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"A deficit is a deficit. You’ll never wipe out a deficit just by reorganizing things"
24 SEP 15
With still no news about the next Bolshoi ballet director, Vladimir Urin today dropped a large hint that he is trying to persuade the present director Sergei Filin into running a Bolshoi programme to develop new choreographers. Evidently, though, it is not proving perfectly easy to get an agreement between the two men.
Talking to Rossiyskaya Gazeta in its 'Business Breakfast' slot this morning, Urin starts by answering questions about the Moscow theatre's notoriously high ticket prices, which his interviewer suggests shows how far removed from the public now the Bolshoi Theatre is.
It is interesting that Urin feels at liberty to effectively put pressure on Filin by announcing the outlines of the job he's offered. In the forthcoming film documentary Bolshoi Babylon, shot last year by a British crew in the aftermath of the acid attack on Filin and examining the fragile state of relationships within the theatre, Filin confessed that he thought going back to the Bolshoi as a director rather than a dancer was a mistake.
The film - currently scheduled for a January release - also reveals extremely frosty relations between Urin and Filin, who is humiliated by the general director in front of dancers and cameras in one surprising scene.
Here is my translation of the RG 'Business Breakfast' interview with Urin.
How to get into the country’s top theatre if you haven’t got 18,000 rubles
On Thursday Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s guests were the general director of the Bolshoi Theatre Vladimir Urin and the chief conductor and music director of the country’s top theatre, Tugan Sokhiev. The conversation, as you would expect, was illuminating. And it started with the sore point of tickets…
RG: Mr Urin, is it true that the Bolshoi Theatre has now very much cut itself off from the general public? Not everyone can afford the luxury of going to the Bolshoi Theatre to see a show. Tickets for The Nutcracker already cost up to 18000 rubles. How does that look to audiences?
URIN: Well, of course, it’s cut itself off from the public (smiles). But to be serious, I must tell you that when I was first appointed to the position of general director of the Bolshoi Theatre I had complaints about the ticket situation virtually every other day. While today - either the public’s got fed up of writing complaints to me or something’s changed.
But the fact is we have been very seriously putting right everything that’s going on in Theatre Square on the day tickets sales open. Every Saturday tickest are sold for a prescribed period. We mark each person’s wrist band with their number in the queue. This is all done with the assistance of our security and police, because it had been the case before that touts were running everything and it seemed that nothing could be done about it.
And here's another very important point: there used to be 60 or 70 people turning up with various papers claiming the right to discount tickets without queuing, and now there are seven people at most.
Now, as regards the price of tickeets…
… Which even the State Duma has been getting concerned about.
Yes. It must be said that when we took the whole account/report/summary into the Duma, how much the tickets actually cost… Everyone's now quoting this figure - 18,000 rubles [£180] per ticket for The Nutcracker on 31 December. Look, this is one unique show when the prices go up to 18,000. In all the other productions there are no tickets more expensive that 12,000 [£120], apart from the one-off events. We are projecting that the Plisetskaya evening will be up to 15,000 [£150]. Basically a ticket costs up to 7 or 8,000 [£70-80]. But don’t foget that you can obtain tickets for very decent seats for 1500 or 2000 rubles [£15-20].
Look, we have 470 performances, and yet here we are talking about that one and only show on 31 December. For two years, may I say, we haven’t raised ticket prices, or the upper limit, at all. Inside we’ve rearranged the seating. The demand went up for a range of operas, for Figaro, for Carmen, and we naturally put up prices a tiny bit. But I must say again, if we’re speaking about the general mass of tickets, there the figures are absolutely different.
You understand, economics are economics, a deficit is a deficit. You’ll never wipe out a deficit just by reorganizing things. You take economic steps. But just one economic step could be all that’s needed - a price increase, as then the tout loses the chance to resell. Because at that price he won’t be able to sell it on.
For those who dream that just once in their life they’ll “see the Bolshoi and die”, you’ve started putting on 500 ruble [£5] excursions on certain days. So a person who can’t afford a ticket for 15,000 rubles, can at least go inside the Bolshoi Theatre.
Yes, it is a prerecorded tour. It’s like all the major world theatres do. Not only that, the visitors can even have a chance during a rehearsal to go into the auditorium very quietly on the first flor and watch…
It’s 500 rubles for Russian citizens, 1,300 [£13] for foreigners.
The Bolshoi Theatre museum organizes the tours three times a week. There are tours in several languages, including Russian of course. The theatre got in quite a bit of money last year from these tours - there’s a great deal of interest in them.
"I would like something similar to the opera’s youth programme, a programme for young choreographers"
You want to appoint a new head of the ballet company. We’ll ask you first, who will be the new leader of the Bolshoi Ballet, and then we’ll ask in what position is Sergey Filin going to remain inside the theatre?
I am discussing the matter with him. I have made him an offer, he is thinking about it. I think he is leaning towards agreeing with my proposal. It’s unimportant what it’s called - assistant, adviser or whatever. I would really like something similar to the opera’s youth programme, to install a programme for young choreographers. I have even discussed it with our sponsors and they are prepared to allocate a portion of money towards the programme.
What I want is for young choreographers not only to show their work but, if necessary, can go off to John Neumeier or Christopher Wheeldon in London, to see how the shows of these great masters are put on. There is an idea that Sergei Filin might run this programme. There’s already a whole range of ideas - this is only one of the issues that Sergei might be dealing with. We’re currently talking about it, and as soon as he agrees, at once we’ll let you know how the job that he is actually doing will be titled.
Bolshoi Theatre chief Vladimir Urin (photo RG/Viktor Vasenin)