Putin Advises Valery Gergiev to Merge Bolshoi Ballet and Mariinsky Theatre

The merger would see the Russian ballet system return to its pre-Revolution origins, while also creating new work for Gergiev after his fall from grace in the West

(Photo credit: Hiroyuki Ito)


Vladimir Putin has reportedly asked disgraced Russian conductor Valery Gergiev to consider becoming the director of a merger between Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre (of which he is already Music Director) and its counterpart in St. Petersburg, the Mariinsky Theatre.

Prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky (including their orchestra, ballet, and theatre companies as well as their associated schools) all fell under the command of a single music director, who oversaw matters in both Moscow and St. Petersburg.

As reported by the state-owned Russian news agency Tass, Putin allegedly asked Gergiev "How do you feel about the idea of re-creating a common directorate?". Gergiev's carefully framed response was to say that "it seems to me that, perhaps, this can have far-reaching and full-fledged favorable opportunities."

The rationale behind Putin's suggestion is likely to be pragmatic rather than artistic. Both ballet companies have been steadily losing dancers who hail from countries outside Russia, as they resign in protest against Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, even Russian-born dancers have been jumping ship — including the Bolshoi's star ballerina Olga Smirnova, who recently left for the Dutch National Ballet. Smirnova, who has one Ukrainian grandparent, remarked that she "never thought [she] would be ashamed of Russia."

Gergiev, who has long been a close supporter of Putin, is now reaping the rewards for his loyalty after refusing to denounce Putin's invasion of Ukraine. In the West, however, this refusal led to him losing an enormous proportion of his work outside of Russia.

It is also possible that Vladimir Urin, who is currently the Bolshoi's General Director, is also being punished for his decision to sign an open letter that condemned the war in Ukraine.