Russia’s shiny new Bolshoi Theater

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Russia’s shiny new Bolshoi Theater

MOSCOW - When Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater threw open its doors after a six-year renovation, a gilded handle broke off in a reporter’s hand during the first dress rehearsal for the opening opera. It was a palpable sign that after a $700 million restoration Moscow’s theatrical jewel is struggling to live up to a centuries-old reputation as a bastion of Russian culture.

In the three months since its reopening, performers have criticized the renovation, audiences booed its operatic premiere and complained about ticket prices, two Bolshoi ballet stars decamped to a rival theatre, and other dancers suffered injuries.

“The theater is in a difficult situation,” said Valeria Uralskaya, editor-in-chief of Russia’s Ballet Magazine, adding the troupe, who performed at a smaller New Stage during the refurbishing, needs time to grow into the new surroundings.

The renovation returned real gold leaf and alabaster to the 18th-century theater’s grandiose interior.

Engineers boasted every piece of decor was made out of special materials designed to bounce back sound to improve the acoustics. Back stage, however, dancers grumbled that practice rooms had become cramped and the Bolshoi had lost the kind of charm that can only exist with the patina of a bygone era.

“The theatre’s spirit has completely deteriorated,” Marianna Ryzhkina, Bolshoi’s prima ballerina in her 22nd season, told Reuters while sipping tea in her dressing room after a recent performance.

“The rehearsal space has been taken apart and replaced with office-like rooms with low ceilings and other defects,” she said lounging in a sweatsuit at odds with her heavy stage make-up.

Two dance studios have sloping ceilings so low, the dancers risk bumping their heads during high lifts, Ryzhkina said. Many of the theater’s long-serving staff say they are nostalgic for the creaking parquet floors and squeaky wooden doors, now replaced with bland beige tiles and plastic.

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