SINGAPORE - The world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet has been making headlines, more for behind-the-scenes drama this year than its onstage accomplishments.
One of the oldest and most prestigious classical-ballet companies in the world, the Bolshoi's shadowy inner workings spilled into the real world in January when artistic director Sergei Filin, 43, was attacked by a masked assailant, who threw acid in his face.
The attack, which left Filin near-blind and needing more than 20 operations, is back in the spotlight when the trial started last week.
Leading Bolshoi Ballet soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko, 29, has been charged with masterminding the attack, which was supposedly due to a dispute over the casting of Swan Lake.
The classic Russian ballet is what the Bolshoi will be staging at the Esplanade Theatre next week as part of its only appearance in Asia this year.
A hundred dancers from the Moscow-based company will be performing the choreography of Yuri Grigorovich, set to the Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra's rendition of Tchaikovsky's score.
The 2hr 45min production tells the love story of young Princess Odette, who is under a curse which only true love can break, and Prince Siegfried. Tickets for some shows are sold out, with the remaining selling fast.
Ask the cast about the attack, which has resulted in the appointment of temporary artistic director Galina Stepanenko, and some dancers admit that the negative attention has been a bane.
Ekaterina Shipulina, 34, who will be taking on the dual role of Odette-Odile in Singapore, says: "It is true that in the last year, the press has often been mentioning Bolshoi in a context related to the scandals or intrigues with such a negative attitude.
"For the artists, it is quite hard not to pay attention to it, as we are one company and we are suffering the difficulties together."
Other dancers, though, say the harsh spotlight and internal politics have not been a distraction. Principal dancer Semyon Chudin, 28, who will be dancing Prince Siegfried, says that having a common artistic goal is the most important thing.
The company is currently presenting Marco Spada, a ballet created by French choreographer Pierre Lacotte, and Chudin explains: "Each one of us is trying to make his stage character so special we even have a small artistic rivalry. We are looking at each other and learning from each other, and so I think once you are fully taken by your creative work, you simply have no time to be distracted from it. You have no time to participate in scandal."
David Hallberg, 31, the first American principal dancer in the Bolshoi Ballet, adds: "It doesn't affect the training. Regardless of scandal or incident, Bolshoi goes on to create art. Art is the most important thing in Bolshoi's directive."
Hallberg will be dancing the role of Prince Siegfried in Singapore, and says that the version of Swan Lake which will be staged in Singapore is a technically challenging one.
Hallberg, who previously danced Swan Lake with the American Ballet Theatre, says: "Siegfried at the Bolshoi is very, very difficult, because it's the version of Grigorovich, and he puts a lot of demands on the dancers, which is fabulous but very challenging as well."
Shipulina, who will dance the role of the good princess Odette and her evil counterpart Odile, says: "Sometimes people ask me: Are you doing the white act or black? And I say, I am doing both. It is impossible to say which I prefer, some days your mood goes better with the white act, and some days you feel more as Odile. But I do love both of them, as they are so different and you really can show different sides of your nature."
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