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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cancellations Threatened at Bolshoi

Performers at the Bolshoi Theater threatened Monday to cancel two performances if the government does not respond to their demands to oust the theater's general director, Vladimir Kokonin, by Dec. 28.

"We have to solve this conflict," said chief conductor Alexander Lazaryov at a press conference. "The decision can go either way but there has to be a decision."

The new threat follows a Dec 8. protest in which performers delayed the beginning of "Giselle" by 20 minutes to display their dissatisfaction with Kokonin.

Now, performers plan to cancel altogether performances of "The Queen of Spades" on Dec. 28 and "The Golden Age" on Dec. 29.

Led by Lazaryov and Yury Grigorovich, the artistic director and chief choreographer, performers have protested Kokonin's plan to replace lifetime tenure with a contract system and form a collegium to oversee artistic activity at the theater.

While they say that in principle they are not against either proposal, Lazaryov and Grigorovich say neither project can take effect until the theater can afford to pay higher salaries and involve employees in its decision-making.

"All these so-called reforms are made behind the backs of the artists and leaders of the Bolshoi Theater," Lazaryov said, complaining that he did not know the details of either the contract system or the collegium.

Saying they were speaking for the theater's artists, Lazaryov and Grigorovich also rejected plans to have a collegium composed largely of outsiders, rather than theater employees. "When I put on a performance it's my name that goes on the poster, not that of the collegium," Lazaryov said, "We're for personal responsibility."

The Culture Ministry could not be reached for comment, but Anatoly Kostyukovich, of the Federation Council's committee on science, culture and education, said he was fully behind Grigorovich's demands.

"Unfortunately, we see this problem differently from the government and we want to do everything possible so as not to ruin the theater and its prestige in the world, " Kostyukovich said.

And while many have criticized the theater for its lack of innovation in recent years, Kostyukovich defended its conservative approach.

"The Bolshoi is our national pride and it isn't the kind of establishment for experiments," he said, "You have to remember traditions."

But supporters of Kokonin and his plans to reform the theater consider the threat to strike, like the earlier protest, to be an empty gesture motivated more by performers' fears of Grigorovich than by concrete complaints.

"I'd understand it if they were asking for higher wages or something," said Gediminas Taranda, whom Grigorovich fired last February for taking a group of dancers on tour. "But all they want is to get rid of Kokonin and they don't even know why."