New doc shines light on Bolshoi ballet, shocking 2013 acid attack

MOSCOW -- On the stage of the Bolshoi Theater, the dancers were all elegance and grace, leaping through the air and lifting their partners with seemingly little effort.

See Full Article

But up close in a rehearsal hall a few days before the performance, prima ballerina Maria Alexandrova and the other lead dancers were emotional, quarrelsome and at times gasping for breath from the sheer athleticism that ballet demands.

This inner, turbulent world of Moscow's famed ballet company is the subject of a new documentary film centered on a shocking 2013 acid attack that nearly blinded the company's artistic director and sent a star dancer to prison.

"Bolshoi Babylon" explores the infighting and political intrigue that culminated in the attack, including the extent of Kremlin involvement in the state theater. But most of all, the film celebrates the resilience of the dancers and the efforts by the Bolshoi to heal and restore its reputation.

The theater was torn apart when artistic director Sergei Filin had acid thrown in his face while returning home on a snowy January night and a popular soloist was arrested on charges of organizing the attack.

Pavel Dmitrichenko was found guilty after a bizarre trial that often focused less on the crime than on Filin's divisive management of the ballet company and his casting decisions. Among those to testify in Dmitrichenko's defense was principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who had been publicly critical of the Bolshoi management and had been maneuvering to take over the theater himself. He was fired in the aftermath of the attack.

Alexandrova, the prima ballerina, said it was painful to watch the company being split into camps. She said she refused to take sides because it would have been inconceivable to betray dancers she had known since they were all children.

"They were all my partners. I danced with all of them, with Tsiskaridze, Filin and Dmitrichenko," she said over a coffee latte and fresh orange juice after a rehearsal. "We grew up together."

What fascinated filmmakers was that each of the figures engaged in the power struggle within the Bolshoi had powerful, rich and politically connected backers on the outside who wanted to influence the theater.

The Bolshoi has a special status in Russia, where it is considered a national treasure and a symbol of Russian culture if not of Russia itself. And as a state theater, it has close links to the Kremlin.

"It's hard to imagine that in a theater as famous as La Scala in Milan, for instance, you'd have the president or the head of the government summoning the new director to his office to discuss the theater. Or that you'd have ministers who are behind the scenes kind of lobbying to try to make sure that their candidate is the head of the ballet company," said Mark Franchetti, a veteran Moscow-based British journalist who produced and co-directed the film. "That's what the Bolshoi is like."

The film asks whether the Bolshoi is a mirror of Russian society, where corruption flourishes. Bolshoi general director Vladimir Urin, who was brought in after the attack, speaks openly in the film about the need to curb government interference and make sure "the most talented dancer will dance."

Franchetti said the emotional nature of some of the dancers and the drama inside the theater also struck him as very Russian. On the other hand, he said, he found the world of the Bolshoi ballet to be "quite hermetically sealed," inhabited by 250 dancers obsessed with their art.

"We live in a complex country, which puts its mark on everything," Alexandrova, who features in the film, said during the interview. "And it's a complex theater made up of beautiful, strong, ambitious people with strong characters. We have no other kind here."

In the week before Alexandrova was to perform "A Legend of Love," she and the four other lead dancers ran through the full ballet in a rehearsal hall. Their bodies glistened with sweat and their chests heaved from the physical exertion. When a lift or combination was less than perfect, tempers flared.

The film's director, Nick Read, said it was this exertion and emotion that impressed him the most. Ballet is usually shot from a wide angle, but he decided to move in close to show the dancers at work.

"A lot of the material is there to eulogize their incredible physicality and ability and determination and dedication," Read said, speaking from London.

In contrast to the dancers, Filin does not come off well in the film.

"He's a very closed character, a very evasive and ultimately divisive character," Read said, noting that it was only when filming was in its final stages that Filin agreed to be interviewed.

Filin describes managing the ballet company as emotionally trying, thankless and "hellishly hard work." He ends by saying he regrets ever taking the job.

