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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Can a 'Godlike' Dancer Govern a New Bolshoi?

Ballet critics have called him one of the greatest dancers that Russia has ever produced. Now he may be set to face what could be a far more difficult role than any he ever danced.


As Yury Grigorovich's potential replacement in the critical position of the Bolshoi Theater's artistic director, Vladimir Vasiliev, 54, says he would also bring down the curtain on his career as a performer and choreographer.


Unlike Grigorovich, who has held the dual post of artistic director and chief choreographer for the theater, Vasiliev said he only would run the company, and assign the choreography to others.


"A coach who plays (and coaches) at the same time never did anyone any good," said Vasiliev.


"I have to try to give my energy to everyone else now," he said. "A producer has to do his job every day, just like a writer has to write every day -- and for a while, at least, I will be obliged to forget about my own personal plans."


Whether Vasiliev's talents can find an analogue in the gift of leadership, however, remains to be seen. "I hope he has enough experience to give him the current perspective that's needed to lead the Bolshoi into the 21st century," said Olga Smoak, editor of the magazine Ballet in Russia.


Vasiliev has had limited experience in theater administration, serving during the past two years as artistic director of the ballet company of the Rome Opera.


Vasiliev made clear he is appropriately sensitive to the danger that assuming a leadership role could entail. "I've always been cautious about power, because in the long run, power in an artist is destructive to his creativity," Vasiliev said.


He was also careful to add that his wife, former Bolshoi principal Ekaterina Maksimova, would not be offered a job at the theater, lest he be accused of empire building.


Most renowned for his parts as Basil in "Don Quixote" and the title role of "Spartacus," Vasiliev has been praised for his broad range, compelling dynamism, and sensitive interpretation.


He dances rarely now, and when he does it is almost exclusively when partnering Maksimova.


"He's not physically built like a prince," said Smoak. "But from the beginning of his career he has combined masculinity with a certain godlike quality." Smoak referred particularly to a 'spirituality' and 'magic' that she said made every Vasiliev performance shine.


Vasiliev's unimposing build nearly kept him from the starring princely roles. He was dancing the character of Pan from the ballet "Walpurgis Night" when retired Bolshoi legend Galina Ulanova glimpsed greater talents in him, leading to his casting as the poet in "Les Sylphides." That, in turn, became a springboard for other principal parts.


Vasiliev's choreographic credits include "Icarus," "Macbeth," a musical entitled "Iona and Avos," several films, and his most successful and well-known ballet, "Anyuta," based on a short story by Anton Chekhov.


Receptive to foreign styles, Vasiliev was quick to experiment with new ideas, and often surprised Russian audiences accustomed to more classical productions.


He introduced Indian and Argentine themes into his choreography, and was among the first choreographers to have male performers dancing on pointe on a Russian stage.


But broad as his international experience may be, he may finally be returning -- full-time -- to the theater that trained him and nurtured him as a dancer.


As he discussed his future and that of the company, Vasiliev, who has dyed, bright yellow hair and a manner that is gentle but always assertive, said he hopes he can embody his vision of the Bolshoi as "a temple of art."