Bolshoi Babylon

Director: Nick Read, Mark Franchetti (2016)

This intriguing documentary allows us to peek behind the stage curtain of the world renowned Bolshoi, the ballet company described as as a mirror of Russian society.

The Bolshoi is the focal point of Russian high culture and Prime Minister Dimitry Medveved boasts of it as a secret weapon selling Russia to the world.

Overlooked by the Kremlin just down the road, it’s been the place for Russian leaders from Stalin onwards to entertain visiting dignitaries such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the USA’s Ronald Reagan and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher.

Her predecessor as Prime Minister Winston Churchill described Russia as ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma‘ with the key being Russia’s national interest.

It’s the first time anyone has been granted uncensored access to the theatre and directors Nick Read and Mark Franchetti take full advantage.

Peering about the dark nooks and crannies of the grand old building, they uncover the egos and rivalries of performers and executives.

They capture spectacular shows and candid catty comments of dancers waiting in the wings.

The performers delight in demonstrating the great grace, strength and finesse of their olympian bodies.

And we’re close enough to see the sweat and strain beneath the heavy stage make up and beautiful costumes.

The institution is rampant with accusations of corruption and incestuous staff relations.

The Bolshoi was rocked when former lead dancer turned artistic director and establishment baiting Sergei Filin was blinded in an acid attack.

His rival dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko is arrested with unseemly haste and packed off to six years hard labour on a penal colony. I’m guessing Siberia.

The Kremlin take advantage and send in new broom director Vladimir Urin to sweep away Filin’s regime.

His ruthless top down management structure is powerless to prevent patronage from the powerful political elite on whom it is dependent for state funding.

As various interviewees talk at length while trying to give little away, the material is carefully organised to present an uncompromising picture and hint at one even darker.

 Nothing seems to have changed too too much in modern Russia.