By ROSLYN SULCAS
A scene from “Nureyev” at the Bolshoi, with Vladislav Lantratov (in tuxedo) in the title role. Credit Mikhail Loginov/Bolshoi Theater
MOSCOW — “A country that does not value its heroes is such a shame.” That’s a line spoken late in the Bolshoi Ballet’s “Nureyev,” the much anticipated, gossiped about, postponed and rescheduled new ballet about the great Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev that opened at the Bolshoi Theater amid intense speculation and rumor here on Saturday.
Crowds thronged around security guards zealously manning the entrances. Sequins and blingy jewelry, supernova heels and pouty lips made their way into the Bolshoi’s gold and red interior. A who’s who of Muscovite society, including Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitri Peskov, and the film producer Alexander Rodnyansky (“Leviathan”), turned up. So did Sergei Filin, the former Bolshoi Ballet director who was the 2013 victim of an acid attack, his severely injured eyes covered by dark glasses.
One man was notably absent: Kirill Serebrennikov, the production’s director, who has been under house arrest since Aug. 22, on suspicion of embezzling more than $1 million in government funds through the Gogol Center, the progressive theater he runs.
Leading cultural figures, including Vladimir Urin, the Bolshoi’s general director, have rallied around Mr. Serebrennikov, who has denied all wrongdoing. Many have suggested that his arrest was politically motivated and could signal a crackdown on artistic freedom.
But even before Mr. Serebrennikov’s arrest, “Nureyev” had provoked intense media speculation, when the Bolshoi canceled the ballet’s scheduled July 11 premiere just two days before opening night. Commentators wondered if its explicit portrayal of homosexuality, the inclusion of nudity — in the form of a full-frontal photograph of Nureyev by Richard Avedon used as a backdrop — and the ballet’s depiction of a defector who chose the West over Russia, had been deemed inappropriate by the government, which provides 70 percent of the Bolshoi’s budget.
The decision to use Mr. Serbrennikov was unusual in the first place. Unlike opera, ballet rarely uses a director; the choreographer both creates the movement and makes all artistic decisions. “Nureyev” is nonetheless Mr. Serebrennikov’s second collaboration with the choreographer Yuri Possokhov and the composer Ilya Demutsky. The trio created the well-received “A Hero of Our Time,” commissioned by Sergei Filin, in 2015.
As Mr. Serebrennikov himself notes in a program interview: “I am doing an exotic, probably nonexisting job. Perhaps I am the only ballet stage director around.”
And so the big questions: Does having a director make a difference? And is “Nureyev” any good?
The answers are yes and somewhat. Mr. Serebrennikov’s impact is clear in the detailed libretto (published in the program), which structures the action around the auctions of Nureyev’s belongings that took place in 1993, two years after his death, from AIDS, at 54. Various items — a 1956 Vaganova School report; the Avedon portraits; a letter to Erik Bruhn, the Danish dancer who was Nureyev’s greatest love; costumes — serve as a chronological pathway through the dancer’s life, enabling Mr. Possokhov to move in swift and sometimes surreal fashion between reality and dream, memory and fantasy…