Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre performs in China amid Western sanctions

Artistic director says his ballet company will ‘no doubt’ return to touring in the West, where the state-owned theatre is sanctioned due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Makhar Vaziev, ballet artistic director at the Bolshoi Theatre
Makhar Vaziev, ballet artistic director at the Bolshoi Theatre, insists the troupe is 'not suffering' from being unable to perform in the West [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

Russia’s state-owned Bolshoi Theatre has begun performances in China in the ballet company’s first international tour since the COVID-19 pandemic, and its artistic director says he has “no doubt” his troupe will eventually return to touring in the West, where it is sanctioned.

On the eve of Tuesday’s performance at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, Artistic Director Makhar Vaziev insisted the troupe was “not suffering” from being unable to perform in the West due to a cultural boycott on Moscow for its war in Ukraine.

“I have no doubt that one day everything will go back to how it should be because culture is a wave that is very hard to suppress,” Vaziev said in an interview with the Reuters news agency.

“Many governments have banned cultural figures from Russia, … but we are still talking to the same people we talked to in the past.”

On visiting China, Vaziev told Reuters last week: “I don’t think it’s a secret that China is one of a few countries that support and continue to cooperate with us.”

Principal dancers of the Bolshoi Theatre
Principal dancers of the Bolshoi Theatre Eleonora Sevenard and Artem Ovcharenko take part in a rehearsal in Moscow [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

Founded in 1776 by Empress Catherine the Great, the Bolshoi will perform some of its best-known ballet works in China, including a three-day performance of the 19th century ballet Don Quixote.

According to the company’s public relations representative, the troupe receives 70 percent of its funding from the Russian government.

So far, no performers have publicly condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine, but several Russian and foreign lead dancers, including the former principal dancer Olga Smirnova, have quit the company in opposition to the war.

The Bolshoi hopes its performances in Beijing will herald a return to the global stage after it once toured the world during the most tense days of the Cold War.

The dancing troupe has only two further confirmed international stops: in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in November and in Oman in January.

Principal dancers of the Bolshoi Theatre
Principal Bolshoi dancers Elizaveta Kokoreva and Dmitry Smilevsky take part in a rehearsal in Moscow [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

A day before Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, London’s Royal Opera House called off the Bolshoi’s planned post-pandemic return for a residency scheduled for that summer.

Cancellations from other Western countries followed, and collaboration with Western venues and choreographers disappeared.

Elizaveta Kokoreva, a principal dancer who joined the famous ballet troupe at the beginning of the pandemic, told Reuters: “I would really like to visit other countries, see the world, and get to know different venues, theatres, teachers and choreographers.”

“But it is what it is right now,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies