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Bolshoi postpones Nureyev ballet amid accusations of censorship

Posted on July 11, 2017

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The Bolshoi Theatre has postponed its new ballet about the life of Rudolf Nureyev, prompting accusations of censorship. On July 8, after the dress rehearsal, the Bolshoi announced the postponement – just four days before the premiere, scheduled for July 11. At a press conference on July 10, Vladimir Urin, general director of the Bolshoi, denied reports that the ballet had been cancelled due to its portrayal of Nureyev’s sexuality, insisting that the production was not ready for performance.

Nureyev is choreographed by Yuri Possokov, with a new score by Ilya Demutsky and direction by Kirill Serebrennikov – the team behind the Bolshoi’s recent success A Hero of Our Time. Reports and photographs from the dress rehearsal suggest that Nureyev was a less conservative production, using one of Richard Avedon’s nude photographs of Nureyev as a backdrop and portraying his sexual relationships, including his long affair with the dancer Erik Bruhn. As a defector from the Soviet Union, Nureyev has also been seen as a politically controversial figure

Serebrennikov has been critical of government censorship, and in May 2017 was detained and questioned over the alleged embezzlement of government funds. No charges were brought against him, and his supporters argued that the case was politically motivated. Urin was among the artistic figures who wrote to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in support of Serebrennikov.

At the press conference, Urin denied that the last-minute postponement was due to the ballet’s gay themes. He also denied allegations that Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky had intervened to stop the production. There has been increasing hostility to homosexuality in Russia, including the passing of a 2013 law against “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. A spokeswoman for the ministry of culture has also denied that Medinsky had banned the production, but said that a “long conversation” had taken place between Urin and the minister. Urin insisted that he had not discussed the ballet with Medinsky, except for a brief conversation held after the decision to postpone the premiere.

Urin said that the ballet has been postponed until May 2018, so that more work can be done on the choreography. He said that both Possokhov and Serebrennikov were invited to speak at the press conference, but declined.

Dancers involved in the production have disagreed that it was not ready for performance. Footage posted on Facebook showed long applause after the dress rehearsal. Ballerina Maria Alexandrova, who was to play Margot Fonteyn, posted a picture of a black square on her instagram account, comparing the current situation to the 1930s – a time of heavy political censorship of the arts. (The square may also be a reference to the painting by Kazimir Malevich, a radical artist who was arrested and then banned from creating work in 1930.)

In the current season, performances of Nureyev will be replaced by Don Quixote.


Picture: the Bolshoi Theatre. Photograph: Andrew Bayda, Fotolia

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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