In about-face, Russia's Bolshoi sets premiere for 'Nureyev' ballet

The Bolshoi Theatre building reflected in a plaque announcing the "Nureyev" ballet in Moscow was cancelled in July, but is now set to premiere in December. (AFP Photo/Mladen ANTONOV) (AFP)

Moscow (AFP) - The Bolshoi Theatre announced Friday that the premiere of a controversial ballet about Russian dance legend Rudolf Nureyev was set for December, in a sudden about-face after it was shockingly cancelled.

In a move unprecedented in the theatre's modern history, the Bolshoi in July cancelled the world premiere of "Nureyev" just three days before opening night, after a top director was questioned in a high-profile criminal probe.

The ballet, which is based on the life story of Nureyev, the superstar dancer who defected from the Soviet Union and found new fame in the West before dying from an AIDS-related illness in 1993, will premiere on December 9, according to the Bolshoi's website.

The ballet has been staged by Kirill Serebrennikov, a celebrated theatre and film director who was put under house arrest in August accused of defrauding the state of over $1 million in arts funding, charges he has called "absurd."

His case has been decried by the arts community as a sign of pressure and censorship in an atmosphere of growing conservatism.

The Bolshoi said in July that the premiere had been "postponed to a later date" and its director Vladimir Urin explained the decision by saying the production was not ready.

However, speculation swirled that the move was a result of government pressure linked to the portrayal of Nureyev's homosexuality in the production, which features male dancers in dresses, and the criminal case against Serebrennikov.

Bolshoi theatre director Vladimir Urin told state-controlled TASS news agency that the decision to set the date for the premiere was made after Serebrennikov gave his permission to do so.

Urin said that Serebrennikov agreed with the date, adding that the director understood "that his participation is most likely impossible."

Urin added that the production would be finalised by choreographer Yuri Possokhov, who would ask investigators to allow Serebrennikov to help with preparations if need be.

Serebrennikov's house arrest will last until October 19 and a court will later decide whether to extend it.

A judge has ruled that allowing the director to go to work is up to investigators.