The story of Russia’s flagship dance company, from the patronage of the tsars to surveillance by the KGB, mirrors the country’s tempestuous recent history
This massive survey of the 240-year history of Russia’s most famous theatre begins on the night of 17 January 2013 when Sergei Filin, artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, had acid thrown in his face. The crime, instigated by a member of the company whose ballerina girlfriend had been denied promotion, left Filin half-blind and the Bolshoi’s reputation in tatters. How could an institution that existed to celebrate beauty and exalted emotion be riven by such anger, jealousy and violence? Quite easily, suggests Simon Morrison, Princeton professor of music. “Rather than an awful aberration, the attack had precedents of sorts in the Bolshoi’s rich and complicated past,” he writes. “That past is one of remarkable achievements interrupted, and even fuelled, by periodic bouts of madness.”
Indeed, the assault on Filin pales alongside the treatment meted out to a forgotten teenage ballerina, Avdotya Arshinina, who on 5 January 1847 was “dumped at the door of a hospital experiencing ‘fits of madness’ and ‘constant delirium’. Pale and emaciated, she had severe injuries on her head and body as well as bruised, infected, ‘blackened’ genitalia.” She died of her injuries 13 days later.
Maya Plisetskaya had to write grovelling letters to Khrushchev apologising for not respecting the KGB surveillance
In February 1917, the rehearsal schedule simply announced “no rehearsal on account of revolution”