A clamor in the mountains

Ein Geschrei im Gebirge - tanz.dance
The air is thin in the mountains, here in the Bogdo-Baskunchak Nature Reserve in Astrakhan Oblast near the Caspian Sea

Andrey Belavin

Who stays? Who has to go? Not only oppositional forces like Alexei Navalny have to leave forever. The great change of directors in Russia’s ballet also includes the most famous sacking of all – that of Vladimir Urin from the Bolshoi in Moscow.

This is the story of a journey across a vast country through which I have been travelling for over half a century – from Perm in the east to Yekaterinburg in the Urals and Astrakhan not far from the Caspian Sea in the south. It is the story of a contemporary who has taken the train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg hundreds of times and to whom the landscapes of Russia are as familiar as the soft velvet seats in the theaters whose names the whole world knows: the Bolshoi in Moscow and the Mariinsky in Saint Petersburg.

Saint Petersburg

Vitali Adutskevich

It is a story told by a contemporary witness, and not in an attempt to compare today’s Russia with another Russia – the Russia of perestroika or the Soviet Union. The whole world knows that Russia and its ballet are inextricably linked – a ballet that flourished under tsars and tsarinas, and of which nothing comparable can be expected under the current autocracy.

At best, one might think that Russia’s own good old ballet tradition is now being honored more intensely than ever, and that it is once again emerging pure and whitewashed by all the influences from New York, Paris, London, and Madrid that have touched it over the decades. But even that would be asking too much of the guardians of the theaters and ballet academies. They are traditionalists, that is true, but are they sufficiently equipped to inspire the new personnel, to instill the motivation to want to create art, the ambition to interpret and continue the great Russian dance heritage in a younger, current generation?

Dancing on the outskirts of Moscow

Ekaterina Glushchenko

I have therefore traveled once again and have seen with my own eyes that we live in a country that is trying harder than ever to evade external influences – a country that is throwing itself unrestrainedly at the public, at the people, in order to pull the rubles out of their pockets and not to discipline or educate them, as was once the case.
But what do they want to offer us today, all the theaters, the companies, the choreographers? Where do they stand intellectually? Questions whose answers culminated for a moment in the supposedly “voluntary” departure of long-time artistic director and host Vladimir Urin from the center of Moscow, the Bolshoi, a man who was replaced in December 2023 by none other than Valery Gergiev. This spectacular change marks the beginning of my journey through a country in an increasingly desperate search for its arts.

Read on …

Traveling in Russia


This is a breathtaking journey to the land of the Nutcracker and the land of voluntary self-censorship – a story of corrupt mice kings and cowardice, desperate dance idealism and a dubious understanding of tradition.

… or as a lover read for free