Russian minister may have intervened over postponed Bolshoi ballet

Source says culture minister Vladimir Medinsky had concerns show about Rudolf Nureyev’s life may have violated law on ‘homosexual propaganda’

Russia’s culture minister may have intervened to prompt the Bolshoi theatre to postpone a much-awaited ballet premiere about the life of dancer Rudolf Nureyev, a Russian news agency has reported.

The TASS agency cited a source close to the culture ministry saying the minister, Vladimir Medinsky, had concerns that the production violated a controversial Russian law that bans “the propaganda of homosexuality to minors”.

A spokeswoman for the ministry denied Medinsky had banned the production from going ahead but confirmed a “long conversation” had taken place between the minister and the theatre’s director, Vladimir Urin.

Urin held a news conference in an ornate hall at the theatre on Monday at which he furiously denied rumours that the shock last-minute postponement was due to gay themes in the production. He also denied he had spoken about the ballet with Medinsky, except for a brief conversation held after the decision was taken to postpone.

Rudolf Nureyev.
Rudolf Nureyev. Photograph: John Downing/Getty Images

“There was no phonecall. I don’t know who is behind these provocative claims,” said Urin. He insisted that the decision to postpone the premiere until May next year had been taken for artistic reasons only.

“There will be reputational damage from cancelling, but for us the most important thing is the quality of the production,” said Urin.

Nureyev was a ballet adaptation of the life of the Soviet ballet superstar, who defected to the west in 1961. It was due to premiere on the Bolshoi’s stage on Tuesday, and was one of the most eagerly anticipated global premieres of the year.

The ballet deals with Nureyev’s homosexuality and is said to feature naked portraits of the dancer. Urin said he had been aware from the start that the theme would prove controversial in Russia but insisted this was not the reason for the sudden decision.

Urin said he took the decision to postpone the show having seen a dress rehearsal on Friday and deciding that it would not be artistically ready in time. He said the ballet would be shown in May and no artistic changes would be made.

He did, however, appear to allude to the homosexual theme, saying Nureyev was a “complicated figure” and the ballet contained “themes that could provoke a certain distaste”.

Many questioners appeared incredulous about the official explanation, leading Urin to snap that people were free to disbelieve him should they wish.

Simon Morrison, a professor at Princeton University who has written a book on the Bolshoi, said footage posted online from the dress rehearsal did appear to show that the performance was “shaky” and that on that evidence, artistic concerns could have been involved in the decision to postpone.

The ballet’s outspoken director, Kirill Serebrennikov, has been questioned by security agencies in recent weeks over a potential embezzlement case that many believe is politically motivated.

Neither Serebrennikov nor choreographer Yuri Possokhov have commented on the theatre’s decision. Urin said they had been invited to speak at Monday’s briefing but declined to attend.


Shaun Walker in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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