer, when they were not only gaining critical accolades as guests with the American Ballet Theatre but tackling the challenge of learning and dancing Ashton's Romeo and Juliet here in London, where I spoke to them.