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Protests over Tsiskaridze’s Vaganova appointment

Posted on November 7, 2013

vaganova academy

Leading figures in the ballet world, in St Petersburg and abroad, have protested against the unexpected appointment of Nikolai Tsiskaridze as acting rector of the Vaganova Ballet Academy.

Former rector Vera Dorofeeva and artistic director Altynai Asylmuratova were suddenly dismissed in favour of Tsiskaridze and Maryinsky ballerina Uliana Lopatkina. Tsiskaridze has since announced that Asylmuratova will be invited to stay on as prorector, while Lopatkina would not be taking the post of artistic director. Decisions are not yet confirmed, because Tsiskaridze has not yet been definitively elected as rector. The date for his election is to be set at an upcoming meeting of the school’s academic council.

Almost 100 Vaganova professors and artists from St Petersburg’s Maryinsky Theatre have signed a letter calling on the Culture Ministry to review the decision. They argue that the move wreaks “irreversible damage on the Academy’s artistic potential, breaks the continuity of tradition at the school and is an inadmissible, not to say criminal, decision”. The letter claims that work at the Vaganova Academy has been “paralysed” since the changes were announced, and that the new appointment has injured the reputation of the Vaganova Academy and of Russian culture.

Maryinsky ballerina Diana Vishneva has also attacked the new appointment, with glancing reference to the controversies around Tsiskaridize, who left the Bolshoi after several reprimands. In a statement later printed on facebook, she said: “There were neither compelling reasons for the change in the school’s leadership nor was there a dialogue with the ballet professionals of St Petersburg. Simply put and at a very minimum, one has to have suitable academic credentials to become the rector of the Vaganova Academy. Above all, leading the school involves dealing with the fragility of children and its leader has to be morally irreproachable. I would so much like to believe that this is not the end of the great school.”

Alexei Ratmansky, the former Bolshoi director who is now resident choreographer at American Ballet Theatre, applauded Vishneva’s statement. On facebook, he wrote “Shame on the Russian ministry of culture,” and called the dismissal of Asylmuratova “unlawful and humiliating”:

“Are there any questions about her professional abilities? We haven’t heard about them. The only fault of the current academy leadership was that Nikolai Tsiskaridze was suddenly without a job. The Ministry of Culture’s position is bewildering as well because with this appointment it implicitly takes the side of Tsiskaridze in all of his many conflicts and scandals of recent years.”

Since the outcry, the Ministry of Culture has announced that Russian ballet will be scrutinised by a new “coordinating council”. Deputy minister Grigory Ivliev said that Asylmuratova had at first refused to work with Tsiskaridze, leading to the choice of Lopatkina as an alternative. After long discussions, Ivliev said, another position for Asylmuratova was found. He admitted that Lopatkina’s role will not be precisely defined until Tsiskaridze is formally confirmed, saying: “When we started looking properly into the situation, we saw that to share the Academy job with the work of a current performing ballerina is complex. So the question of the candidature of Uliana Lopatkina will be resolved after the rector’s election, when all the nuances are understood.”


Picture: the Vaganova Academy, St Petersburg


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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