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Oleg Vinogradov speaks

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In an article in Izvestia, the Russian newspaper, on September 17 [www.izvestia.ru/culture/article3108403) an extract of the memoirs of Oleg Vinogradov, former Kirov Ballet director, gave an extraordinarily dramatic and personal account of the reasons for his dismissal in clouds of accusations of corruption in 1995. I have taken the liberty of translating this amazing account. It is long, but (in the light of Mr Litvinenko's sad fate in London, to say the least) well worth reading.

This is the introduction by the Izvestia correspondent:

In August People's Artist of the USSR choreographer Oleg Vinogradov reached 70 years of age. Today he lives in the USA, but in the past, for no less than two decades, he led the Mariinsky ballet company. The story of his exit from the Mariinsky is full of mysteries. The chief balletmaster was found at fault both for the departure of soloists abroad and and for his excessive attention to a rising young female dancer, and further for his proclamation of the Mariinsky as being a choreographic museum. The climax of Vinogradov's relations with his detractors was an uprising against his criminal (sic) activities.

As read from the official pronouncement: "according to the fact of his receiving bribes in the sum of $10,000 (US) from the Canadian impresario John Cripton on his signing a contract of cooperation", the choreographer was arrested directly in his office, but after three days they released him, without any charges having been put.

Twelve years later Oleg Vinogradov has finally recounted that dramatic period of his life. The story, entitled "Three times within a hair's-breadth of death", appears in his autobiographical book 'Confession of a balletmaster", which the publishing house AST-press and editor Ekaterina Belova, is preparing for publication. Today 'Izvestia' publishes a fragment of this ballet whodunnit.

[There follows this extract:]

"After the appointment of Valery Gergiev as chief director of the Kirov theatre, towards the mid 1990s, I had misgivings that there would also be major changes in the leadership of the ballet company, not for the better. We were quite reasonably spending the money allocated to us, not exceeding the budget, and our tours brought in fairly large profits - while we didn't receive any state subsidies.

Along with that, the ballet company had its own requirements which couldn't be bought out of the theatre budget; to buy a set or two of special floor coverings, so as to dance comfortably and safely on it, to pay for an operation on an injured artist abroad, etc. I tried to resolve this sort of problem through official channels, but invariably got a refusal.

In order to guarantee the life of our ballet company, the impresario John Cripton advised us to set up a special fund for the worst-case scenario. With the impresario's agreement we set up a fund from his additional fee as specified in the basic contract. This fund could be a reserve for any type of situation - but its money would not belong to the Mariinsky Theatre.

John Cripton opened an account with a Geneva bank, and only he could deposit money in it by means of a fixed code. How much and what kind of money was lying in it, I didn't, in essence, look into. The Mariinsky Theatre received the sums agreed in the contract, but they vanished noone knows where - it goes without saying, not on our needs! Apart from fees (true, these were quite high) the ballet got nothing. With Valery Gergiev's appearance, the Mariinsky Opera ate up more and more money. For new costumes, we were forced to buy essential materials abroad (paying for them out of our fund), which Cripton, as it were, was donating to the theatre. Yes, he was prepared to pay large amounts of money to the ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre, but not to the opera, with which he had no connection!

I do not know how and why, but two of our soloists "broke" Cripton and found out about the Geneva account. The soloists demanded money, threatening and blackmailing us. Seeing the danger of the gathering situation, I proposed to Cripton that we'd tell the responsible agencies about everything, but he did not agree, and then we decided to give money to two of our soloists, in order to avoid scandal. Cripton got part of the money together in cash, but the majority was in cheques on his Geneva bank (I naturally did not have my own Geneva bank account - who would open it for me then?). So as to insure myself against major unpleasantness, I switched on a concealed videocamera and recorded the entire process of the transfer of the money with detailed commentaries. Cripton did not know about the video, nor the artists, who made little of the received money (around a million dollars!). Evidently, the threats and blackmail had got on Cripton's nerves, and he decided to get shot of both the artists and, not very surprisingly, me. I did not know at all what Cripton was thinking, but he turned to law and order agencies (or the "agencies" themselves came to him), and he gave a highly contrary account of the situation, accusing me and the theatre's director A F Mal'kov of receiving bribes (it's true, later on Cripton withdrew this).

Scandal erupted. I, Mal'kov and the Mariinsky Theatre all appeared compromised. Evidently, the intention to show the spectre of my obliteration achieved its goal. Cripton gave contradictory interviews, in which he said things that had not happened: but he also played a leading role in it and he exited with a spotted reputation.

