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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Season Of Hope for The Bolshoi

Throughout the Soviet era, the Bolshoi Theater was arguably the nation's greatest achievement, bringing the kind of international respect that even the Soviet Union's awesome military never could. When the West talked of its freedoms and material wealth, the long-suffering Soviet people pointed with pride to the Bolshoi's stunning ballets and operas.

The Bolshoi's status as the world's premiere theater has been under attack, though, for at least the last decade. And in recent years, its decline has become painfully, almost scandalously, obvious.

Morale at the company is low and standards have generally been in decline. Many talented performers have left for greener pastures abroad. Perhaps the most embarrassing blow was the cancellation of a proposed tour of England because of poor ticket sales.

Many people blame the theater's downturn on the stifling domination of artistic director Yury Grigorovich and general director Vladimir Kokonin which has driven many talented artists away. Others point to the lack of financing needed to compete on the world market. Still others complain of a general lack of interest in the fine arts these days on the part of the government and society.

Grigorovich's role is difficult to assess, and no one can deny the invaluable contribution he has made to the theater and to culture generally over his long career. The art world is eagerly awaiting next year's salute to him which will present all 12 of the ballets that he created for the theater. However, it is clear that something had to be done to break the current deadlock. Even Grigorovich's supporters say that the conflict has drained his creative energy.

President Boris Yeltsin's new decree may be just what is needed to get things moving again. It establishes a contract basis for employment at the theater, giving security to young artists and providing grounds for dismissing the theater's stagnant management. It also creates a board of directors made up of prominent cultural figures. The decree is an encouraging sign that the government is again taking an active interest in the future of this national treasure.

However, Yeltsin's decree is a bureaucratic measure and as such it presents two dangers. First, it will take time to implement, time that seems all the more precious as the new theater season gets underway. Second, there is the looming threat that the Bolshoi's old dictatorship will simply be replaced by an equally unimaginative bureaucracy.

But for now art-lovers have hope for the first time in many years. The air is full of rumors that figures such as ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, composer Rodion Shchedrin and conductor/cellist Mstislav Rostropovich are ready to take part in revitalizing the Bolshoi. Just imagine the possibilities.