Gangster ballet: it’s a thing. (In Russia)

Two weeks ago, I watched a live broadcast of the Bolshoi Theatre’s performance of Swan Lake. Below is an excerpt from that broadcast (that video got taken down. This is the best I could find. Older, same company, same choreography) to put y’all in the mood. If nothing about the first 4 minutes of this video interests you (or impresses you or moves you: I am open to any alternative other than bores you), we can’t be friends.

  • The segment starts with the black swan and her evil mentor crashing the prince’s party. I submit the music of the first 4 minutes as proof Tchaikovsky’s genius. Those 4 minutes clearly indicate that the girl is bad news and the guy is getting sucked into the vortex of her spell: listening to that, you can have no doubt that the story is going to end badly.
  • That ballerina, tho. That body, that expressive face. She overcomes some pretty tepid choreography from 1:00-2:39 with her magnetic stage presence.
  • The guys’ jumps. I think Russian male dancers have learned the trick of flying. Elegantly.

Appropriate adjectives to describe ballet

Elegantly. A universally accepted term to describe ballet, oui oui? Another commonly associated adjective is psycho, because of the Black Swan movie, and the stereotype of the starving artiste. Well, ladies and gents, I present the newest word to describe ballet: gangsta.

You see, in Russia, people take ballet very seriously. Unlike the rest of the world, that commits savage attacks in a state of fevered sport partisanship (remember the murders of the cricket coach and the soccer referee?), Russians get worked up over ballet. I’m not making this up.

In 2013, Sergei Filin, the artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet, was attacked in the parking lot of his apartment complex, nearly blinded by the sulfuric acid thrown in his face. The attack was ordered by one of the company’s male dancers, Pavel Dmitrichenko, who was displeased with Filin’s artistic vision, leadership and management style.

A union representative, supporting dancers who felt they were treated unfairly in the matter of casting and payments, Dmitchenko seems to have believed it was necessary to give Filin a fright, in order to make him realise the force of dissatisfaction within the company.

So he did what any responsible person would do: he hired a hitman, Yuri Zarutsky.

During the trial, the hitman Zurutsky spoke with cheerful insouciance of his intention to milk the “naïve good, young man” who had first approached him to “rough up Filin”. Beyond the fee he charged, Zarutksy planned to press Dmitrichenko for various favours, including getting free passes to the theatre and a place for his daughter in ballet school. He certainly supported the dancer’s story that acid hadn’t been mentioned. That had been Zarutsky’s own idea, because, as he chillingly commented, more conventional physical force would have been messier and he might have gone too far.

Now that is what I call good planning, and excellent common sense. On so many levels.

My favorite quote out of this whole saga:

At the end of his statement to the court, Yuri Zarutsky apologized directly to Filin – and said he would be happy to offer him his “services” when he was eventually released from prison.

There you go. Without a doubt, this incident proves that ballet can be gangsta. In Russia.

Don’t let the pretty images fool you. Ballet can be, and always has been, ruthless.


P.S. For those of you interested in a much deeper analysis of the role of gangstas in Russian ballet, I suggest this article. The ties between Russian mobsters and ballet are quite thick.





  1. Oh…thank you for the clip. My all-time favorite ballet since seeing it at age five at Lincoln Center. Saw a miserable version here in La-La land last year : ( but an AMAZING Romeo and Juliet by the National Ballet of Canada–the lead ballerina had the best arms ever–the most fluid, graceful, and expressive one could imagine. Heavenly night.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I went to the Lincoln Center for the first time this past summer to see a ballet. Loved it!

      Here is the white swan frim the same broadcast. Comparing her acting as the white/blank swan is impressive!!


      1. I was there for ballet only that one time…Glad you got to go : )

        I’ve been only rarely to the ballet–the prices. The first time as an adult, I made the mistake of seeing L.A.’s company. Yikes!! The second time, Russia’s. It was supposed to be Baryshnikov–we’d certainly paid enough ; ) –but of course one of his ankles again, so it was Alexander Godunov. Technically proficient, of course, yet too emotion-lite and wooden. Again, I felt disappointed, although the rest of the company was very good. Since then, the bare handful of times, I have seen some sweet standout performances in the middle of mediocre-to-poor productions. Then, last year, that Romeo and Juliet transported me, and made me grateful for existing long enough to be lucky enough to have made it into a seat in the audience that night.


      2. Th- th- they show them in theatres? I had no idea. I have been to the movie theatre once in two years. We po’ folks don’t gets out much. (Although, when we does, we does it right: A. and I went to one of those luxury jurnts and ate a full meal in our reclining seats while being waited on hand and foot. Why the heck not? We’re in this life for the experience, and for she and I, most of them come but once. : )

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well, at least in Canada, via ‘s site (section Events/Dance series), tickets cost $20 a pop. And half of the shows are prerecorded and half are live broadcasts (also indicated on the site).
        I think its great, bc the sound is quite good – movie theatre good-, and the view is excellent 🙂 you can see the quality of filming from those two Swan Lake clips – extracts from the broadcast i went to at the movie theatres. 🙂

        I feel the quality of the show and the unsurpassed technique of these russian dancers compensates for the fact you are in a movie theater. Although, you can still hear the live audience from Russia, so that helps!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s