Rudolf Nureyev in 1973. Photo: Allan Warren.

Amid Controversy, Bolshoi Theater Postpones Gay-Themed Ballet About Rudolf Nureyev

Vladimir G. Urin, the general director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, announced that a new work about the life and time of dance icon Rudolf Nureyev has been postponed, reports Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times. Nureyev, staged by Kirill S. Serebrennikov—the director of the Gogol Theater whose home was raided in May as he was accused of embezzling government funds—is being shut down because the piece allegedly still needs work: “We were very depressed by what we saw,” said Urin.

In 2013 Russia passed a law forbidding anything that could be viewed as “gay propaganda.” Nureyev addresses the dancer’s homosexuality and how it might have influenced his work (Nureyev died in 1993 from AIDS). Leaked footage from a rehearsal also showed male dancers performing in high heels. A nationalist website said, “The video of the rehearsal of the performance clearly testifies to the fact that this ‘creation’ is propaganda for sodomy, which is against current Russian law. People who have not lost their moral compass are concerned by the impending disgrace.” The group running the website asked Vladimir R. Medinsky, the conservative minister of culture, to stop the ballet. There is also a line in the work that criticizes Russia for ridding itself of its most talented citizens.

Many within the country’s cultural circles believe that these factors, not Nureyev’s quality, caused the government to halt the production (Serebrennikov is also a passionate opponent of Vladimir Putin). But Simon A. Morrison, a Princeton University music professor and author of a book on the recent history of the Bolshoi, saw video from the last rehearsals, saying: “It looked hesitant, it was shaky, it was not there,” while taking note of the ambiguities surrounding such a major cancelation. “If you do something controversial and it doesn’t come off, then it becomes a travesty.” A number of people who worked on Nureyev are comparing the situation to the time Joseph Stalin forced the Bolshoi stop the premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Bright Stream in 1935. Shostakovich’s piece did not see the light of day until 2003.