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' Post-Soviet artistic directors have rarely combined resilient fighting qualities with broad vision and creative potential - they tend to have either one or the other'
Makhar Vaziev [photo Petr Kassin/ Kommersant]
'The crucial appointment will be in 2018'
3 NOV 15
Kommersant critic Tatiana Kuznetsova takes the gloves off in her assessment of Makhar Vaziev's appointment as the next Bolshoi Ballet director. She states her approval of Sergei Filin's directorship, along with those of Alexei Fadeyechev and Alexei Ratmansky, but says that the deep opposition inside the Bolshoi to reform remains entrenched. She opines that Vaziev's experience battling the conservatives in St Petersburg will put him in good stead.
However, she believes the appointment that really matters for the Bolshoi Ballet's future will be made in 2018 when general director Vladimir Urin's contract comes up for renewal. Nikolai Tsiskaridze is waiting, she says.
Here's a translation.
A big change at the Bolshoi
Makharbek Vaziev has a reputation as a strong leader, able to put into practice what he plans, even in trying circumstances.
At the Mariinsky Theatre, where he led the ballet company from 1995 to 2008 while holding the technical position of company manager, his freedom was constrained both by the theatre’s artistic director Valery Gergiev, who dictated the choreographers and productions according to his own choice, and further by the conservatism of the city’s ballet establishment who did not accept many of the director’s ideas, in particular his historical restorations of classics.
All the same, during Vaziev's years in office a rejuvenated Mariinsky troupe achieved an unprecedented breakthrough in repertoire.
At La Scala, his main restrictions were not only the draconian trade union regulations which had an excessive braking effect on younger generation of performers, but also the traditions of a major world opera house that only allowed seven or eight ballet productions to be put on each season. Despite this, in Vaziev’s seven-year directorship the La Scala ballet troupe successfully produced a whole series of acclaimed world premieres, in which a new generation of Italian artists firmly declared its emergence.
Not prepared to do battle
Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre has been looking for its ballet leader ever since in 1995 Yuri Grigorovich resigned, under pressure from the directorate. The theatre has not been lucky: post-Soviet artistic directors have rarely turned out to combine resilient fighting qualities with a broad vision and creative potential - they tended to have either one or the other.
Alexei Fadeyechev, who held the position at the turn of the century, might be said to have possessed the necessary capabilities but his conflicts with the theatre's artistic director Gennady Rozhdestvensky cut his career short.
The Bolshoi’s most progressive artistic director, Alexei Ratmansky, having transformed the company with cleverly tidied-up repertoire and his own productions, was not prepared to do battle with bitter internal resistance from uncooperative opponents, and in 2008 he left Moscow, not without a sense of relief.
The Bolshoi Theatre tried to hire Makharbek Vaziev in March 2011: the then general director Anatoly Iksanov even set a date for the press conference at which he intended to introduce the new artistic director, but at the last moment the appointment fell through - the candidate did not want to leave Milan.
Temperament of a gambling fighter
After a series of scandals and sudden permutations, the job was handed to Sergei Filin, former principal dancer at the Bolshoi, who combined the temperament of a gambling fighter and ambitious creative plans. The new artistic director took to the task of reform with such zeal that his antagonists within the theatre moved over from verbal battles to outright criminality: in January 2013 an attack was carried out on Filin, as a result of which he almost lost his eyesight.
And despite the fact that for his remaining years he has successfully realised several interesting projects, while the most odious individuals have left the theatre for one reason or another, general director Vladimir Urin gave notice a while ago that Filin’s five-year contract would not be renewed, and he was trying to find another position for him (if Filin wanted to take it).
This decisive general director has selected a no less decisive artistic director, and has signed a five-year contract with Vaziev. The problem is that Urin’s own contract expires in summer 2018.
Whether the determined general director stays in his post, or his critics win (in particular, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, currently residing in the unobtrusive post of Rector at the Vaganova Academy), is the vital question in the not very distant future.
On the answer to that will depend, in the final analysis, the fate not only of Makhar Vaziev but of the Bolshoi Ballet company.