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Was the Bolshoi Theatre’s Nureyev ‘too gay’ for Russia?


A  photograph of Nureyev in the nude, by Richard Avedon was part of the ballet’s set 

A controversy is brewing in the Russian art world  over why the  long awaited  world premiere of   Nureyev,  the ballet, was postponed at the last minute by the Bolshoi Theatre. 

The ballet, based on the life of the sultry dancer,  was described as “the main event of the ballet season in Russia and perhaps in the world” by the Russian daily Kommersant.

To cancel a premiere this late in the game is unprecedented, but on July 8, after a dress rehearsal, the theater posted on its site that it was going to replace the three performances  of Nureyev, scheduled on July 11, 12 and 13, with the very classic ballet Don Quixote

According to an article by Masset Manon in the Russian-French newspaper based in Moscow, Le Courrier de Russie., the Bolshoi at first gave no explanation, but eventually attributed the premiere’s cancellation to lack of preparation.

But others are skeptical. Manon writes that people in the top tiers of the  Russian ballet world blame pressure from officials in the Ministry of Culture where were offended by the open gay sexuality in the performance:

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 “A source close to the Russian Ministry of Culture quoted by TASS said on 10 July that the premier  was canceled ‘on the personal orders of Minister Vladimir Medinski,’ who was shocked by a spectacle that resembles propaganda for the ‘values of non-traditional sexual relationships.'”

The Bolshoi had originally invited director Kirill Serebrennikov and the choreographer Yuri Possokhov to create the show, with music composed by Ilya Demutsky.

During rehearsals, director Serebrennikov began to be harassed by Russian police.

“On May 23, his home and theater, the Gogol Center, were searched in a case of embezzlement of public funds, which also caused  two of his close associates to be arrested recently,” Manon wrote.

Since the beginning of his legal troubles, Le Courrier de Russie  states, the director was supported by the director of the Bolshoi, Vladimir Ourine.  But Ourine is also close to Putin, and dependent on his favour. 

Ourine and Putin

The director of the Bolshoi, Vladimir Ourine, during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in November 2013. Credits: Kremlin.ru

In a post for Kommersant, an art critic points out that Ourine “would have been afraid of losing his position in case of scandal.

“Ourine could have canceled the premiere so as not to betray the confidence of the Russian president, who expects ballet beauty and peace – not provocation.”

In February, Vladimir Putin extended Vladimir Ourine’s mandate for five years.

The personality of Rudolf Nureyev himself posed a problem for the authorities. Openly homosexual, the dancer had fled the Soviet Union in 1961 to find fame in the West.

Known for his genius but also for his eccentricities, he died of AIDS at the age of 53 years, in 1993.

“In Serebrennikov’s design, most actors had to play their roles as if naked, and part of the set was a famous photograph of Nureyev by Richard Avedon, who represents him completely naked,” says the interlocutor of TASS.

According to Kommersant , transvestites were also to dance in one of the scenes, while the singers of the choir  were dressed as women.

The choreographer Yuri Possokhov himself declared that one of the main themes of the show would be the love story Nureyev maintained until his death with the Danish dancer Erik Bruhn.

The Ministry of Culture refuted these accusations, claiming that it had in no way influenced the decision of Director Ourine nor exerted pressure on the Bolshoi, but that he “supported” this choice.

The head of the Bolshoi, for his part, speaks of “provocation”, claiming to have “never received any phone call of the sort.”

Nureyev ballet dress rehearsal

The company at the dress rehearsal on 8 July. Credits: Facebook page of Kirill Serebrennikov


After the cancellation sent the  Russian press and social networks into a frenzy, Ourine explained that the preparation window had simply just been too short for a complex production. 

“While Serebrennikov had begun working on the play in February, the theater troupe, on tour in Japan in May, had begun to rehearse only twenty days before the premiere,” Ourine explained.  “It’s not just a ballet, it’s a ballet with a choir, opera soloists and complementary artists.”

But classical ballet critic Anna Gordeeva posted on Facebook that “all artists were in better shape than some other premieres,”  and Kommersant specialist journalist Tatiana Kuznetsova wrote that Possokhov was “pleased with all the members of the band .”


Serebrennikov, for his part, simply refers to a “decision of the theater,” without further comment. 

In any event true motivation will become apparent if the postponement of the premiere turns into a cancellation of the show, and the Bolshoi’s Nureyev is never see by anyone beyond those attending the last dress rehearsal.

Written by

Alisa Cromer, founder of Worldstir and LocalMediaInsider. She can be reached at alisacromer@gmail.com.

Latest comment

  • The Kremlin’s version for suspending the performance, ‘gay propaganda’, is laughable: it’s an open secret that half of the Bolshoi’s male population is gay, and so is Kremlin’s for that matter 🙂
    The real cause lies in the fact that Bolshoi theater has always been used by Kremlin and KGB as a powerful instrument in the international politics and spying. And for them Nureyev is first of all a defector and traitor for whom no statute of limitations exists.

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