Bolshoi announces new ballet chief Makhar Vaziev to replace acid-attacked Sergei Filin

Makhar Vaziev, newly appointed artistic director of Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet, attends a press conference in Moscow on Monday.
Makhar Vaziev, newly appointed artistic director of Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet, attends a press conference in Moscow on Monday. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's Bolshoi Theatre on Monday announced that La Scala's Makhar Vaziev will take over as ballet director, replacing Sergei Filin, who suffered permanent eye damage from an acid attack.

"People who know the theatre, who know about ballet, both Russian and world ballet, know this name well," the Bolshoi general director Vladimir Urin said, presenting Vaziev to journalists.

Vaziev was a leading male dancer in the renowned Soviet Kirov troupe before heading the renamed Mariinsky ballet for 13 years. He moved to Italy to lead La Scala's ballet seven years ago.

"For me it's a great joy, a great pleasure, to be able to work with such a great company," Vaziev said.

"I very much hope we will work in a team, together, in a friendly way," said Urin, standing beside Vaziev and patting him on the arm.

The appointment of the new Russian ballet director could draw a line under one of the most turbulent chapters in the Bolshoi's history, which saw one of its soloists jailed for plotting an acid attack on Filin.

Filin was left scarred and partially sighted after he was doused in acid in January 2013 in an attack that rocked the ballet world.

Soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko was jailed for six years after a trial that uncovered bitter backstage rivalries and jaw-dropping allegations that Filin handed out roles in exchange for money and sexual favours.

Urin announced in July that he would not renew Filin's contract as the ballet troupe's current artistic director.

Urin refused to answer a question on Monday about why he did not renew Filin's contract, but said that he may stay at the Bolshoi in another position.

"Such a proposal has been made to him," Urin said.

"If my proposal suits him, of course I would really like Sergei Yurevich to stay and work," he said, referring to Filin.

Urin said he had decided to announce Vaziev's appointment in advance, before he starts in April to create an "absolutely normal, civilised, modern transfer from one leader to another."

Vaziev, wearing a navy suit and red jumper with several gold rings on his fingers, said that "at this stage it would probably be funny if I said something broad about any plans, any prospects. I will probably be a bit dull now."

Vaziev said that it "was not the first invitation from the Bolshoi," without elaborating.

This time round, though, "we didn't discuss it that long."

Filin, a charismatic former top dancer, made a promising start as the troupe's artistic director but then saw his career blighted by the acid attack, ballet critic Tatiana Kuznetsova of Kommersant daily said.

"His rule was extremely unhappy," she said. "They splashed (acid) in his eyes so early that he just spent his whole stint with health problems."

She praised Vaziev as "a very strong figure, strong and ambitious."

Ballet critic Leila Guchmazova agreed that the move was good news, but the crucial question was how much room for manouevre Vaziev would have.

"It's good for the Bolshoi theatre and for (Vaziev) himself," she said.

"The question is what powers he will be given, which isn't obvious. I'd like to hope for the best, but it's a big question." "The troupe is now in a decent state," Kuznetsova said. "The question is ... whether he will be allowed to lead it."

Part of the issue, critics say, is that Vaziev may struggle to modernise the Bolshoi given the influence of veteran choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, who even at the age of 88, has considerable clout.

"The Bolshoi Theatre remains the theatre of Grigorovich, Grigorovich is on the staff, his ballets are on constantly," she said. "The question is whether this renovation can affect his serious chunk of the repertoire - that is what we are doubtful about."