The ballet company, of course, was in shock. I hired a lawyer, and after carefully investigating the essence of the matter, he said that it was very hard to prosecute me since the moneys belonged only to Cripton. The representative of the public prosecution office of the Admiralteisky district of Saint-Petersburg, T A Moskalenko, also took an objective position on the matter. She painstakingly tested all the evidence and, on looking at the video recordings, held a meeting with our two soloists. The final outcome was that on the orders of the public prosecutor, the artists, all in all, handed the money over to the theatre, where it disappeared without trace into the opera stack.

Noone gained anything, unless you count the shame that collapsed on us. The investigation could not prove anything, but through all of it threaded a decided bias. There was a sudden fire in section 6 of the OBEP building, where the investigation was going on, and it's claimed that all documents relating to my "case" were burned. The investigator in charge of my "case", was discovered drunk in one of the restaurants where he was evidently celebrating an expected victory, and was dismissed from his job.

I held on for a long time any way I could. I was worried for our ballet company, which I had involuntarily disgraced. My enemies were celebrating! They could not at that time fire me, but they neutered my authority in all matters and sidelined me from normal work process in the theatre. Eventually I broke, and decided to chuck it in. Whenever I was free, I flew off to Washington. But not to return would be the equivalent of admitting guilt, and it was just what my illwishers were waiting for. I decided not to do this, and returning to Petersburg, I got down to rehearsing my ballet Romeo and Juliet.

A week later, at one of the rehearsals, I suddenly felt terrible; I could not breathe, and I only just made it into my office where I passed out. When I regained consciousness, emergency doctors were bringing me round. Not understanding very well what had happened to me, I asked them to take me not to the Sverdlovsky hospital but to the War-Medicine Academy, where I was known. After detailed tests, the doctors gave me the diagnosis: a micro-infarct, a small heart attack - and prescribed hospitalisation. However, after two days I was feeling absolutely fine, and signed myself out of hospital.

Returning to my office, I found on my telephone table, under the lamp, a strange object, to which at first I didn't pay much attention: it was slim, hard, wrapped in cloth, about the size of a match. Gently tearing off the cloth covering, of some kind of netting, I discovered inside a glass ampoule, smashed in two... After three days I had the answer: inside the ampoule had been a special gas that reacted with a heat source after 30-40 minutes and caused death, imitating heart attack.

But how then was I still alive? Well, because the rehearsal began in daytime, and I had not switched on the lamp - so the heat source was absent. Secondly, on the ampoule it said the period of validity which had already expired. Someone had made a poor-quality purchase...

I carried on working, but evidently the agents of my elimination succeeded. Two weeks later, in the doorway of my own flat, I was attacked by two masked bandits. I miraculously saved myself, throwing off one of them and managing to slam the door closed... My patience was at an end. I told the director that I did not want any more to tempt fate, and the following day I flew to America....

Possibly my mistake was in that I clung on too long to my job? Probably I should have gone straight after Gergiev's arrival, but actually I myself had assisted his arrival, if we take the instance when in 1988 some question had arisen about a choice between him and Evgeni Kolobov for the job of chief director of the Kirov Theatre, and I was sure that we would work with Gergiev! You know, until then we had had an excellent understanding with him in our combined productions...

Or was the mistake in the acceptance by the company of Farouk Ruzimatov after his departure for American Ballet Theatre? I had all the grounds for them not to take him on! But I was thinking of him, not of my own claims....

I've frequently been mistaken because of my need to be liked by people. I entrusted literally everything to others - money, documents, cars, by which I led them into temptation and of course consequently lost a great deal.... But you know, now and then you believe what you want to!"

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Thank you very much, delibes, for the translation! Back in 1995 when it all came to a head, I heard so much "inside info" (aka gossip) from certain people, that the story became very intriguing. I haven't even read your entire translation yet, just had to thank you for doing the work. The ballet world continues to be a big soap opera. :wink:


My goodness, I've just finished reading the whole translation. Attempted murder, foreign bank accounts, masked bandits, arson, blackmail, greedy and corrupt ballet dancers, subterfuge, deception, humiliation, sinister plots, miraculous self-defense, it's all there! Holy cow! What to believe, what to believe..... :bow:

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Is this being made public outside of Russia and this forum?
I must say that this was a question that came to mind when I read delibes' original post. I assumed that one or more of our Russian ballet experts -- especially those with a command of the language -- would respond at the time. Somehow, however, the thread got lost.

The Yeltsin years were a time of great changes -- many of them enormously positive -- but also a period of corruption, illegality, and the abuse of power. Here's the original NY Times story covering Vinogradov's dismissal: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html.../Kirov%20Ballet

Does anyone have information about how this story is being treated -- and responded to -- in Russia?

