Jump to content
volcanohunter

Bolshoi Babylon

Recommended Posts

For anyone that has HBO, this is available on their site (HBOGo).

I just finished watching this. I was surprised at the level of animosity Urin has towards Filin.

Share this post


Link to post

Is this only available through HBO for now? Of course the one online streaming service I'm not subscribed to.

Share this post


Link to post

Thank you so much, you beautiful soul! I really enjoyed watching this documentary. Well-done and compelling.

I am very unfamiliar with the character of Filin; would anybody mind filling me in, or giving me a link where I could read more about the controversy surrounding him? I got that he made questionable casting and repertoire choices, as well as the alleged corruptions and briberies, but I do want to dig a little deeper. Are people satisfied with Urin's decisions so far? Did everyone dislike Filin?

I would also love to hear you Russian ballet aficionado's opinion on Filin, Urin, and just the whole situation. I'm genuinely curious to hear what people with a deeper knowledge of the Bolshoi have to say. Or please point me in the direction of an existing thread on that topic.

Share this post


Link to post

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?

In fairness, I don't think that's what Urin implied. When he said that casting was also a matter of money, he meant that it affects dancers' salaries, because the more they perform, the more they are paid. He was simply stating a fact, not insinuating anything.

Share this post


Link to post

In fairness, I don't think that's what Urin implied. When he said that casting was also a matter of money, he meant that it affects dancers' salaries, because the more they perform, the more they are paid. He was simply stating a fact, not insinuating anything.

I'm not sure we are talking about the same part of film--I'm thinking of a quote towards the end of the film where you heard his voice but didn't see him and he was saying quite emphatically that from now on, only the best dancers for a role would dance, no more influence of money or politicians. An admirable goal--I hope he achieves it. But in the context of this film I think that is insinuating the role of money and politicians had flourished under Filin. I myself wouldn't be surprised if it had, but don't know that anyone has shown Filin was the central problem. Perhaps Urin didn't mean to insinuate criticism of Filin, but the way the film is edited it's hard not to read his words that way...I also don't think Urin is careless about what he says. If I rewatch the film, then perhaps I will get better sense...Not sure I have the stomach for it though.

Share this post


Link to post

Thank you so much, you beautiful soul! I really enjoyed watching this documentary. Well-done and compelling.

I am very unfamiliar with the character of Filin; would anybody mind filling me in, or giving me a link where I could read more about the controversy surrounding him? I got that he made questionable casting and repertoire choices, as well as the alleged corruptions and briberies, but I do want to dig a little deeper. Are people satisfied with Urin's decisions so far? Did everyone dislike Filin?

I would also love to hear you Russian ballet aficionado's opinion on Filin, Urin, and just the whole situation. I'm genuinely curious to hear what people with a deeper knowledge of the Bolshoi have to say. Or please point me in the direction of an existing thread on that topic.

I too am unfamiliar with his character, and obviously some dancers hated him. Hated. But Evgenia Obraztsova for example --the great Vaganova trained ballerina he brought from the Mariinsky to the Bolshoi, has spoken very warmly of him in interviews and, responding to people who had suggested his injuries were fake, spoke about visiting him and seeing injured skin etc. But I imagine now that Urin, who openly dislikes Filin and has gotten rid of him as company director, heads the Bolshoi theater, dancers are not exactly going to line up to talk publically about how great Filin was.

Repertory? In an interview translated by Ismene Brown, Urin himself has praised the Possokhov Hero of Our Time--a production that Filin was instrumental in making happen. Filin also brought Maillot to choreograph a Taming of the Shrew at the Bolshoi that is something of a hit and has garnered very good reviews--with raves for some of the performances. (It will be an HD film broadcast this year.) Otherwise, as I understand, Filin has brought international full length hits to the company, ballets that have been around a long time and are not all my cup of tea, but that certainly showcase the dramatic talent in the company (Cranko, Neumeier). And he also brought Balanchine's Jewels. Were these the best choices for the company? Well each of us may have an opinion, but it seems to me to signal some desire for the Bolshoi to look outward. Which has good and bad aspects perhaps. But, in my opinion, not all bad.

