Dancers: Mariinsky Is Favoritist

Dancers: Mariinsky Is Favoritist

Published: November 28, 2012 (Issue # 1737)

Members of the Mariinsky Theater ballet troupe have sent an open letter to Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, accusing the theater’s management of not paying their salaries in full and of creating a manipulative system of running the company in which critics of the bosses get restricted access to the stage, which in turn immediately affects their pay.

The petition’s authors spoke about the mass exodus of the most outstanding dancing talent from the company: Leonid Sarafanov defected to the Mikhailovsky Theater in 2010, and that same year, Mikhail Lobukhin left for the Bolshoi Theater, and Yevgenia Obraztsova joined him there one year later.

According to the dancers who signed the petition, soloists and members of the corps de ballet alike are fleeing the Mariinsky because of “ill-conceived planning and disrespect for the artists.”

“Tatyana Bessarabova, the aide to the head of the ballet division, has continually humiliated and insulted the artists, and numerous complaints about her behavior from coaches and dancers have failed to yield any results,” reads the open letter. “While some of the dancers have very tight performing schedules, others are left to starve and are not getting any engagements. It is not enough to be in good shape to win a role, you have to make yourself likeable to the management. This is pure manipulation.”

The Mariinsky’s managers countered the accusations by saying that the staff turnover at the company has remained stable, and argued that there is no cause for concern.

“Since 2009, the ballet division has welcomed 64 new members,” said Oksana Tokranova, head of the Mariinsky Theater press office.

“There is no disaster in soloists moving from company to company; rather, this is a natural process. At present, we have several foreign soloists with the company, including Keenan Kampa (U.S.), Xander Parish (U.K.) and Kim Kimin (South Korea). Importantly, since the start of the season, the troupe has seen 70 debuts of dancers in new roles — and we are talking about aspiring young performers as well as seasoned dancers.”

The Mariinsky management denies allegations about biased performance engagements.

“The issue of each dancer’s involvement in the repertoire and their participation in a tour is never decided singlehandedly by the head of the ballet division,” Tokranova said. “In every case, the situation is discussed with the coaches and is fully transparent.”

The company’s critics say, and not without grounds, that the theater’s ballet division began to go downhill after the departure of its charismatic leader Makharbek Vaziev. The man who had led the ballet division of the world-renowned theater for almost 12 years resigned in spring 2008 following an argument with the Mariinsky’s artistic director Valery Gergiev over Vaziev’s status in the company.

Vaziev was replaced by Yury Fateyev, a former soloist of the company, who now faces accusations of lacking the vision and ability to develop the troupe.

Vaziev, who is currently coaching at Milan’s La Scala theater, had wanted an official title as the ballet division’s artistic director. He raised the issue after his contract as a soloist expired and he officially reached retirement age — although Vaziev was de facto head of the ballet division, officially, he was employed as a soloist — but Gergiev refused to promote the manager to the job.

Gergiev spoke critically of Vaziev’s performance as the troupe’s leader back then, accusing him of “putting on mediocre shows” and “failing to create an atmosphere in which the company’s emerging young talent is helped sufficiently by the troupe’s star and veteran performers.”

A number of Russian ballet critics, on the other hand, have pointed out that it was primarily Vaziev who was credited with inviting esteemed modern choreographers such as William Forsythe and John Neumeier to work with Mariinsky dancers and with motivating the troupe to mount spectacular performances of their works. For some time until his resignation, Vaziev had been trying without great success to obtain better conditions and more funding for the ballet troupe. It is no secret that opera and symphonic programs have always been a priority for Gergiev, and with the opening of the new concert hall in 2007, that emphasis has further increased.

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