Bolshoi Babylon

Hello there 2016!

So my first post of this year isn’t *technically* a review, but I saw something wonderful (and artsy) at the cinema last night and felt that I had to talk about it. And no, it’s not Star Wars.

It’s Bolshoi Babylon, Nick Read’s new documentary film that takes audiences behind the scenes of the world’s most famous ballet company. It begins with breaking news footage of the horrific scandal of 2013, when Bolshoi director and former principal dancer Sergei Filin was victim of an acid attack outside his home. The film explores the consequences of this event, from the trial and conviction of soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko to the election of a theatre manager determined to address the Bolshoi’s problems.

Read uses the attack – an event which gave the rest of the planet insight into the viciously competitive ballet world – to explore the tensions within the company. Exhaustion, jealousy, gossip and scrutiny must surely be part of every ballet company, but hearing the Bolshoi described as a “Russian brand” really makes you stop and consider how much pressure everyone involved is under. Politicans, it seems, select the artistic directors and weigh in regularly on decisions.

Yet Vladimir Urin – the general manager of the Bolshoi theatre hired during the documentary – is admirably calm in the face of his mammoth task, in spite of tensions between him and Filin as a result of previous history. There is an excruciatingly awkward altercation between the two of the them during a company meeting, when Urin basically tells Filin to sit and down and be quiet. I watched that one through my fingers.

There’s some lovely clips from rehearsals and performances – mainly Swan Lake, Spartacus and La Bayadere – and some nice individual stories make up sub plots. We see principal dancer Maria Alexandrova rehearse and then return triumphantly to the stage for the first time after a serious injury. Another ballerina bemoans her lack of roles (and touchingly, flowers at the curtain) but by the film’s end is swamped with work as a result of Urin’s changes.

But really, this documentary is all about the behind the curtain action – the alarming power struggles, wild rumours and cloak-and-dagger politics. It’s a ballet film for anyone and everyone, and I highly recommend you watch it!


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