Presumably dancer resentment of his casting includes the fact that he brought several new dancers into the company including Smirnova whom he fast-tracked to stardom and Obraztsova. I think these are great ballerinas (Smirnova still developing of course) and the Bolshoi has always occasionally imported Vaganova trained and/or Mariinsky dancers --which these dancers are. So, to my mind, that is not inconsistent with Bolshoi tradition. Zakharova, who was already a star when Filin arrived, was brought in from outside as well, trained mostly in Kiev and danced with Mariinsky. He also brought Hallberg an American (which I assume was controversial--certainly Tsiskaridze complained) as well as several Russian dancers from outside the Bolshoi. I'm not astonished Bolshoi dancers resent this, but I personally like a number of the dancers he brought in and he has also promoted and featured Bolshoi trained, in-house dancers. As for the concern that the company's style might be being diluted (which I've heard expressed by fans)...that was happening before he became director of the company. I tend to think it was bound to morph over time, however much I may lament that no-one dances like Vladimir Vasiliev anymore.

I fear I sound like a special pleader for Filin--so I should say I know nothing about the ins and outs of how he ran the company day-to-day before he started being harassed with slashed tires and prank calls, let alone before he was attacked with acid. But there's a kind of vilification of Filin that really troubles me too. It's not as if any of his recent predecessors in the job lasted more than a few years, and indeed Genady Yanin was prevented from taking the job at all by an ugly campaign of sexually explicit photos (usually described as involving someone who "resembled" Yanin). So, really, coming from that world, what should one believe? That Filin was a bad guy? I tend to think he was probably an imperfect guy in an unspeakably bad situation. But I can't say I know either.

Share this post


Link to post

i'm thinking of quote towards end where you heard his voice but didn't see him and where he was quoted saying quite emphatically that from now on only the best dancers for a role would dance, no more influence of money or politicians.

He also mentioned singers in the same context, so I'm not sure it can be understood as a criticism of Filin in particular.

Share this post


Link to post

He also mentioned singers in the same context, so I'm not sure it can be understood as a criticism of Filin in particular.

Ahh...I didn't remember the mention of singers.

I still think that, at the least, the editing of the film is a problem here...at least I was bothered (as is pretty obvious I guess).

Share this post


Link to post

I am very unfamiliar with the character of Filin; would anybody mind filling me in, or giving me a link where I could read more about the controversy surrounding him? I got that he made questionable casting and repertoire choices, as well as the alleged corruptions and briberies, but I do want to dig a little deeper. Are people satisfied with Urin's decisions so far? Did everyone dislike Filin?

You could read this thread and weep:

http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/36661-sergei-filin-attacked/?hl=filin

but I'd suggest starting with David Remnick's article in "The New Yorker." Remnick was Moscow correspondent for "The Washington Post" before becoming Editor of "The New Yorker." There were a few things I think he didn't get right, some of which were disclosed after the article was published, but it's a much more coherent start.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/03/18/danse-macabre

Share this post


Link to post

If you're really intrepid, there were also threads on the Dmitrichenko trial

http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/38132-dmitrichenko-zarutsky-lipatov-trial

and the departures of Nikolai Tsiskaridze,
http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/37340-bolshoi-sacks-tsiskaridze/

Urin's predecessor Anatoly Iksanov,

http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/37478-anatoly-iksanov-fired/

and Sergei Filin,
http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/40463-sergei-filins-contract-will-not-be-renewed/

as well as a shorter thread on Vladimir Urin
http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/37562-vladimir-urin/

A critical discussion of repertoire and casting also came up following the Bolshoi's 2014 visit to New York, which took place immediately after the events presented in the film.

http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/39115-macaulay-on-2014-bolshoi-in-nyc

Share this post


Link to post

I would like to say to Sohalia that the dancers who Felin invited to join the Bolshoi as well as the dancers he promoted are all extraordinary.

