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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strike Was A Disservice To Bolshoi

When the curtain rose on Sergei Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Bolshoi on Friday night, dancer Valery Gromov strode calmly onto the stage and announced that there would be no performance. For the first time in the 219-year history of one of the world's greatest theaters, the show would not go on.

Although performances resumed Sunday, the dispute between the theater's management and its artists continues. The walkout was prompted by the resignation on Thursday of ballet master Yury Grigorovich, who has long dominated the Bolshoi and is blamed by many for the theater's artistic stagnation of recent years. Saturday, management responded quickly, suspending 15 employees who were responsible for the strike.

The whole incident is a sad comment on the state of affairs at the Bolshoi and an indication of the daunting challenge awaiting Grigorovich's replacement, respected dancer and choreographer Vladimir Vasiliev.

The Bolshoi strike was simply unforgivable. The dancers' argument that a walkout was the only way to draw public attention to their plight is patently absurd. The controversy has already gotten extensive press coverage, and any of the theater's leading dancers could get publicity without difficulty.

What the strike is really about is that many dancers are unwilling to admit that the Bolshoi is in serious trouble and that painful changes are going to be required to get it back on its feet. The theater's bloated company will have to be reduced, and dancers who formerly enjoyed lifetime tenure are going to have to face the fact that the theater's new contract system means that young dancers will have increased opportunities to move into the company.

On the other hand, the contracts should increase dancers' freedom, provide greater opportunity for talent and allow the company's best dancers to perform abroad -- for big money -- without severing their ties to the Bolshoi.

Naturally, many of the dancers are afraid of the changes. And the result of that fear will inevitably be more unrest. Perhaps it is even for the best that so many recalcitrants, including Grigorovich's favorite Maria Bylova, have been removed from the theater at one go as a result of the strike.

Although it is by no means clear whether the Bolshoi's director, Vladimir Kokonin, or Vasiliev will be able to return the theater to its former glory, they are to be commended for making the effort and have earned the chance to make their vision work.

Reaction to the strike shows that interest in the theater is still high. Further walkouts, though, will do nothing to increase sympathy for the dancers. But some breathtaking performances and a dazzling world tour might just do the trick.