the Cold War, America had jazz and the USSR had the Bolshoi Ballet. We won the
Cold War, but the Bolshoi still tours internationally, spreading Russian
prestige. However, backstage drama took a rather ugly and embarrassingly public
turn in early 2013 when Ballet Director Sergei Filin suffered a potentially
disfiguring acid attack. Instead of bringing the company together it
exacerbated pre-existing fissures, at least according to Nick Read’s Bolshoi Babylon (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Babylon starts with the
sort of tellingly ironic intro we always appreciate. According to one Bolshoi
insider, Russia has two internationally recognizable name brands: the
Kalashnikov and the Bolshoi, but the one-time market leading AK-47 has since
been eclipsed by other automatic rifles. That says a lot about Russia in
general. Unfortunately, Read and credited co-director Mark Franchetti are generally
more content to observe than to probe.
learn there was already deep discontent with Filin’s tenure as Ballet Director,
a post roughly analogous to artistic director. Soon, disgruntled Bolshoi dancer
Pavel Dmitrichenko is arrested for the crime and the company quickly divides
into opposing factions. Dmitrichenko, a Bolshoi legacy, makes no bones of his
resentment for Filin, specifically blaming him for sabotaging his girlfriend’s
career. For many, this criticism rings all too true.
Read shows no determination to get to the bottom of the controversy. Instead,
he periodically lets partisans from Team Sergei and Team Pavel vent. Much of Babylon proceeds like Frederick Wiseman’s
La Danse, offering us opportunities
to watch rehearsals and performances from the wings. That is not without
interest, especially for ballet connoisseurs, but it avoids the 800 pound gorilla
we hear is stalking through the halls of the Bolshoi Theater.
Babylon is a maddening missed
opportunity. We are told straight up, as the Bolshoi goes, so goes Russia. It
hardly seems coincidental corruption threatens to tarnish the storied ballet at
a time when the Putin regime has increasingly tightened its control at home and
launched belligerent military campaigns against its neighbors, but Read won’t
is some interesting stuff in Babylon,
but it feels rushed out and provisional. Clearly, the guts of this story
remains to be told. As a result, Babylon is
primarily for dance fans who want a peak behind the Bolshoi’s curtain than
serious geopolitical viewers looking for insight into the powerful and privileged
of Putin’s Russia. A disappointing and sometimes repetitive mixed bag, Bolshoi Babylon opens this Friday
(11/27) in New York, at the Cinema Village.
Labels: Bolshoi Ballet, Dance on film, Documentary