I finally watched Bolshoi Babylon tonight. My take-away: don’t be a twit.
First I have to say that as an American living in the U.S., it’s impossible for me to grasp the deep importance of ballet to Russians. In the U.S., ballet is a niche art that is becoming a niche sport as the numerous competitions spread, grow, and flourish (whether they lead to exciting ballet careers is a question for another article, but I do visualize there eventually being a ballet Olympics or something, and ballet dancers appearing on Wheaties boxes with their gold medals; art need not apply).
What the film did provide for me was a closer look at Filin, who appears to be a right little twit — not that that in any way excuses the physical attack on him. It also clarified that Dimitrichenko’s apparent recent remarks indicating that Vorontsova was never his girlfriend/wife were a bald-faced lie. And that Tsiskaridze is another twit.
Everyone, in fact, seems to be a twit. There seems to be no peace in Bolshoi-land, only factions of twits hissing at other factions of twits. Maybe this has calmed down a bit since Filin was deposed, however.
As for Joy Womack, anyone following her (who hasn’t seen the film) is probably under the impression that she appears in it at some point. She has mentioned that she was interviewed for the film, in fact.
She doesn’t appear at all, and seems to be mentioned only obliquely (at one point near the end Filin says that no one has offered proof that he was demanding bribe money). Somebody else — don’t remember who — said that there were a lot of dancers without talent demanding bigger roles, but that could have been a reference to a lot of people. My only question is, why are there so many untalented dancers in the mighty Bolshoi?
Of course, certain elements of artistic talent rely entirely on the viewer’s perception. The other day I was reading Ballet Alert’s discussion of Womack. As is predictable, it went back and forth between those who think she hung the moon and those (one claiming to be Russian) who said that they, and the Russian audience, did not think much of her at all. There was one video posted of her black swan performance with some tiny company somewhere, with a miserable orchestra and a partner who appeared not to have graduated from any recognized ballet school…or any ballet school at all. In the same discussion of the same video, comments ranged from marveling at her musicality (which I admittedly didn’t see), to those who didn’t see the same thing I didn’t see. Some mentioned stiff port de bras (which I did see), and others mentioned tremendous command. To say she’s controversial is to make one vast understatement.
But it’s interesting to note that since she’s been promoted to principal, the discussion has gone almost completely silent. She may now be a big minnow in a small pond, but that pond is in the same neighborhood as the Bolshoi and lives in the same soil. Pretty hard to keep sniping. Then again, as someone pointed out, she never mentions her reviews.
Anyway, on World Ballet Day she issued a video that sounded like a 21 year old making a sophomoric mission statement. Note that no one asked, but she views herself as a leader, and she moans about her fellow dancers’ lack of extra-curricular conditioning regimes, and…and…and…
In a way it leads me back to Filin being a twit. Somehow being raised in that insulated little world of ballet doesn’t always make for great leadership qualities. Womack has a lot of maturing to do in a lot of ways, and she’d do well to watch that film again and really, really observe Filin.
P.S. to view Bolshoi Babylon online, you’ll probably have to pay a few dollars. I got to see it for free because I have Amazon Prime, so that’s another option. As for Womack’s WBD proclamation on Youtube, here it is: Womack Manifesto
I thank the commentors for their insights and urge you to read their remarks.