Bolshoi Confidential

Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today

Publisher: Knopf Canada
In this enthralling, definitive new history of the Bolshoi Ballet, sensational performances onstage compete with political machinations backstage.


On January 17, 2013, a hooded assailant hurled acid into the face of the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, making international headlines. A lead soloist, enraged by institutional power struggles, later confessed to masterminding the crime. The scandal, though shocking, is not an anomaly in the turbulent and tormented yet magnificent history of the Bolshoi. Renowned music historian Simon Morrison reveals the ballet as a crucible of art and politics, beginning with the disreputable inception of the theatre in 1776 and proceeding through the era of imperial rule, the chaos of revolution, the oppressive Soviet years, and the recent $680 million renovation project. Drawing on exclusive archival research, Morrison creates a richly detailed tableau of the centuries-long war between world-class art and life-threatening politics that has defined this storied institution. As Morrison makes clear, as Russia goes, so goes the Bolshoi Ballet.

PRAISE FOR

“[E]legantly written. . . . Morrison has an eye for an anecdote. . . . [A]n impressive and entertaining piece of work, one that deserves admirers among both balletomanes and relative newcomers. It sheds fascinating new light on the Bolshoi.” —Mark Monahan, The Daily Telegraph

Bolshoi Confidential . . . delivers what its title promises: struggles and intrigues, crimes and punishments, imperial jewels and Soviet medals. . . . The insider look in Bolshoi Confidential is incredibly rich and makes this book a page-turner. . . . Morrison gives the story of the Swan Lake disaster a thorough and thoughtful treatment. . . . To organize from the multitude of competing voices (each with its own story and each ready to tell everyone else’s stories), a clear and fascinating narrative is one problem Bolshoi Confidential successfully resolves. . . . [I]ts central figures, like Plisetskaya, jump off its pages complex and alive.” —Daria Khitrova, The New York Times

“[A] rewarding and entertaining history.” —The Week (UK)

[A]n incredibly well-researched and meticulously detailed history of Russia’s cultural behemoth. . . . As a musicologist (Morrison is a professor of music at Princeton University) his writing about the besieged Soviet composers Shostakovich and Prokofiev gleams especially bright. This is a scholarly text and there is no doubting the scale of the task undertaken. Copious amounts of information have been gleaned from trawling through state archives and private papers, going back more than two hundred years. . . . [T]he ballet-loving reader will lap up its wealth of background and gossip. As a resource, this book will prove invaluable.” —The Times

“[A] sweeping tale of how the perpetually turbulent history of Mother Russia from the time of the czars till now is reflected in the mirrored walls of one of the most famous ballets in the world.” —Maclean’s

“[A]n impressive, sweeping account of the theatre from its beginnings in 1776.” —Metro

“Charming and astonishingly detailed. . . . The Bolshoi’s dancers, ballets and composers, its administrators and detractors and supporters—all are tantalizingly depicted here, including the evolution of Swan Lake, the Chinese denunciation of pigtails in The Red Poppy and the twenty-first-century, $680-million-plus renovation of the Bolshoi Theater. Balletomanes will drool and sigh, music lovers will be fascinated. . . . A riveting history.” —Booklist (starred)

“A sweeping, grandly intriguing story at the interface of art and power. . . . Morrison frames his story, always readable and brimming with curious anecdotes, with the recent, newsworthy acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin, a strange episode that exposed not just clashes of individual personalities, but also competing views of what the Bolshoi should be, some of which may have emanated from inside the walls of the neighboring Kremlin. A must for ballet buffs. . . . [A] look backstage that is both lively and learned.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“If you are intrigued by Russian history, Bolshoi Confidential—despite its incongruously lurid title—will fascinate you. If you love ballet, this story of one of the world's oldest and greatest ballet companies should be a star attraction—as an added bonus—you will be able to feel as if you’ve gleaned, from the keyhole of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, a reliable peek at 235 years of the country’s history. Morrison, who is a professor of music at Princeton University, gives the Bolshoi a first-rate historical treatment.” —Bob Blaisdell, Christian Science Monitor

“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. . . . Sweeping and authoritative.” —Lucy Ash, The Guardian

“The title means what it says. There’s plenty of scandal here: arson, double suicide, dead cats flung at curtain calls. At the same time, the book is energetically researched, beautifully written—fun, relaxed, sophisticated—and full of serious ideas, boldly stated.” —Joan Acocella, dance critic for The New Yorker
 
“A colorful and erudite view on Russia through the tumultuous history of the sumptuous Bolshoi.” —Peter Pomeranzev, author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible
 
“Simon Morrison’s Bolshoi Confidential is a magisterial portrait of the art, intrigue and politics buffeting Russia’s great cultural institution, the Bolshoi Ballet. From its birth in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars to the corrosive intrigues of the twenty-first century, ballet was the heart of Soviet compliance and attempted resistance. A chilling cautionary tale about the perils of art pressed into the service of dogma and subdued into a servant of the state, Bolshoi Confidential offers fresh details about how deeply and indelibly Stalinist censorship bruised culture, artists and audiences in the USSR.” —Janice Ross, author of Like A Bomb Going Off: Leonid Yakobson and Ballet as Resistance in Soviet Russia
 
“Another marvelously informative book from Simon Morrison, dishing this time on Russia's great musical theater, onstage and off. It is a wonderful read, full of intriguing spectacle and spectacular intrigue.” —Richard Taruskin, author of The Oxford History of Western Music
 
“Simon Morrison has written an engrossing history of one of Russia’s most enduring cultural institutions. Bolshoi Confidential deftly shatters the distinctions between high-brow and low-brow, art and politics, authority and violence.” —Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana and A World on Fire

“Bankruptcies, corrosive conflicts, dramatic shifts of power! Simon Morrison’s history of the Bolshoi is a treasure. His research is impeccable, his prose captivating. Bolshoi Confidential is a real treat not just for balletomanes, but for anyone fascinated by the intersection between art and politics.” —Eva Stachniak, author of The Winter Palace and Empress of the Night

“A toe-bleedingly close look at the Russian ballet.” —Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair

“Masterful. . . . Bolshoi Confidential . . . is much more than a compendium of ballerinas behaving badly. Rather, it offers a rich, fascinating and nuanced examination of the role of the arts in Russian history, one that highlights their profound importance to the creation of a national identity and their troubled relationship with the country’s rulers.” —Douglas Smith, Wall Street Journal

“Morrison turns to the past in order to unpack the conundrum of the Bolshoi within the enigma-wrapped, mystery-obscured riddle of the Russian state. . . . All of this makes for good, even great, fodder. . . . [S]ex scandals, double-suicide pacts, bribery, arson, executions, prostitution rings, embezzlement, starving orphans, dead cats in lieu of flowers and ballerinas refusing to shave their armpits.” —Madison Mainwaring, The New Republic

“Morrison sweeps readers through the storied company’s 240-year history, describing key figures onstage and off, political ties to various regimes and the births of many famous ballets.” —Dance Studio Life