A peek behind the scenes at Moscow’s famous theatre, directors Nick Read and Mark Franchetti allow the infamous acid attack on the Bolshoi’s artistic director Sergei Filin in 2013 to be the focus point of the documentary, using it to explore the backstabbering and chicanery (broken glass in the shoes!) at play in the stalls.
We’re told that there is a great distrust of management in Russia so when Filin, a former star dancer who cracked the boards at the theatre, hung up his tights and opted for the desk a bond was broken. Distrust grew between he and the dancers which culminated in a masked assailant throwing acid in his face. It later emerged that dancer Pavel Dimitchrenko was behind the attack, claiming it was revenge for Filin holding back Dimitchrenko and his girlfriend’s career; Dimitchrenko was sentenced to six years in prison. Enter Vladimir Urin, the general manager of Musical Theatre of Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko, to stabilise things but it’s an appointment that ruffles some feathers and when a recovering Filin returns to assume duties the stage is set for a showdown.
Or at least Read and Franchetti hoped it would. With unprecedented access, the directors find themselves not only interviewing disgruntled dancers but also in meetings where Filin and Urin display no little animosity for each other. Despite some shots across the bow, however, the anticipated loggerheads never fully develops and Bolshoi Babylon is left undercooked. Even scenes of the court case, with Dimitchrenko sitting in the caged witness stand, fail to heat things up.
To buff things out Read and Franchetti give a brief rundown of the Bolshoi Theatre’s history and what it means to Russia, with one politician calling it the country’s ‘secret weapon’. There’s also a taste of the fate of older dancers who are callously cast aside once a certain age is reached: “When an older woman appears on stage it’s ugly,” remarks one dancer. Despite the beauty and elegance of the dancers and the wonderfully executed productions, Bolshoi Babylon finds only unpleasantness.
While there’s a feeling there are avenues left unexplored – possibly down to the reluctance of some of those interviewed to fully divulge – Bolshoi Babylon should satisfy curiosity as to the goings on in Russia’s famous theatre