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On the eve of the book's release date of September 27, Nina Alovert wrote a very positive story on Mr. Vinogradov for Brooklyn's Russian language weekly Russian Bazaar. It seems Mr. Vinogradov has a very pleasant life, in Korea (where he heads a ballet company), the U.S.A. (the primary home, where most of his family live), and Russia. He may not exactly be in disfavor in Russia: Ms. Alovert reports that the first congratulatory greeting that he received for his recent 70th birthday came from one Vladimir Putin.


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It seems Mr. Vinogradov has a very pleasant life, in Korea (where he heads a ballet company)....

Specifically, the Universal Ballet in Seoul. He is the AD and Julia Moon is the General Director. Since Vinogradov assumed the artistic directorship in 1998, the company has become very much like the Kirov Ballet he left, with a precise and stunning corps de ballet and spectacular soloists.

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Sorry not have responded to this thread originally but actually the story that is familiar to me (having been in St. Petersburg at that time involved in the ballet world) is what Mr. Vinogradov has written. It was a time filled with intrigue. It will be an interesting book indeed. :devil:

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Thanks for the appreciation but it is easily more interesting homework for my Russian class than agriculture or education infrastructure. As an appendix to the article by Nina Alovert on Vinogradov I have found an article (also in Russki Bazar) she did in 2003 about Julia Makhalina's controversial rise under the very same VInogradov. She introduces Ms Makhalina as the "brightest star" to emerge from Russian or indeed world ballet for 30 years.

Ms Makhalina's affair with Vinogradov is acknowledged - his open 'fondness' for her, her love for him described as resembling the love that Balanchine's favourite ballerinas had for a creatively stimulating older man, though hers attracted far more vicious rumour and overt gossip. Ms Makhaina is described as Vinogradov's soulmate or muse perhaps in reviving a moribund Kirov in the late Seventies, a tall, modern, Western-type ballerina with her extended horizontal-vertical legs and "western" jump, which Ms Alovert says no other classical Russian-schooled ballerina could do. What throws a quite puzzling light on Vinogradov's position as chief is how his favourite was treated so openly badly, and even criminally, by fans and colleagues - in a gala performance of Swan Lake in 1992 she was apparently showered from the gallery with "besoms" (bunches of twigs, I suppose), rather than flowers. She gamely picked them up and brandished them at the audience.

Ms Alovert's partiality for Ms Makhalina (the writer apparently left Russia to settle in America in the 80s [amended with apologies from 90s] and had seen no Russian dancers for a decade before the Kirov finally made the trip again) makes for an account that may interest London fans. When the Kirov toured to London with 'Rite of Spring' Ms Makhalina, the original Chosen One in this Nijinsky recreation, was substituted by Daria Pavlenko. Ms Pavlenko is described bluntly by Ms Alovert as a "mediocre soloist who for some reason the directors rated as a star". In the event, Ms Alovert implies that Ms Pavlenko was not well enough prepared to do the premiere in London, and Julie Makhalina was summoned at a day's notice from Russia to save the show.

Ms Alovert says possibly Vinogradov pushed the very young Makhalina too fast to allow her to mature and properly prepare new roles, but that he felt that no young dancer of talent could be truly evaluated unless they were seen in leading roles on stage. It seems that Ms Makhalina was too forward-thinking a girl to avoid the brickbats of the conservative establishment, and she then fell foul of the 'Claque', which according to Ms Alovert is subject to mafia-type bribing to hasten or end the rise of a new star (Moscow it still goes strong, apparently, though less so now in St P). The bribes are fascinating; clacqueurs long above all to become involved in their idols' lives and the mother of one star would send privileged fans to do her potato shopping. Julia's mother was told at the stage door by some clacqueurs that they would fix it so she did not dance, and it sounds quite unlike London practices. Under the new management Ms Makhalina was ejected from her classical roles & only cast when other dancers were injured. She married and divorced twice very quickly, and had a nervous breakdown a few years ago, but recovered & set up a show of her own with contemporary choreographers. I do not know if she has now retired but I wonder if there is a Russian equivalent song to "don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington" .

Another of Vinogradv's discoveries Diana Vishneva told Ms Alovert in another Russki Bazar interview last year about her strangely isolated position in the Mariinsky now, and how after years of being refused Swan Lake under the Vaziev management she finally danced it in the Mariinsky, and only one person, Uliyana Lopatkina, went up to her afterwards. Russia sure does sound like a cold place to be a ballerina in.

I have found these interviews by typing in Russian but as Carbro said some entertaining Google translations are available once you have located them.

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Ms Alovert's partiality for Ms Makhalina (the writer apparently left Russia to settle in America in the 90s and had seen no Russian dancers for a decade before the Kirov finally made the trip again) makes for an account that may interest London fans.

