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The Long, Dark History of the Russian Ballet

In this week's New Yorker, David Remnick takes us behind the scenes of the Bolshoi, the institution at the center of the acid-throwing attack, revealing that, behind all the pirouettes, there has long been strife that mirrors Russian society.

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In this week's New Yorker, editor-in-chief and longtime Washington Post Moscow correspondent David Remnick takes us behind the scenes of the Bolshoi Ballet, the institution at the center of the acid-throwing attack on artistic director Sergei Filin, revealing that behind pirouettes and costumes there has long been strife inside the company that mirrors society in Russia. He writes:

I heard this all the time. Sometimes an institution has an uncanny way of embodying the society to which it belongs. For decades, the office of the heavyweight championship of the world—and the battles for that crown, from Jack Johnson to Mike Tyson—said something about the racial dynamics of twentieth-century America. So it is at the pinnacles of Russian dance. Since the nineteenth century, the country’s two principal stages—the Mariinsky, in St. Petersburg, and the Bolshoi, in Moscow—have acted as microcosms of imperial Russia, Soviet Russia, and, now, Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Under Stalin, for instance, "the Bolshoi aesthetic came to reflect the regime itself: fiery, pompous, and, at its worst, crudely propagandistic." As of late the Bolshoi has been plagued with other controversies like the case of Anastasia Volochkova, the "fat ballerina" who Remnick likened to reality TV characters, and the deterioration of its building. Now the fate of Pavel Dmitrichenko—who has confessed to planning the attack, just not the acid part—is even bringing to mind the Pussy Riot case, as some rush to Dmitrichenko's defense:

After witnessing so many phony trials––most recently of Pussy Riot—the Russian public has developed a general distrust of the country’s legal system. “Why is there no presumption of innocence?” the Bolshoi source continued. “The Russian authorities know how to get what they want. This is common in our legal practice. . . . We all know how this monster machine works. The Prime Minister”—Dmitri Medvedev—“said that the case should be solved in a short time, and so, of course, they found someone.” He said that Dmitrichenko had been questioned throughout the night, and that for a few hours his lawyer had not been present.

Read Remnick's full story at the New Yorker.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.