Friday, 15 February 2013

Sergei Filin and the Power of the Arts

“I forgive everyone, and God will be their judge” were the words of Bolshoi Ballet artistic director Sergei Filin on Russian television last week. Currently recovering in hospital, Filin suffered severe burns during a work-related acid attack outside his home on 17 January.

Whilst the attack has prompted outrage, it typifies the level of unrest in the Moscow-based ballet company. Dancers and other staff have recently spoken out to the media regarding unhappiness with the company’s artistic programme and casting.

Filin’s attack is the latest in a series of scandals at the Bolshoi Ballet. Former artistic director, Gennady Yanin, was forced to resign in 2011 after erotic photos of him were posted online. Over the last three months, Filin has received death threats as well as having his tyres slashed and email and Facebook accounts hacked. Police believe the person responsible may be a rival for the Bolshoi’s high-profile director position.

Former dancer Filin remains positive despite his extensive injuries, describing how he once performed Swan Lake with a broken leg. “In comparison, my current hardships aren't so awful – dancing on a broken leg is a lot worse.” He may lose his sight but is insistent he will return to work: “I don't feel angry, I'm not in despair. I'll carry on in just the same way leading the Bolshoi Ballet.” 

Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin in the Royal Ballet's Marguerite and Armand
Photo by Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
In the wake of these horrific attacks, I question how, why and when the arts stopped being a vehicle for creativity and expression and instead became an excuse for violence. There’s no simple answer to this, but I want to take a moment to remember the power the arts have to unite societies and provide inspiration.

On taking up her position as artistic director of English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo (pictured) stated: “We know the arts sustain us, inspire us, and challenge us to think about our lives. In tough times like this when hope in the future is lost, the arts help lift spirits and waken ambition.”

I know from my background as a teacher the capacity of the arts to engage people of all ages and give them an experience that is both mentally and physically rewarding. Particularly beneficial for young people, the arts encourage working together, developing confidence, having fun and expressing feelings and opinions.

For example, the Royal Ballet’s Chance to Dance programme currently works in 20 London schools, offering children in underprivileged areas quite literally the ‘chance to dance’. A number of former participants have now progressed to full-time vocational dance training and the programme leaves students, according to one teacher, feeling “universally inspired”.
As Filin recovers from his ordeal, it’s important to remember that the arts are here to engage and inspire and should never be a reason for hostility.

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