It is not true that Nina Alovert "had seen no Russian dancers for a decade before the Kirov made the trip again", if I'm understanding correctly what you wrote. Nina sat right next to me watching Russian dancers guest with Canadian Ballet Theatre (I believe that time it was Dmitri Belogolovtsev and Anna Antonicheva in Giselle) and was involved in the Russian ballet community in the States in 1997 when Eldar Aliev, Irina Kolpakova and others were reviving Ballet Internationale. I had already met her for the first time a year or so before that because of her attendance at Nadia and Solomon Tencer's Stars of the 21st Century International Ballet Galas, which, annually, had dancers from both the Kirov and the Bolshoi performing, including a very young (17 at the time) Diana Vishneva and many others over the last dozen years, at 3 venues: New York in February, Toronto in April (the 2 cities where I would see Nina quite regularly) and Paris in September.

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It is not true that Nina Alovert "had seen no Russian dancers for a decade before the Kirov made the trip again", if I'm understanding correctly what you wrote. Nina sat right next to me watching Russian dancers guest with Canadian Ballet Theatre (I believe that time it was Dmitri Belogolovtsev and Anna Antonicheva in Giselle) and was involved in the Russian ballet community in the States in 1997

Marga, excuse me, but Nina Alovert writes in 2003 when she first saw Ms Makhalina dance it was 1987 and she had been by then in the US for 10 years and had not seen any Russian dancers. Obviously since then she has been much more involved as you say.

quote: Я увидела Махалину в 1987 году, когда впервые после 10-летнего перерыва (я эмигрировала в Америку, а театр 10 лет не приезжал на гастроли) смотрела спектакли Кировского балета в Чикаго. I saw Mahalina in 1987, when the first time after a 10-year break (I emigrated to America and for 10 years the company didn't come over on tour) I watched performances by the Kirov Ballet in Chicago.

I will edit to change 90s to 80s, you are quite right.

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As I read this, I find myself thinking of the kind of intrigue, jealousy, and back-stabbing among artists and aristocrats described by Saint-Simon at the court of Louis XIV, or by Speer and other at the courts of Hitler, Goring, Goebbels, and indeed Stalin. :angel_not:

We have a number of posters familiar with ballet in Moscow and St. Petersburg today. Is the ballet scene today anything like that which existed in the 90s? Does the claque still exist? If things are better, what has happened to bring about the changes? How is truly creative work -- and the identification and advancement of talent -- possible in such an environment?

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One thing that is very different between the press treatment of dancers/administrators in the Mariinsky and Bolshoi in the Russian press, and similar treatment of ballet in the US: the practical dearth of interest by tabloids in anything ballet. There are exceptions, like the columnist in Chicago who asked after performances of Don Quixote whether Farrell would become Balanchine's wife #5 -- which, according to Farrell in her memoir, caused her to dig in her heels, as she wasn't "# anything -- and the interest in Baryshnikov, but even that was mainly Hollywood-centric: his long relationship with Jessica Lange and the speculation over him and Kirkland when they were cast in the Turning Point movie.

On the whole, tabloid-like coverage is almost unheard of in the US; look at the mini-war that erupted because Alastair Macaulay brought up Martin's arrest for domestic violence in a review. In the Russian press, this may have been the nicest thing they said about him, and it might have been brought up every time his name was mentioned.

I wish the lack of interest was caused by civility and respect, but in my opinion, it's because ballet doesn't matter enough to the general readership, the same reason why reviews and articles about ballet get such little space.

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. . . We have a number of posters familiar with ballet in Moscow and St. Petersburg today. Is the ballet scene today anything like that which existed in the 90s? Does the claque still exist? If things are better, what has happened to bring about the changes? How is truly creative work -- and the identification and advancement of talent -- possible in such an environment?

From what I've seen, both in St. P, on tours, and from sources on site, the claques are alive and well, and there are still 'king' and 'queen' makers inside and outside the Maryinsky. Perhaps someone who is a St. P native, who knows what it was like during the Soviet era, and during the early 90s (which was a period of uncertainty for the arts in Russia), can shed even more light on this.

You ask an excellent question Bart: How can creativity and real talent thrive in this kind of atmosphere? I, for one

am gob-smacked: The inexplicable is now the norm. If one spots a talented/gifted dancer, one can wait literally forever to see them get any exposure. They will languish in the corps at worst, or be filed away for years in the coryphee or soloist ranks at best. There are a few names that come to mind, who have been 'filed away' in the lower ranks for +10 years, and, although they deserved to go forward to Principal Dancer, will end their careers without having attained that status. Whereas, others who are given excessive grace by the management are over-exposed. But, that's life - unpredictable. During the last two seasons, several promising young men and young women have left the company, hoping to find better opportunities elsewhere. I try to focus on the positive aspects, such as the great tradition of this company and school, and what they represent, and look forward to the future. Quite frankly, right now the situation is depressing.

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