After the filming was finished, the Bolshoi announced that Filin's contract will not be renewed when it expires in March. He will be replaced by Makhar Vaziev, who directed the ballet at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg before moving to La Scala in 2009.

Alexandrova said she has great respect for Vaziev.

"To leave sunny, warm Italy, where everything is different - sunny, open and calm - and to choose Russia, where nothing is calm. That's an extraordinary step," she commented.



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Scott Disick, Sofia Richie make is Instagram official [Video]

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Scott Disick and Sofia Richie have taken their romance to the next level by sharing pictures of each other on social media. After weeks of rumours, the reality TV star and Lionel Richie’s daughter confirmed they were dating last week when they were pictured kissing on a beach in Miami, and they have already stepped up their relationship by making it Instagram official. Source
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan accidentally reveals he and wife Hilarie Burton are expecting a baby girl [Video]

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Jeffrey Dean Morgan was left red-faced after accidentally revealing that he and wife Hilarie Burton are expecting a daughter at the Supernatural convention in New Jersey on Sunday. The 51-year-old actor was just one of the castmembers of the hit U.S. Source
  • Caitlyn Jenner's rep confirms Kylie's pregnancy, has known for 'some time' [Video]

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Kylie Jenner’s father Caitlyn has known about the 20-year-old’s shock pregnancy for “some time”, according to a spokesperson for the transgender Olympian. The reality TV star and make-up mogul hit headlines on Friday amid multiple reports suggesting she is expecting a baby with her rapper boyfriend Travis Scott. Source
  • 'It’s not my hand': Taron Egerton refused to shoot sex scene in 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle'

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Poppy Delevingne’s husband landed an unexpected cameo in Kingsman: The Golden Circle after leading man Taron Egerton declined to shoot a controversial sex scene with the model-turned-actress. Egerton reprises his role as spy Eggsy Unwin in the sequel to 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, and part of the plot requires Unwin to get intimate with his mission target, Clara, played by Poppy, to plant a tracking device in her genitals. Source
  • Jennifer Lopez donates $1M to Puerto Rico relief

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Jennifer Lopez has pledged $1 million toward hurricane relief efforts in her family's native Puerto Rico. Lopez announced during a news conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday that she would give money from her ongoing Las Vegas residency to various charities in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Source
  • Francois Girard's 'Hochelaga' is Canada's pick for best foreign-language film

    Entertainment CTV News
    Actors, from left, Samian, Naiade Aoun, and Wahiakeron Gilbert, as well as producer Roger Frappier, and Telefilm Canada's executive director Carolle Brabant, pose for photos after the film "Hochelaga, Land of Souls," was named as Canada's entry in the race for the 2018 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar on Sept. Source
  • Prince Harry, Meghan Markle make first official public appearance together

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- Prince Harry and his girlfriend Meghan Markle have made their first official public appearance as a couple. The prince and Markle, a Toronto-based actor in the legal drama "Suits," held hands Monday afternoon as they walked toward Toronto's city hall to take in one of the sporting events for the Invictus Games. Source
  • Hochelaga, terre des âmes named Canada's foreign-language contender for the Oscars

    Entertainment CBC News
    Hochelaga, terre des âmes has been chosen to represent Canada for the best foreign-language film Oscar. The film was written and directed by Quebecer François Girard, the director of 1998's The Red Violin. Carolle Brabant, the executive director of Telefim Canada, made the announcement in Montreal Monday afternoon. Source
  • Toronto premiere of 'Muriel’s Wedding' delayed, Mirvish adds three new shows

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    TORONTO - Mirvish Productions is delaying the Toronto premiere of “Muriel’s Wedding,” the musical adaptation of the film that was set to debut in the spring. The theatre production company says scheduling conflicts have caused the delay. Source
  • Don Rickles interview series debuts online

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — A digital series starring late comedy legend Don Rickles will debut online Monday. The 13-episode show “Dinner with Don ,” produced by AARP Studios, features Rickles interviewing celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel, Snoop Dogg , Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese at his favourite restaurants in Hollywood. Source