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There was a photograph of Gennady Yanin, smiling, wearing a tie. Then I scrolled down, and then—there was another picture of Yanin, with a dick in his mouth! What the fuck is this!
I kept scrolling. There were a hundred and eighty-three such photos of Yanin.
DANSE MACABRE by Steven Otfinoski and directed by Mark Graham
Gay sex. Some heterosexual, too. I looked at all those pictures and I turned red. This was the end of Gennady Yanin at the Bolshoi. Homosexuality is common and generally accepted in the Russian dance world, but, in large measure, it is taboo in Russia. Soon after the sex pictures went out on the Internet, a group of dancers at the Bolshoi met and decided that Yanin was unworthy of their support.
From the beginning, he anticipated attacks similar to those which destroyed Yanin. He had led a healthy amatory life—he was the object of adoration by many female dancers and countless fans—and it was clear that he had rivals in the company, others who had hoped to lead the Bolshoi. In Russia, the destruction of a rival through kompromat —compromising documents, photographs, or videos—is common in politics and business. If the Kremlin or the secret services want to destroy an inconvenient satirist or an irritating journalist, they often find a way to lure him into the usual human temptations, record the proceedings, and make the results public.
In , on the eve of a national election, a prosecutor named Yuri Skuratov was investigating corruption at the Kremlin and among its oligarch allies. Now all that anyone remembers about Skuratov is the grainy black-and-white film of him attempting, without complete success, to have sex with two prostitutes; the film was broadcast nationally on state television, and that was the end of Skuratov and the investigation. The head of the secret services at the time was Vladimir Putin. For more than a decade, the Web site compromat.
And so when Filin started getting harassed by telephone and by e-mail in December, , he sensed an imminent, if banal, danger from enemies he could only guess at. Pavel Dmitrichenko, who confessed to organizing the attack. Photograph from reuters. I thought it would be some sort of blackmail, an invented scandal using the media or the Internet. I was ready for anything. And since I got no threats of a physical attack, I anticipated anything but that! My biggest mistake, the thing I regret the most, came at the very end of December.
I should have talked to the media. Maybe the story would have been otherwise. But, with the extended New Year holiday over, Filin met with Anatoly Iksanov, the general director of the Bolshoi—the man who runs the entire enterprise: the ballet, the opera, the staff of more than thirty-five hundred—to talk about the problem. Iksanov is a shrewd cultural bureaucrat. He worked in the theatre in St. Petersburg and took over operations of the Bolshoi in He is well accustomed to the internecine politics of the arts.
His head is pale and moonlike; he is all pate, cheek, and mustache. He listens with intense amusement. He smokes continually. A humidifier sends a plume of steam into the air of his office. Filin spoke about the phone calls, the hacking, the vandalism. Still, he and Iksanov decided to take no extraordinary measures: they would not fire anyone in the company, even if they suspected that person of bad intent; they would not even hire a driver or a security guard to be with Filin.
No one has threatened me, but there are some attempts to discredit me. Petersburg, and, with Steinbrennerian aggression, was throwing big sums of money around to steal premier dancers from the Bolshoi.
The Bolshoi is a ten-minute walk from the Kremlin. Historically, it might as well have been an annex. Stalin, an opera aficionado and balletomane, used to arrive at the theatre through a secret entrance and watch alone, in a first-tier box, shrouded from view by red velvet curtains. When the K. In the seventeen-thirties, the tsarina established an imperial ballet school in the Winter Palace, and students were considered members of the royal household. On the day in the winter of when revolution broke out on the streets of Petrograd, Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who was the prima ballerina of the Mariinsky, the former mistress of the tsar, and the current lover of Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich, put on her velvet-and-chinchilla coat and abandoned the mansion that had been the reward for her favors.
Not long after, the house became Bolshevik headquarters. Lenin issued proclamations from her balcony. After the Revolution, the imperial theatres were not, initially, a priority for the Bolshevik leadership. But Lunacharsky noticed that, even with civil war consuming the entire country, peasants and workers were happy to fill the seats of the Bolshoi. It was, in part, ballet. They lacked, at first, a certain connoisseurship. Some workers, Ezrahi writes, were so ignorant of the mute art of ballet that they asked one another when the performers would begin to sing.
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Under Stalin, the Bolshoi became the court theatre for a Communist regime. The Bolshoi aesthetic came to reflect the regime itself: fiery, pompous, and, at its worst, crudely propagandistic. Stalin and his ideologists punished any trace of formalism and barred innovators like Balanchine, who had escaped Russia for Western Europe in Maya Plisetskaya, one of the leading ballerinas of the Soviet period, endured the keenest humiliations of the regime and enjoyed its highest privileges.
Her father was executed in the Purges, and her mother was arrested on a night that she had taken Maya to the Bolshoi to see her aunt dance. With a big bouquet of Crimean mimosas. For the Soviet leadership, the Bolshoi was a showcase, a glittering palace where it could bring foreign guests and hold Communist Party congresses.
For the audience, the place had an entirely different meaning. The photographs in question in those days were nothing like the pictures of Gennady Yanin. These were mug shots provided by the N. Stalin supported the theatre, no matter the cost or the conditions.
It was meant to be the sign that the nightmare was over and the fairy tale had recommenced.
Sergei Filin, leaving a hospital in Moscow. Well, hardly all fairy tales. When the Soviet Union collapsed, in , and the economy went into free fall, the Bolshoi lost millions in subsidies. The annual budget for the theatre dropped to twelve million dollars, hardly enough to pay the dancers, the coaches, and the staff, let alone develop new ballets. Then, a decade ago, Russia came into its own as an oil-and-gas economy.
The federal budget stabilized and the Russian government hired Iksanov, who was soon able to bring the budget up to a hundred and twenty million dollars. Iksanov also hired McKinsey, the management consultancy, to help reconfigure salaries and ticket prices, and set up an outside board of directors; it attracted a small stream of oligarchs who were pleased to pay the still modest annual sum of three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars to sit on the board. The greatest achievement at the Bolshoi is the one nobody talks about anymore—the end of ideological control.
In the end, the protests fizzled and Anatoly Iksanov thanked the legislators for the extra publicity. She has made the intimate acquaintance of one obliging oligarch after another. When she finally married, the ceremony was broadcast on television; she had three wedding dresses—white, pink, and pistachio.