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Bolshoi Babylon


Stars: (Documentary): Sergei Filin, Vladimir Urin, Maria Alexandrova, Roman Abramov, Boris Akimov, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Maria Allash

Director: Nick Read

Although it fails to reveal anything too terrible, it soon becomes obvious from this documentary on Russia's famous ballet company that the Bolshoi is not a happy place. In-fighting, competition for places (and work) and disagreements make both dancers and management ill-at-ease with other. 'If you cross to management,' remarks one ballerina grimly, 'you cross over to the dark side.'

This is precisely what ex-principal dancer Sergei Filin has done, and the film's focal point is the acid attack on Filin in 2013 that slightly disfigured his face and cost him the sight of one eye.

However, Filin, as dance manager, is not a popular man, antagonising the dancers and at odds with authority. 'Underneath the glamour,' says one observer, 'everything is boiling.' And prima ballerina Alexandrova, stressed out at not going on tour, adds that 'there is something wrong, something has changed. It's not the Bolshoi I dreamt of.'

Nonetheless, the company's performances remain ecstatically received. And the film fails to pinpoint the cause of its malaise. There are too many general shots, too many talking heads for the film to achieve a consistent focus, or explain why one observer describes the Bolshoi as 'a rubbish dump full of rats.'

However, the ballet scenes themselves are richly, evocatively shot, giving you more reason to watch the company's performances than to stay away.

David Quinlan

UK/Germany 2015. UK Distributor: Altitude. Colour/black and white.
86 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 06 Jan 2016