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Ballet Scandal Heads North

Intrigue continues a month after the Russian Minister of Culture announces shakeups at prestigious academy.

Published: November 21, 2013 (Issue # 1787)



  • The storied Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet is at the center of a power struggle between rival factions.
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / SPT

As a star ballet soloist of Moscows legendary Bolshoi Theater stands trial over an attack in which acid was thrown in the face of the ballet troupes artistic director, the scandals rocking the Russian ballet world have reached St. Petersburg, the historic home of the art form in Russia.

Teachers at the citys Vaganova Ballet Academy, which has produced legions of Russias most famous ballet dancers from Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky and George Balanchine to Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov are up in arms after the Russian culture minister named flamboyant and divisive dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze as the schools new head.

After the culture minister appointed Tsiskaridze, an outspoken former Bolshoi star, as head of the school, and Ulyana Lopatkina a prima ballerina at St. Petersburgs Mariinsky Theater and herself a graduate of the prestigious school as artistic director, about 100 teachers at the academy and artists from the Mariinsky, of which the Vaganova is an associate school, wrote an impassioned letter to the ministry asking it to review the decision.

Removing the Vaganovas current rector Vera Dorofeyeva and artistic director Altynai Asylmuratova will inflict irreparable damage to the administrative-creative potential of the establishment, according to the letter sent earlier this month. It described the decision as intolerable, if not a criminal decision.

Tsiskaridze, the letter says, comes from a completely different school; he is not a bearer and preserver of the traditions of the Petersburg school. It also says he does not have enough experience teaching children to be head of the academy, which was set up in the 18th century by Empress Anna and whose previous pedagogues have included Marius Petipa and Mikhail Fokine.

Other famous figures in the ballet world have also come out against the decision.

I would really like to believe that it is not the end of a great school, said Diana Vishneva, another Mariinsky prima and one of the most highly acclaimed ballerinas in the world, who also trained at the Vaganova.

Bolshoi Fallout

The appointment of Tsiskaridze is not unconnected to the goings on in the Moscow courtroom where dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko stands accused of enlisting an acquaintanceto attack Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi ballet troupes artistic director, allegedly in revenge for Filins casting practices. Tsiskaridze has put in his two cents worth on the case that shocked the world, casting doubt on the seriousness of Filins injuries and saying the attack was used as an excuse to launch a witch hunt against Tsiskaridze and his allies. He is due to appear as a defense witness in the case.

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