International Ballet Competition in Moscow – Warning Signs – Part II

Dear Readers:

Working through this piece, from Lenta.Ru, about the International Competition of Ballet and Choreography, which just completed its 13th occurrence.  Author Anna Gordeeva writes with a negative tone about the decline of Russian ballet, and about the competition itself, which is held every 4 years  at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, starting with the very first one, in 1969.

So, being the fact-checker that I am, I just worked it out on paper, the hootenanny was held during the following years:

  • 1969
  • 1973
  • 1977
  • 1981
  • 1985

  • 1989
  • 1993
  • 1997
  • 2001

  • 2005
  • 2009
  • 2013
  • 2017

Yup, it adds up, and quite an impressive run!  Continuing during years both fat and lean, even in the dreadful 90’s, aka “The Time of Troubles” when everything else was collapsing all around.  But not ballet!  Which continues incessantly, because ballet is Russia’s pride and joy, classical French ballet is the glory of the Russian nation!

The Olympics Of Ballet

At its inception, the quadrennial competition was instituted by the Soviet government with the purpose of becoming the Olympics of ballet.  The contest was and is taken seriously at the highest levels of the government, with the composition of the team approved at the Ministerial level.  Just like the Olympics!  Russian President Putin even attended the event last week, to show his support for the Russian team.

At the very first one, back in 1969, a gold medal was won by Soviet representative Mikhail Baryshnikov, who subsequently (just a few years later) defected to Canada.  To this day, Baryshnikov maintains an enigmatic contempt for his fellow Russians, and recently became a Latvian citizen.

Ironically, that very first competition was clean.  Baryshnikov won his gold medal fair and square.  The Soviet team competed cleanly, mainly with the French, and everybody who won a prize, deserved to win.

After that things became so political, according to Gordeeva, that the Soviet juries were pressured to vote for Soviet contestants for all the gold medals.  European ballet schools, realizing that the game was rigged, stopped sending their teams.  The competition went into a period of decline, at least from the European point of view.  In the post-Soviet era it became more like an internal post-Soviet affair, where Russia competed against former team-mates, mostly Central Asians, who still learn their classical ballet from Russian teachers.  To this day, post-Soviet dancers out there in the “boondocks” yearn for the prestige of studying at the great Russian schools and appearing on the stage in Russian theaters.

Russia’s BalletMeister Yuri Grigorovich awarded the Order of Saint Andrew

With Russia’s recent resurgence under President Putin, ballet was once again taken from the back burner and brought out to show Russia’s glory to the world.  The Russian Ministry of Culture decided to bring back international status and prestige to this event, by allocating unheard of sums for the prize money:  Two “Grand Prix” of $100K each; $30K for each Gold, $25K for each Silver; and $20K for each bronze.

The Europeans were not enticed by the money.  Crass lucre is beneath them.  It was even an insult to them to be offered prize money.  The only thing that European dancers really care about is the opportunity to strut their stuff in Russian theaters.

Asian dancers?  Well, that’s a different story altogether!

[to be continued]

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