Nureyev ballet to open in Moscow, despite director's house arrest

After last-minute cancellation in July, Bolshoi to bring life story of gay dancer who defected to stage in December

A controversial ballet about the Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev will premiere on the stage of the Bolshoi theatre in December, despite being pulled from the schedule at the last minute in July, and its director placed under house arrest.

Nureyev, which chronicles the life of the gay dancer who fled the Soviet Union for the west and achieved worldwide fame before dying of Aids-related illnesses in 1993, was due to open in July, but the theatre announced its cancellation just three days before opening night.

At the time, the theatre’s general director insisted there was no political subtext behind the decision, which he put down to a lack of preparedness among the performers. But many in Moscow’s art world suspected some of the theatre’s powerful patrons had got cold feet at the the thought of such material being performed on Russia’s most hallowed stage.

As well as the themes of defection and homosexuality, the ballet was controversial due to its director, Kirill Serebrennikov, known as one of the edgiest contemporary directors in Russia.

At the time of the cancellation, Serebrennikov had been questioned as a witness in an investigation into embezzlement at one of his theatres. Since then, he himself has been charged and is currently under house arrest.

Many in the theatre world have seen his arrest as the sign of a crackdown on dissenting artists, though others have suggested it could be a result of a personal feud. Serebrennikov himself has described the charges as “absurd”. There has been a widespread outpouring of support for the director and calls for president Vladimir Putin to intervene.

Despite Serebrennikov’s court case, Nureyev will now be shown on the Bolshoi’s stage on 9 and 10 December, the theatre announced on Friday.

The Russian film and stage director Kirill Serebrennikov in the Moscow city court earlier this month.
The Russian film and stage director Kirill Serebrennikov in the Moscow city court earlier this month. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

The Bolshoi’s director, Vladimir Urin, told the Russian news agency Tass that he had spoken to Serebrennikov and the director had given his permission for the production to go ahead in his absence. Urin said the final rehearsals would be run by choreographer Yuri Possokhov.

“We have agreed that the choreographer will come to Moscow and continue working, we have already agreed on that. If the situation allows, Kirill Serebrennikov himself can also take part in the preparations, and we’ll be pleased if he can,” said Urin. He added that, if necessary, Possokhov could ask the court for permission to speak with Serebrennikov to discuss aspects of the staging.

Serebrennikov has been placed under house arrest until 19 October, and the period could later be extended by a court. The director has a large body of critically acclaimed work in theatre, film and opera behind him, and was working on several projects in Russia and abroad, in addition to Nureyev.


Shaun Walker in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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