Bolshoi Confidential by Simon Morrison
Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today

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Thankfully, 18th-century merchants and 19th-century men of letters are mere extras in Mr. Morrison’s backstage story; its central figures, like Plisetskaya, jump off its pages complex and alive.
-NY Times

Synopsis

An enthralling, definitive new history of the Bolshoi Ballet, where visionary performances onstage compete with political machinations backstage.

On a freezing night in January 2013, a hooded assailant hurled acid in the face of the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet. The crime, organized by a lead soloist, dragged one of Russia’s most illustrious institutions into scandal. The Bolshoi Theater had been a crown jewel during the reign of the tsars and an emblem of Soviet power throughout the twentieth century. Under Putin in the twenty-first century, it has been called on to preserve a priceless artistic legacy and mirror Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions. The attack and its torrid aftermath underscored the importance of the Bolshoi to the art of ballet, to Russia, and to the world.

The acid attack resonated far beyond the world of ballet, both into Russia’s political infrastructure and, as renowned musicologist Simon Morrison shows in his tour-de-force account, the very core of the Bolshoi’s unparalleled history. With exclusive access to state archives and private sources, Morrison sweeps us through the history of the storied ballet, describing the careers of those onstage as well as off, tracing the political ties that bind the institution to the varying Russian regimes, and detailing the birth of some of the best-loved ballets in the repertoire.

From its disreputable beginnings in 1776 at the hand of a Faustian charlatan, the Bolshoi became a point of pride for the tsarist empire after the defeat of Napoleon in 1812. After the revolution, Moscow was transformed from a merchant town to a global capital, its theater becoming a key site of power. Meetings of the Communist Party were hosted at the Bolshoi, and the Soviet Union was signed into existence on its stage. During the Soviet years, artists struggled with corrosive censorship, while ballet joined chess tournaments and space exploration as points of national pride and Cold War contest. Recently, a $680 million restoration has restored the Bolshoi to its former glory, even as prized talent has departed.

As Morrison reveals in lush and insightful prose, the theater has been bombed, rigged with explosives, and reinforced with cement. Its dancers have suffered unimaginable physical torment to climb the ranks, sometimes for so little money that they kept cows at home whose milk they could sell for food. But the Bolshoi has transcended its own fraught history, surviving 250 years of artistic and political upheaval to define not only Russian culture but also ballet itself. In this sweeping, definitive account, Morrison demonstrates once and for all that, as Russia goes, so goes the Bolshoi Ballet.

16 pages of illustrations
 

About Simon Morrison

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Simon Morrison is Professor of Music History at Princeton, where he earned his PhD in musicology. A leading authority on composer Serge Prokofiev, he is the author of The People's Artist, along with numerous scholarly articles, and features for the New York Times. In 2011, Morrison was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
 
Published October 11, 2016 by Liveright. 532 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Arts & Photography, Travel, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Bolshoi Confidential
All: 3 | Positive: 1 | Negative: 2

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Daria Khitrova on Nov 13 2016

Thankfully, 18th-century merchants and 19th-century men of letters are mere extras in Mr. Morrison’s backstage story; its central figures, like Plisetskaya, jump off its pages complex and alive.

Read Full Review of Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets... | See more reviews from NY Times

Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Sarah Crompton on Nov 10 2016

It is what unfolds on stage that makes the Bolshoi matter. This is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes, but it pays too little attention to what happens when the curtain rises.

Read Full Review of Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets... | See more reviews from Guardian

Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Lucy Ash on Oct 31 2016

Simon Morrison’s Bolshoi Confidential lifts the curtain on Russia’s best-known cultural institution. An intoxicating mix of grandeur and gossip, it charts luminous performances on stage and sordid machinations in the wings from the age of Catherine the Great to that of Vladimir Putin.

Read Full Review of Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets... | See more reviews from Guardian
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