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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Choreographer's Murky Disappearance

Business, not ballet, took Dmitry Bryantsev, a leading Russian choreographer, to Prague, Czech Republic, last summer. And it may have gotten him killed.

The story of his disappearance is a murky tale that has been splashed across the Russian newspapers, rife with rumors of love affairs and real estate dealings.

What is certain is that Bryantsev, 57, the artistic director of Moscow's Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater, stepped out of his hotel near Wenceslas Square in Prague on June 28 and has not been seen since.

"It is an absolutely mysterious disappearance," said Alexander Gomenyuk, the press attache of the Russian Embassy in Prague, in a telephone interview.

Gomenyuk said that at the request of Czech investigators he could not discuss details of the case.

Sergei Shelegeda, a Russian Interior Ministry consultant who is serving as liaison to the Czech authorities in the investigation, said that the possibility that Bryantsev went into hiding for "commercial reasons or personal reasons" had not been ruled out, but that the generally accepted theory was that he was a crime victim.

A driver sent to pick up Bryantsev at a Moscow airport on June 30 could not find him, and he did not turn up for the new season of the company he led for nearly 20 years.

Colleagues said that Bryantsev -- described by Natalya Kolesova, a Moscow dance critic, as a "huge, imposing man" who "looked like a khan" -- was full of plans. The Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater, home to a ballet troupe and an opera company, is in the midst of a $170 million reconstruction spearheaded by Mayor Yury Luzhkov that will triple its space. The ballet troupe has long been regarded as Moscow's second major company, after the Bolshoi.

In Moscow just days before his disappearance, Bryantsev, whose choreographic works account for a third of the Stanislavsky Theater's repertory, had run the dancers through a rehearsal of his ballet in progress, set to Rachmaninoff. Vladimir Urin, the company's general director, said he hoped the ballet masters would be able to stage it.

Bryantsev was a partner in two Prague-registered businesses, and Urin said that his understanding was that investigators were examining the possibility that real estate dealings might have figured in the disappearance, though they had various versions of what might have occurred.

"The main versions are murder," Urin said. "Who is suspected, who is to blame, and so on and so forth, I unfortunately can't say anything, because the investigators didn't share these thoughts with me."

He said he had never talked with Bryantsev about his reasons for going into business. "These are new times," Urin said, referring to new opportunities Russians now have to make money. "I wouldn't want to make conjectures about why he suddenly decided to engage in business."

Real estate poses dangers for other figures in Moscow's arts world. Mikhail Levitin, artistic director of the Hermitage Theater, a historic building in a picturesque park on prime central Moscow real estate, has complained for years that he is being squeezed out by forces that want to turn the theater into an entertainment complex.

Levitin told the Russian media recently that he had been threatened with violence and warned that acid would be poured on his wife and that his baby daughter would be harmed if he did not leave his post.

"In our country art is always dangerous," said Kolesova, the dance critic. "Before the authorities persecuted for creative positions, now criminals persecute for real estate."

In Moscow, crimes connected to real estate deals take up reams of newsprint. Real estate development and speculation are among the Russian economy's most profitable sectors, but many investors have been lured abroad to places like the Czech Republic where prices are cheaper and the market is seemingly safer and more regulated than in Russia.

Urin said that Bryantsev lived comfortably from commissions to create ballets and from licensing fees for his dances. But Kolesova said that he probably would not have had the same financial opportunities as dancers, who could earn in a couple of performances on tour what they would earn in a month at the theater.

"He was one of our brightest choreographers of the second half of the 20th century," Kolesova said. "It is a great loss, since there are very few such choreographers. Not only in our country, but in the world."

Urin described Bryantsev as a man who loved to hunt and cook and who doted on his 3-year-old son, Vanya.

"He dreamed that when Vanya grows up a bit he would stage 'Bambi' for him," Urin said. The last ballet Bryantsev choreographed, "A Circus Has Arrived!", was for children.

Bryantsev's best-known works include "Salome" and "Shulamite," both biblical stories of adultery, and "Spirit Ball," set to Chopin. The Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Ballet has toured around the world, including the United States, receiving critical acclaim for its classical ballets with a modern twist. In Moscow, it holds its own without disappearing in the shadow of the Bolshoi Ballet, which is just down the street.

The search for Bryantsev continues. His company will have a new artistic director next season, Mikhail Lavrovsky, a former Bolshoi star. All of Bryantsev's ballets will remain in the repertory, Urin said.

"No other Moscow theater has the ballets we have," said Georgy Smilevsky, a Stanislavsky principal soloist. "They are a great treasure, and we must preserve them."