Extraordinary. And the remark about the quality of their dancing which Maria Allash made in the film made her look pathetic. It was sad

Share this post


Link to post

Forgive me for noting the trivial, but the film look felt much like Wiseman's flm on the Paris Opera "La Danse". I actually enjoyed all the behind the scenes views, perhaps more than I would have enjoyed the view from out in the house, and this surprises me.

I'm also surprised that they didn't wallow more in the intrigue. There wasn't much mention if Dmitrichenko's history as head of the dancers union...(I forget i that was his exact role, was he head of a union or must some sort of spokeperson for the dancers?). I don't mind that they did not wallow so much in the details, but I am surprised.

It was nice that they picked good footage of both Filin & Tskiskaridze. I was a little confused by the footage of an adolescent performing Dying Swan? What was that from?

Share this post


Link to post

I would like to say to Sohalia that the dancers who Felin invited to join the Bolshoi as well as the dancers he promoted are all extraordinary.

Extraordinary. And the remark about the quality of their dancing which Maria Allash made in the film made her look pathetic. It was sad

I agree. Unlike many here I found the film a bit of a drudge. And not really very interesting film making. Some of the camera work was pretty amateur - ish, and the amount of information left unsaid was astounding. To not have mentioned the dancers Filin did bring to the Bolshoi, and as someone mentioned not to include more of Dmitrichenko's background, or even the on going roil between Filin and Tskiskardze put Filin in a negative view. I would also have loved to have seen more footage of Filin actually working with the dancers in a rehearsal. To see the process more. Everyone seems to arrive fully formed and then turned loose to do as they please. The film just seemed to be a slight wash of the entire situation and I found little of interest here, either as a source of information or even as a "stand alone film". Not very compelling.

Share this post


Link to post

As an outsider of the dance world looking in, I found Bolshoi Babylon an interesting film.

I found the precariousness of the dancers’ lives somewhat surprising. For example, one of dancers remarked that she did not have enough work and later had too much work. One can only imagine the stress that must bring to a single parent. I had expected that the dancers with the Bolshoi would have a certain level of “comfort” in an expectation of pay, with some variability. Yet, it seems that variability could be extreme.

Without pinpointing specific comments, I found the directness of many of the comments interesting. I sensed the rivalry amongst different factions of dancers. Moreover, I sensed the unease the dancers had with management.

I recall learning about Filin’s attack and feeling sad. This film brought back many of those sad feelings. Whatever I think about Filin, I cannot help but have great sympathy for his position. His life’s work has been thrown into question and he has been severely hurt, both emotionally and physically. He might even face an uncertain economic future, which only a few years ago would have seemed unimaginable. I feel great sadness for him.

During the opening scenes, we learn that a fan named Roman had been to (nearly?) every performance for the past 32 years. He’s certainly a passionate patron of the Bolshoi. I found his passion interesting.

I enjoyed the scenes with Boris Akimov, one of the ballet masters. He seemed to have a philosophical bent as well as a strong sense of humor. He, in particular, is one person that I would have loved to have a long discussion with. His sense of Bolshoi’s recent history, say last 40 – 50 years, would be interesting. And, his discussion about dancers would be fascinating, too. Which dancers exceeded initial expectations and why?

Furthermore, he remarked something to the effect, “Even those without much talent have ambitions.” Obviously, that remark is relative. One can’t become part of the Bolshoi with being extremely talented. Yet, it made me wonder how long those who are less talented last at the Bolshoi? Do the vast majority of the 250 dancers last only a year, or two, or three?

Although I commented that I would have loved to have a long discussion with Akimov, I would have loved to have talked to most of the participants in the film. I know I would find the dancers themselves endlessly fascinating. To rise to the professional level at the Bolshoi, there must be something special about each one of them.

Urin, of course, would be an interesting person to meet. What were his thought processes from when he first arrived to where the company is now? Is he satisfied with his progress? What were his greatest challenges in creating change? And so on.

