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Dumping the Bolshoi for freedom

Published time: November 15, 2011 10:43
Edited time: November 17, 2011 19:11
Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev left the Bolshoi for St Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Theater

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev left the Bolshoi for St Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Theater

They had it all – roles, awards, recognition, but all that glitters is not gold.

­In a shock announcement, the leading lights of Russian ballet, Bolshoi Theater key dancers Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, have said they’re leaving their legendary Alma Mater for… freedom. 

In Soviet times, the cream of the crop of Russian dancers – Rudolph Nureev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Aleksandr Godunov – also fled overseas, looking for a better life.

But this present-day departure comes as a bolt out of the blue. The married couple handed in their notice to move not to La Scala or the Palais Garnier, but to St Petersburg.

The dancers have joined the troupe of the Bolshoi's lightweight rival, the Mikhailovsky Theater, which has recently been gaining momentum.

25-year-old Osipova and her 22-year-old charismatic husband have already reached the coveted benchmark other Bolshoi dancers can only dream of. Often referred to as “the new Mikhail Baryshnikov”, Vasiliev made his breakthrough with Spartacus, while Osipova became synonymous with Giselle.

“The main reason I'm quitting the Bolshoi Theater is their lack of repertoire,”
the Moscow-born ballerina explains. 

Natalia Osipova(RIA Novosti / Vladimir Vyatkin)
Natalia Osipova(RIA Novosti / Vladimir Vyatkin)

­“I've already danced everything that can be danced. We are leaving for creative freedom. Life has become too comfortable, I feel an immense need to change something, to free myself from the overly comfortable and conventional course it has taken.”   


The ballerina has in the past performed as a guest star at the American Ballet Theater, and will officially join the troupe as prima dancer in January 2012.

Vasiliev has also zigzagged the world, dancing with his wife and the troupe of the English National Ballet in London.  

“We are making progress, we want to move on, move forward, but it's very difficult to change our line of roles at the Bolshoi, where we once shone so brightly. We don't want to lock ourselves into two or three so-called 'signature roles', we want to dance more, especially new choreography.”

Ivan Vasiliev (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Vyatkin)
Ivan Vasiliev (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Vyatkin)

­At Russia’s leading theater, Osipova and Vasiliev enjoyed only limited freedom. Despite their popularity and recognition across the world, the couple’s standing at the Bolshoi wasn't exceptional. Like all other dancers, they waited in a long queue for new roles to come up. And, like many others, they didn't have more than three performances a month, with roles allocated to them without the right to choose.

Paradoxically enough Natalia Osipova, once hailed as the best Sylphide in the world, never danced her celebrated role since the premiere in 2008.

Prospects for the near future didn't appear very promising either: the ballerina wasn't among Yury Grigorovich's favorite stars, so roles from the classic repertoire were not given to her; while the ambitions of her husband also proved much higher than his trademark ballet jump.

The stars’ leaving just after the historic theater reopened following a $700-million state-of-the-art facelift surprised many theater buffs.

“The size of the stage has no importance for artists. What matters is what can be performed on it, and how,” Vasiliev retorts.

The Bolshoi Theater’s General Director, however, suggests the main reason behind the dancers' resignation is far more down to earth, and concerns salaries.

“As for the motives for the ballet soloists' decision, I'm convinced that it has nothing to do with creativity…” 
Anatoly Iksanov told Itar-Tass news agency.  

Although his colleague, head of the Bolshoi ballet Sergei Filin says the theatre still hopes the couple will rethink their unexpected decision, it seems money matters – and freedom comes first.

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