volcanohunter

Bolshoi Babylon

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UK pubcaster the BBC has commissioned a documentary that promises to go behind the scenes for the first time at Moscow’s prestigious but scandal-struck Bolshoi Theatre.

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The filmmakers have been granted inside access to the theatre, which is home to both the Bolshoi Ballet and the Bolshoi Opera – among the oldest and most renowned ballet and opera companies in the world.

http://realscreen.com/2013/11/29/idfa-13-bbc-to-examine-scandal-struck-bolshoi-ballet/

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Why did they recieve permission? It has sounded like a reality show from the word go, but I think the boat sailed several months ago... There is no such thing as bad publicity?

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"It looks likely to meet its €510,000 (US$693,800) budget, €94,700 of which is being covered by the BBC’s documentary strand ‘Storyville.’ The filmmakers are aiming to have the film ready for release in the second half of 2014."

I have a feeling that the people involved are making lemonade from lemons.

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Well, like Black Swan, it may bring a new audience to the ballet... Maybe the hope is that their eyes will open for the scandal and stay open to savor the beauty... Has the Black Swan surge panned out into any increase of sustained interest?

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This could be ballet's answer to figure skating's 'Tonya-Nancy Saga' of 20 years ago. Pass the popcorn!

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In the mid-1990s the BBC produced an extremely interesting series on the Royal Opera House titled The House. While it was said to have improved the theater's box office receipts, the public airing of its backstage dirty laundry was widely considered to have been a PR disaster for the ROH.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/opera-house-documentary-lifts-lid-on-backstage-crisis-1526339.html

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I'd forgotten about this -- we'll see what it's like!

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Bolshoi Babylon will be released in cinemas in Japan at the end of September. Maria Alexandrova, visiting here for the World Ballet Festival has been interviewed for the publicity of the film.

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If the company and its dancers are promoting the film, chances are it isn't a terribly hard-hitting affair.

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The trailer throws out some sharp lines designed to attract viewers, about theater being a brutal profession and a hotbed, about the dissent brought about by Filin’s outside hires and questions about their quality (though the editing of that bit is extremely choppy and perhaps distorted), about the company needing to change how it works, but also about how what happens on stage is all that matters ("it's our religion, our god"). He was not included in the trailer, but I see that Nikolai Tsiskaridze was also interviewed for the film, and no doubt he had some strong things to say. If the film is 87 minutes long, and it covers the acid attack in some detail, I wonder how much time is left over for much else. However, those shots of severely overcrowded barres present a different picture from the very selective view of company life the Bolshoi presented online during World Ballet Day.

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I don't have full access to "The Sunday Times," but the amount they are showing for free quotes Filin, including at least one from the documentary:

Speaking before stepping down from the high-profile role, Sergei Filin described managing the world’s largest ballet company as like “being at war, like walking on a minefield . . . You’d like to jump over it but have no idea if the spot where you land is also mined.
“It’s plagued by all sorts of intrigue and provocations, envy and jealousy that makes you nervous all the time,” Filin reveals in a forthcoming documentary, Bolshoi Babylon.
“Even if the acid attack had not happened, I can say that I shouldn’t have accepted the job. I made a mistake.”

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/world_news/Europe/article1600305.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2015_08_29

Ratmansky could have told him that, but some things, you just have to learn for yourself.

(Thanks to a heads up tweet by Marina Harss)

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I see that HBO's new docum on backstage intrigues at the Bolshoi Ballet is available to pre-order on Amazon.uk. It's not yet available on the US Amazon site but may very well be in a month or two, so we can save on postage & contribute to this site. :)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bolshoi-Babylon-DVD-Sergei-Filin/dp/B0184DP7WU/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1450309305&sr=1-1&keywords=%22Bolshoi+Babylon%22

TV viewers in the USA with the premium cable channel HBO can see it on December 21 (this coming Monday):

http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/bolshoi-babylon.html

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Before creating this post, I searched for "Bolshoi Babylon" and found this thread. I hope I am not posting information that hasn't already been posted elsewhere.

I read the following three articles on the New York Times (subscription might be required):

  1. ‘Bolshoi Babylon’ Explores a Secretive Ballet Troupe
  2. Maria Alexandrova on the Bolshoi: ‘We Still Don’t Know the Truth’
  3. Anastasia Meskova on the Bolshoi: ‘I Was in the Middle’

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Before creating this post, I searched for "Bolshoi Babylon" and found this thread. I hope I am not posting information that hasn't already been posted elsewhere.

I read the following three articles on the New York Times (subscription might be required):

  1. ‘Bolshoi Babylon’ Explores a Secretive Ballet Troupe
  2. Maria Alexandrova on the Bolshoi: ‘We Still Don’t Know the Truth’
  3. Anastasia Meskova on the Bolshoi: ‘I Was in the Middle’

There was an article in the Times today. (Saturday). I was struck by a photo of Maria Alexandrova rehearsing in a studio at the Bolshoi. The floor seemed to be a "marley" that was simply taped down (with a few bubbles here and there), as opposed to a permanent flooring that one sees at say, NYCB or SFB, etc. For a theater that's just gone through a multi million dollar renovation, one would think that a first class flooring could have been installed.

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The floor seemed to be a "marley" that was simply taped down (with a few bubbles here and there), as opposed to a permanent flooring that one sees at say, NYCB or SFB, etc. For a theater that's just gone through a multi million dollar renovation, one would think that a first class flooring could have been installed.

Nikolai Tsiskaridze maintained that the renovation had rendered the studios in the old theater useless, so the company continues to use the studios in the new theater, just as it did during the renovation. That building opened in 2002, but it may not have been built with state-of-the-art flooring.

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A New York Times online article Review: ‘Bolshoi Babylon,’ Russia’s Famed Ballet Troupe in a Scandal’s Glare was posted on Sunday, December 20, 2015. According to a note attached to the article, "A version of this review appears in print on December 21, 2015, on page C3 of the New York edition with the headline: A Documentary Looks at the Bolshoi in a Scandal’s Harsh Glare."

A subscription might be required to read the online article.

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Looks like Vorontsova's wedding or reception was at the Bellevue restaurant on top of the Kempinski Hotel. Wonderful restaurant with terraces on all corners and even a great view inside the restaurant (large windows). Highly recommend a meal there! It is not quite as trendy and exciting as the Terrassa restaurant overlooking the Kazan Cathedral (a very happening restaurant with lots of young well-to-do Russians and the outside seating is amazing).....Bellevue probably draws mostly the hotel guests, I suspect.

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Watched the documentary tonight. I found the documentary very well-made. Things I liked:

1. Showing that for some ballerinas (like Maria Allash), dancing is a job. At large theaters like the Bolshoi there are contract dancers who get steady work and don't aspire to be prima ballerina assoluta. She has a son at home, and she wants to get cast and wants to get parts, but I like how they show her entering and leaving the theatre very much as one would do at a regular job, whereas a dancer like Maria Alexandrova seems like one of those people where the phrase "her life is her work and her work is her life" applies.

2. The candid conversation with Filin in which he says he regrets taking the job of AD at the Bolshoi. During the whole documentary he had been an elusive figure, but those few moments were very honest and human.

3. The barely concealed contempt between Urin and Filin which spills out in an open rehearsal. The conversation is about pilates, of all things.

4. Showing Urin in his surprisingly drab, plain office with what looks like an old Windows desktop computer. Kind of reflects his no-nonsense, all-business approach to his position.

5. Catching some of the chatter between dancers in the wings.

Overall the documentary exceeded my expectations and certainly seemed realer and more interesting than Flesh and Bone or Black Swan. No easy villains, no real heroes.

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No easy villains, no real heroes.

And that is the difference between fiction and the real world.

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I also found this film quite compelling. And I appreciated its attention to the Bolshoi's complicated brew of theater-politics and politics-politics. Urin comes across as an extraordinarily tough figure and seems almost like a character from a Russian novel in his levels of sarcasm and willingness to go at his enemies--mostly Filin, but not just Filin...notice his account of the music director's departure. As I recall that departure was viewed as a huge loss to the Bolshoi. Anyway, Urin makes for a great documentary subject. But I'm not sure the extent of his cooperation didn't also indirectly contribute to what seem to me the film's flaws.

Flaws? Well, I found it somewhat limited in perspective. It emphasized casting issues, but made no mention of repertory issues or Filin's role there--as if casting were the only thing at "stake" in the company's leadership. Yes, casting was supposedly Dmitrichenko's issue, via Vorontsova, but the film seemed to be offering a wider account of the Bolshoi and in that account repertory matters.

Given the film's topic, too, I think the interview subjects could have included one of the dancers whose careers Filin has promoted. That group includes dancers within the Bolshoi, but also dancers he hired. We heard Allash complaining that the dancers Filin hired were "not as good" as Bolshoi dancers "obviously"--I'm quoting to underline that she didn't say their style was alien to the theater but that were not as good--and yet we saw no interview with one of those dancers. (I'm thinking Chudin, Kretova, Smirnova, Obratzova, Hallberg ...) Did none of them agree to go on camera? Given the film's focused approach I underline that I am only thinking one could have been included. It would have perhaps clarified the issue of factions in the company if nothing else...They do show Filin talking in English to Hallberg, but with no further explanation.

There was also no mention of the Bolshoi's internal investigation of the bribery issue, an investigation conducted under Urin's leadership, which Ismene Brown has reported on...She reported that it more or less cleared Filin of financial chicanery, while putting in place some reforms suggesting there were problems with the system. While no-one would be inclined to trust an internal investigation 100%, no one could accuse Urin of wanting to help Filin either. Towards the very end of the film, Urin was quoted insinuating that casting had involved bribery, as he announced that that would never happen again. Well, why include those insinuations, but not mention the investigation?

"No easy villains, no real heroes..." Canbelto wrote. Sure. But I agree with Filin when he says Dimitrichenko "crossed a line." Hiring someone to beat someone else up, which is what Dmitrichenko admitted to, is obviously not just ugly theater intrigue--even allowing that one believes Dmitrichenko when he says he didn't know acid would be involved. (I'm not sure I do.) I do not agree with what Filin went on to say--that crossing that line makes Dmitrichenko "not" human; I'm afraid it makes him all too human. But I can understand Filin's not-so-suppressed rage. Even if "all" the characters in this story are flawed, the flaws are hardly symmetrical.

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