Bolshoi Babylon PG (S)

Bolshoi Babylon

With remarkable access to the inner workings of Russia’s world-famous Bolshoi Ballet this revealing and disconcerting documentary takes us inside a world of great artistry and intense rivalry during one of the most dramatic periods in its history.

On January 17, 2013, Sergei Filin, Ballet Director of the Bolshoi Theatre, was cornered outside his home and attacked with acid. Suffering third degree burns, he lost sight in one eye. While Filin recuperates, amidst a scandal that caused worldwide attention, former principle dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko goes on trial as the mastermind behind the attack. Intrigue, envy and sabotage seem commonplace in this world. Add in the flourishing culture of corruption and patronage – which extend all the way up to the Kremlin – revealed through candid interviews with key members and observers of the company and we can see how the crime reveals a viper's nest of professional jealousies, personal politics and deep fissures within the institution.

In a world where stakes are high by the sheer nature of a short, physically punishing career it’s perhaps inevitable that tensions run high in bodies that have trained from early childhood for careers and dreams only to see them fulfilled or derailed by whoever runs the company. What is perhaps more revealing though is the complicated portrait the ballet offers of the country as a whole as its artists, against a backdrop of deeply politicised interplay, strive for perfection against ruthless and often hidden forces. However you choose to read it, this fantastic documentary offers a unique window onto an institution balanced on a knife-edge between high-culture virtuosity and the brutal nature of aspiration in modern Russia.

"The Bolshoi is our secret weapon that we send now and then to the US, the UK, and other countries."

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev