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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bolshoi Performers Protest Reforms

Tensions over the future of the Bolshoi Theater flared Wednesday as the theater's dancers, singers and musicians met to protest reforms ordered by President Boris Yeltsin.

At a meeting of workers' committees of the opera, ballet and orchestra, 600 company members voted to put a new contract system to a secret ballot. A display of protest -- a half-hour delay of the Dec. 8 performance of "Giselle" -- is being considered.

"The contract system is bad for the company right now," said one young dancer, who asked not be named. "If they want to get rid of dancers, they should just fire them. Why play games?"

"The theater just doesn't have the money to pay dancers enough to implement a Western-style contract system," one ballerina said, on condition of anonymity.

Yeltsin signed a decree in September introducing contracts for all staff at the Bolshoi. The decree was intended to launch a new regime of professionalism and accountability at the ailing theater. Employees have traditionally been assured a job for life, although performers have often suffered from an arbitrary system of favoritism. It is these things the contract system is aimed at ending.

Another change would install a board, or collegium, of prominent personalities in the arts and government, who would oversee artistic standards.

Most vocal at the meeting were Yury Grigorovich, the Bolshoi's artistic director and chief choreographer, chief conductor Vladimir Lazarev and principal set designer Valery Levantal.

"The proposed collegium is nonsense," Levantal said. "We already suffered through this sort of unprofessional artistic council once, under Soviet power."

Grigorovich said he was prepared to leave the theater if necessary, but was worried about "the fate of the collective." Grigorovich's threat came on the heels of a report that former Bolshoi principal Vladimir Vasiliev had been invited to replace Grigorovich. Vasiliev told The Moscow Times on Monday that he had accepted the job with the proviso that the contract system be instituted.

Culture Ministry spokeswoman Natalya Uvarova, who had said Tuesday that Vasiliev's appointment was decided at a top government level after consultation with the president's administration and the State Duma, said Wednesday that was incorrect. Uvarova said no official decree had been signed.

At a rehearsal of "Don Quixote" following the workers' meeting Wednesday, Grigorovich categorically denied his departure is imminent.

"Rubbish," he said. "Three days ago I was with the culture minister and he told me that as far as the Bolshoi Theater is concerned, nothing had been decided. People who pretend to know any differently don't know what the hell they're talking about."

In an earlier vote of just the ballet employees, workers' committee chief Yury Vladimirov said that of 183 participants, 168 voted against the collegium system, 161 against the contract system, and 164 against the policies of General Director Vladimir Kokonin, whom they see as an advocate of the contract system.

None of the votes has legal standing, but they are intended to signal to the government that it should back down on its proposed changes.