Filin would be another must person to meet. My intuitive thoughts are that conversation would be complex. There are likely many hopes and dreams that remain unfulfilled coupled with regrets. Moreover, there was so much pain and drama. And last, there is the uncertainty about his future.

In short, I found that this film crack opened the door into the Bolshoi world. As I learned more, I found I had even more questions. And, although I found this movie sad, I was left with more knowledge and hope that the situation has improved.

Share this post


Link to post

I would also have loved to have seen more footage of Filin actually working with the dancers in a rehearsal.

But does he? Filin is not a choreographer, he does not teach morning class, and the Bolshoi has more than 20 teachers and coaches on staff responsible for rehearsing everyone from the corps to character dancers to principals, plus guest choreographers and coaches who look after specific repertoire. In fact there is a brief scene in the film that shows Filin watching a rehearsal of Spartacus, and he offers a suggestion to one of the dancers on movement quality. But almost immediately he is seen waving his hands as if to indicate he's not trying to intrude on the process when the repetiteur pipes up that everything's okay as is.

There was a little detail I think ought to have been translated. Early in the film Maria Alexandrova states that no one at the Bolshoi is irreplaceable. Toward the end of the film when Vladimir Urin is shown in his office, there is a small plaque on his desk, meant ironically, I'm sure, that reads: "Take good care of me. I'm irreplaceable!"

Share this post


Link to post

I would like to say to Sohalia that the dancers who Felin invited to join the Bolshoi as well as the dancers he promoted are all extraordinary.

Extraordinary. And the remark about the quality of their dancing which Maria Allash made in the film made her look pathetic. It was sad

Veritas.

Share this post


Link to post

During the opening scenes, we learn that a fan named Roman had been to (nearly?) every performance for the past 32 years. He’s certainly a passionate patron of the Bolshoi. I found his passion interesting.

I have seen Roman identified in the Variety review of the film as Roman Abramov. A 2013 New York Times article about the Bolshoi "claque" features the same person. He is a key figure in the claque--organized groups of fans who, according to the article, pre-arrange to cheer for certain dancers in return for favors from them (eg free tickets). I was surprised the filmmakers presented him as no more than an especially passionate member of the Bolshoi audience. I don't doubt he adores the Bolshoi, but if the Times' article is accurate, then he isn't entirely outside its circuits of corruption either--for all his talk of the Bolshoi as a "temple." Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/arts/dance/designated-cheering-spectators-thrive-at-the-bolshoi-theater.html?_r=0

Share this post


Link to post

Yes, Abramov is far more than a "ballet devotee." I'm guessing the filmmakers decided the issue of the claque was beyond the scope of the documentary. But if there was no space to explain adequately who Abramov is, it may have been better to leave him out entirely, even if he is a uniquely qualified eyewitness where performances are concerned.

Share this post


Link to post

I have seen Roman identified in the Variety review of the film as Roman Abramov. A 2013 New York Times article about the Bolshoi "claque" features the same person. He is a key figure in the claque--organized groups of fans who, according to the article, pre-arrange to cheer for certain dancers in return for favors from them (eg free tickets). I was surprised the filmmakers presented him as no more than an especially passionate member of the Bolshoi audience. I don't doubt he adores the Bolshoi, but if the Times' article is accurate, then he isn't entirely outside its circuits of corruption either--for all his talk of the Bolshoi as a "temple." Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/arts/dance/designated-cheering-spectators-thrive-at-the-bolshoi-theater.html?_r=0

Thank you very much for that link. The article certainly colors my initial impression of Roman Abramov. And, I agree with volcanohunter that it might have been better to leave him out entirely of the film. Without knowing the background story, I had one impression. Now, after reading the article, I have a much different and worse impression.

