The Bolshoi is a ballet company with a worldwide reputation for producing undeniably dramatic performances with a focus on big jumps and exquisite dramatic dancing. Ballet is an art form that is close to Russia’s heart as a country. Historically Russia has used ballet as an ambassador for their nation, sending their ballet companies to Europe during crucial times in their history such as the Ballet Russes performing in Europe in 1909, and the Kirov Ballet in 1961. Giving audiences unprecedented insight to the historic Bolshoi would have made Bolshoi Babylon an incredible film on it’s own, but the timing of the filmmakers coincided with one of the most turbulent moments of the company’s existence, making Bolshoi Babylon a fascinating and unmissable glance into the company’s dancers, management and it’s identity at a critical time.
Sergei Filin, former Bolshoi dancer and then Bolshoi Artistic director, was the victim of an acid attack in 2013. Eventually a Bolshoi soloist, Pavel Dmitrichenko, admitted to organising the attack in retaliation to his dancer girlfriends lack of roles and general lack of opportunities at the company under Filin. This drama was splashed across international news, and the film has interviews with several Bolshoi dancers of different ranks about their reactions to this incident, and showcases different views about how the company functioned under Filin’s directorship. The film shows dramatic footage of Sergei Filin’s ravaged face and the physical horror he endured after the attack.
A new general manager of the company is appointed by the government, Vladimir Urin, tasked with sorting out the mess left behind at the Bolshoi after the scandal, and turning the focus back onto the dancing as well as upping the general morale amongst the dancers in the company. Meanwhile, Sergei Filin returns back to work as artistic director, though he is still undergoing treatments to save his damaged eye. Both men are tough, and are determined to be in charge and run the Bolshoi in their own way to navigate away from the scandal. The film captures very memorable tiffs amongst the two, one during a meeting with the trustees of the company and another meeting with the dancers. It is quite clear as a viewer that it would be highly unlikely for the Bolshoi to be run smoothly and consistently under the direction of both men and their clashing egos. Interestingly, and showing how small the dance world is, Filin and Urin’s history goes back to when Filin was a dancer for another company Urin managed, and Filin left in a way that offended Urin. Vladimir Urin maintains in his interviews over the duration of the film that he intends to be fair and professional whilst working with Filin, and would never hold a grudge.
The film is wonderful from a dramatic standpoint due to the power struggle between the two men across the backdrop of sumptuous images of ballets such as Swan Lake, La Bayadère and Onegin. The contrast between the beauty of ballet and the behind the scenes chaos is stitched together by director Nick Read in a rich visual way. A highly fascinating look at the company, Bolshoi Babylon is a must watch for any ballet fan, but also highly interesting to anyone who enjoys documentaries with multi faceted dramas in an artistic focused post Soviet Russia.
Bolshoi Babylon is out now in select UK cinemas, and can also be streamed online at We Are Colony with exclusive behind-the-scenes extras .