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EXCLUSIVE: HBO 'Bolshoi Babylon' Director Nick Read on Filin, Dimitrichenko, Urin and Kremlin

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Dec 23, 2015 03:44 PM EST

When the Bolshoi Ballet took a hit following the 2013 acid attack on the company's artistic director and former dancer Sergei Filin, it was hard to recover in the public eye. For filmmaker and director Nick Read, it became the center focus of his latest documentary Bolshoi Babylon and proved to be an aid in discerning the facts. It also unveiled the political interference and scandal that encapsulates the Bolshoi both in its dancers and in management.

Sergei Filin, artistic director, was maimed in the 2013 attack, in which acid blinded one of his eyes and scarred his face. But, it's unclear as to the motives of the attacker and who staged the incident. All sources point to Pavel Dimitrichenko, who was found guilty in a trial and who the film indicts as the mastermind. But the film's only glancing insight into the theatre may ask more questions than it has answers.

Whether the company has been able to recover from this intrusion seems unclear but directors Read and Mark Franchetti infiltrated the sacred theater to uncover both the truth and the inner workings of the ballet.

"The first time we went in was days after the attack and everyone was confused because it was a rather bizarre street crime--to use acid as a weapon. Then, when they arrested Dimitrichenko they went into full-blown shock and drama," Read told Classicalite in a phone call.

"There was a lot of introspection and they closed the doors to us and all media. There was a sort of bloodletting, a lot of people resigned or were sacked and a lot of changes in management occurred, which they ultimately replaced the director."

The director was replaced by Vladimir Urin, who openly denounced Filin in the film, on the stage and in interviews. Their relationship is strained in its nature (which is almost unverisally political) and when Filin returns, it's starkly apparent that he is unwelcomed in this almost-religious institution.

But there are also innumerable instances that reinforce the inhumanity behind the ballet--dancers against other dancers, taking side with either Dimitrichenko or Filin, both who have used their influence to bring dancers to top ranks. While it might be a struggle, it appears to be a way of life almost as old as the 250-year company.

Nick continued over the phone:

"The drama inside [the Bolshoi] is always going to be at large and there is always going to be incredible scrutiny with the Bolshoi because it's still a very political establishment, and you know the Kremlin is always going to keep a close eye on the institution as the Bolshoi is only 500 yards away from the Kremlin. So there is an obvious political interference and it makes the Bolshoi very different from other companies."

And yet, the status of the Bolshoi has endured as it has been able to recover in the years following the scandal. While we're being granted a privileged first-hand account of the incident today via HBO, the controversy is years old and in turn has had time to settle.

The image of the ballet remains in tact and is a continuing source of inspiration around the world--but most importantly in Russia. "[The Bolshoi] has this unique place in the Russian heart, it's a unique part of their DNA. Every girl and boy remembers the first time they entered the Bolshoi," Nick added. "It has an iconic status in Russian culture and society."

Bolshoi Babylon is now available for streaming on HBO Go. Preview the trailer below.

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TagsHBO, Nick Read, Bolshoi Babylon, Bolshoi Ballet, EXCLUSIVE, Sergei Filin, Pavel Dmitrichenko, Vladimir Urin