New York Times: Wild Applause, Secretly Choreographed

Some ballet insiders contend that the claqueurs also profit by reselling passes. Mr. Abramov categorically denies this, saying the Bolshoi’s administration traces the artists’ passes, so a resale would be discovered and he would be immediately banned from the theater. He says the claqueurs’ motivation is a simpler one: They are fanatics. (“I would love to pour a ton of acid on her head,” he remarked cheerily about a critic who had offended one of his favorites.) Mr. Abramov and his associates enjoy closeness to the stars, and serve as ferocious defenders of the Bolshoi’s conservative, classical tradition. They also need tickets.

Given that this interview took place after the Filin attack, I am surprised and disappointed by his choice of words.

“Artists have very fine and delicate natures, they have a very delicate nervous system, and, unfortunately, all of them have a strongly inflated self-image,” he said, a little mournfully. Dancers, he said, have an additional problem: “Mainly they are dumb.” He added, “They can be told what to do eight times, and on the ninth time they will still go in the wrong direction.”

Another unfortunate comment. I have found, as a general rule, that those who have achieved considerable success in any field are usually surprisingly bright. That doesn't imply that I always agree with them. I find, however, that when speaking with them, they have given their chosen vocation or field of study a lot of thought. The dancers in the film, for example, came across as thoughtful and well spoken. I don't know how he could attend so many ballet performances when he holds the dancers in such low regard.

Share this post


Link to post

I would like to say to Sohalia that the dancers who Felin invited to join the Bolshoi as well as the dancers he promoted are all extraordinary.

Extraordinary. And the remark about the quality of their dancing which Maria Allash made in the film made her look pathetic. It was sad

Thank you, this is the kind of details that got lost of me so I am glad you mentioned this.

Thank you Helene and volcanohunter for all the links. I will definitely read into everything as soon as I can.

Share this post


Link to post

TheGuardian.com "'​If the Bolshoi is sick, it’s because Russia is too': the ballet company's backstage dramas"

Follow the link for the complete article.

(Apologies, this link was already covered in the links section.)

From 2013 to 2014, a small film crew was allowed unprecedented access to the Bolshoi ballet company, partly to tell the story of the shocking acid attack on its artistic director, Sergei Filin, in January 2013, but also to probe the background to that event. Bolshoi Babylon is a stylish fly-on-the-wall account of conditions within the Moscow company, but it’s also a chilling evocation of the larger politics that govern its home theatre. No one who’s seen Nick Read and Mark Franchetti’s film will be surprised to learn that, shortly after its completion, Filin was served notice that his job at the Bolshoi was over.
The criminal investigations and internal soul-searching that followed the acid attack opened a can of worms at the Bolshoi – and a few of them are captured on camera. Dancers hostile to Filin talk candidly about their reasons for resenting their director, and discuss chronic problems in management style – although many of these Filin inherited. But the film also goes wider and deeper in looking at the problems within the Bolshoi theatre itself, and at its historically close and dysfunctional connection with the state. As one interviewed source puts it: “If the Bolshoi is sick, it’s because Russia is sick too.”

Share this post


Link to post

I would like to say to Sohalia that the dancers who Felin invited to join the Bolshoi as well as the dancers he promoted are all extraordinary.

Extraordinary. And the remark about the quality of their dancing which Maria Allash made in the film made her look pathetic. It was sad

I completely agree. I'm sure Allash was referring not just to Obraztsova, Smirnova and Hallberg but also to dancers who came with Filin from the Stanislavsky like Semyon Chudin (who I think is wonderful). And not once was the name Grigorovich mentioned. If Alexei Ratmansky's is to be believed (and I'm sure he is) Grigorovich is really the behind the scenes player who has divided the Bolshoi.

Personally, I found the film rather boring and not at all insightful. I also thought the interviews the filmmaker Nick Reade gave before the film aired (which kind of trashed Filin) were uncalled for. Your film should speak for itself.

Share this post


Link to post

As Grigorovich is now eighty nine and has been increasingly frail for some years, why should he be mentioned in a documentary about the current state of affairs in the company?

Share this post


Link to post

I guess that the filmmaker didn't want to wake up with the head of a horse on his bed?

Share this post


Link to post
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×