Filin Isn't Leaving the Bolshoi After All

March 3, 2016

In two weeks, Sergei Filin’s contract as artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet will expire, and Makhar Vaziev will take over. When Bolshoi theater director Vladimir Urin announced last July that Filin’s contract would not be renewed, few were surprised—the two men have a long history of feuding, and Filin’s reign at the Bolshoi has not exactly been fruitful. But in an odd twist, the Bolshoi announced yesterday that Filin will be staying on, just in a different position.

Filin shortly after the acid attack in 2013. Courtesy HBO Documentaries.

The Bolshoi will launch a workshop for young choreographers, which Filin will lead. Both the choice to start such a program and to have Filin lead it are curious. In some ways, it feels like an obvious, smart move for a company struggling to stay relevant. Though the presence of more modern works in the repertory has been a source of contention (and one of the many reasons that Filin made enemies during his tenure), the company can’t move forward without including new voices on its stage. But it also feels like a power move on Urin’s part, a delegation of artistic duties so that neither Vaziev nor Filin have total control. It seems to coincide with Urin’s decision to rewrite the artistic director job description after ousting Filin—he originally said he was eliminating the position and replacing it with a more managerial director one, but now it seems as though he’s just planning to give the incoming artistic director far less power.

The Bolshoi corps. Courtesy HBO Documentaries.

And then there’s the question of whether Filin and Urin can work together peacefully. Rumors about their feud have been circulating for years, and were confirmed with the release of Bolshoi Babylon in December, a documentary that captures several tense moments between the two men.

Will a new director and a new program to breed choreographers change the Bolshoi for the better? On paper it seems that way. But we’ve learned to have no expectations with this unpredictable company.

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