The Bolshoi Just Canceled a Ballet for the First Time in Decades

July 9, 2017

As Wendy Perron wrote in our July issue, “Any new work coming from the Bolshoi Ballet is big news.” So naturally, the news that the premiere of its highly anticipated new ballet will not happen as scheduled is even bigger. The Bolshoi announced on its website Saturday that performances of Nureyev, set to begin tomorrow (Tuesday, July 11) in Moscow, will be replaced with Don Quixote. Today, the theatre held a press conference at which it was clarified that the ballet had not been canceled, but postponed until May 2018. The official reason given: The ballet is not yet ready.

Of course, not everyone is buying it.

In the initial outcry against the decision, it was argued that it seemed highly unlikely that the theatre would have waited until just three days before the premiere to cancel the show if it was truly underprepared, leading many to theorize political motivations behind the action.

As a number of news outlets have noted, any work focusing on the life of Rudolf Nureyev is by default on shaky political ground in Russia. The ballet dancer’s rise to stardom in the West was jump-started by his defection from the Soviet Union in 1961 (always a tricky topic), and his open homosexuality is decidedly at odds with current state policies. Rumors swirled prior to today’s press conference that a frank depiction of Nureyev’s sexuality, widely speculated to be included in the ballet, could be at the root of the last minute cancellation. (The Ministry of Culture has since stated that the delay of the performance is not an act of censorship.)

It’s not the first time that political intrigue has been attached to the ballet: Its director, Kirill Serebrennikov, was reportedly detained and questioned over alleged misuse of government funds, though many of his supporters believe the case to be a politically motivated response to his outspokenness against government censorship.

The Bolshoi Ballet in A Hero of Our Time, which boasted the same creative team as the postponed Nureyev. Photo by Damir Yusupov, Courtesy Bolshoi Theatre.

If anything, we’re even more intrigued to see what choreographer Yuri Possokhov has up his sleeves for this ballet if and when it finally does premiere in 2018.