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Arrested Russian Director Serebrennikov's Nureyev Ballet Premieres In Moscow

The Bolshoi Theater building is reflected in a billboard announcing the Nureyev ballet premier in Moscow.

A highly anticipated Bolshoi Theater ballet about the life of Russian dance legend Rudolf Nureyev has premiered while its acclaimed director, Kirill Serebrennikov, remains under house arrest on fraud charges that have stunned the Russian artistic world and elicited support internationally.

The premiere of Nureyev, which stirred controversy when it was abruptly canceled earlier this year, drew a standing ovation from the audience in Moscow on December 9.

During the curtain call, at least three members of the show wore T-shirts that read "Freedom for the Director" and featured a photograph of Serebrennikov, 48, who had his house arrest extended by a Moscow court days earlier.

The director of Moscow's famed Gogol Theater was arrested in August, accused of embezzling some $1 million in state funds. He has called the charges absurd. In addition to his theatrical work, Serebrennikov is a respected filmmaker.

Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov at a court hearing in Moscow on December 4.
Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov at a court hearing in Moscow on December 4.

The Bolshoi canceled the premier of Nureyev at the last second in July amid speculation in Russian media that its treatment of the dancer's homosexuality prompted officials to shut it down.

Russia's conservative-minded culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, spoke with the Bolshoi's general director, Vladimir Urin, shortly before the originally planned premiere, though Medinsky denied interfering in "repertory politics." The Bolshoi said the show was canceled because it was not ready.

A principal dancer of St. Petersburg's Kirov Ballet, Nureyev asked for a political asylum in France while on tour in Paris in 1961. He died of AIDS-related illness in 1993 at the age of 54.

The criminal case against Serebrennikov has drawn international attention and prompted accusations that Russian authorities are targeting cultural figures who are at odds with President Vladimir Putin's government.

Serebrennikov has taken part in antigovernment protests and voiced concern about the increasing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the state.

Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a relative liberal who is reportedly on close terms with Putin, said on Twitter after the ballet's premiere that it is "unfair" that Serebrennikov was not in attendance.

Putin has dismissed concerns about Serebrennikov's case, claiming on October 30 that it has nothing to do with politics.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, attended the premiere and told the state-run TASS news agency that it is a "global event." He added that he did not see "anything provocative" in the show.

With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, AFP, AP, The Guardian, and Meduza