Bolshoi Names New Director of Ballet

October 26, 2015

Makhar Vaziev at news conference, Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Oct. 26, photo: Reuters: Maxim Shemetov

The much awaited announcement of the new director of the Bolshoi Ballet finally came yesterday. Bolshoi Theatre general director Vladimir Urin appointed Makhar Vaziev, who has led La Scala Ballet for seven years and, before that, spent 13 years at the helm of the Mariinsky Ballet. Many Russians are relieved that the choice is a former dancer with leadership experience and good taste. But questions surround this appointment.

No one was surprised last July when general director Urin announced that Sergei Filin’s contract would not be renewed. Filin has gone through emotional and medical hell, and a man who cannot see well cannot run a ballet company well (Alicia Alonso notwithstanding). What was surprising, however, was that Urin also said the position of ballet director would be eliminated or downsized. It was thought that the new ballet director would be relegated to a sort of company manager.

Luckily that plan hasn’t gotten very far. But, given the still-prevailing power of 88-year-old Soviet choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, it remains to be seen whether Vaziev will be able to modernize the repertoire. In an interview with Yahoo News, Leila Guchmazova, a Moscow critic with a taste for contemporary dance, is quoted as saying “The question is what powers he will be given, which isn’t obvious. I’d like to hope for the best, but it’s a big question.”

Another question is how the dancers will take to Vaziev. As Alexei Ratmansky knows, the Bolshoi dancers tend to look down on any director who had not actually been a Bolshoi dancer. Vaziev, who graduated from Vaganova Ballet Academy and rose to principal at the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet, may be considered an outsider. (To understand more about tensions at the Bolshoi, read Ismene Brown’s excellent feature story in a 2014 issue of Dance Magazine.) 

Sergei Filin at right, Wendy Perron at left in 2014 interview at Lincoln Center, via Youth America Grand Prix, photo ©Siggul/VAM

On the other hand, the situation at the Bolshoi has been so volatile since the January 2013 acid attack on Filin that an “outsider” may bring harmony. Vaziev will finish his commitments to projects at La Scala, dividing his time between Moscow and Milan, until Filin’s contract ends in March 2016.

In an interview in yesterday’s Kommersant, when Russian critic Tatiana Kuznetsova asked Vaziev to name some of his favorite living choreographers, he mentioned Forsythe and Ratmansky. (To see the whole interview, go to Ismene Brown’s blog.) That’s promising.

Also promising is this: In the mid ’90s when I interviewed him as the new director of the Mariinsky, he admitted that he shortens some of the full-length ballets for American audiences. Knowing how long the Russians like their ballets to be, I would call that savvy cultural diplomacy.