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Bolshoi Theater restoration delayed again

The restoration of Moscow's world-renowned Bolshoi Theater is to endure more delays, after its stage fell silent, the auditorium emptied and one of the world's most legendary theater buildings closed its doors in 2005.

A rapid restoration and reopening was promised, but each projected completion date has been repeatedly knocked back.

What's more, the costly project is now being investigated by prosecutors amid claims of massive embezzlement.

Nikita Shangin, author of a major reconstruction plan, spent eight years working on the project, until last summer.

“What worries me now is that the design decisions we had taken by 2007 were competent, but they were dismissed by non-professionals for their own interests,” grieves Shangin. “The question now is how to get out of the dead-end we're in, thanks to this bureaucratic power abuse.”

Major repairs to Russia’s main stage had been long overdue. Built in the first half of the 19th Century, by the 21st more than 70% of the building was in need of work: cracks were visible even on the façade, and an underground stream was found that had been undermining the foundations.

The Bolshoi Theatre project
The original scheme promised a theatre of the future. Floor space would be doubled and a chamber hall constructed under the main building. And for swift scenery changes, the sole stage would make way for three.

But the plans kept changing so much that last month the prosecutor’s investigation committee said it was now looking into the company awarded the lucrative renovation contract. The firm had allegedly been paid three times for performing the same work.

“From 2003 till 2009, over 950 million rubles was transferred to the account of the company in charge of the reconstruction, instead of a sum that had been fixed earlier in the contract,” claims Vladimir Markin, spokesman of prosecutor general's office.

While the work and rows wrangle on, the Bolshoi ballet corps and opera house have been performing at the so-called New Stage nearby. But it has won few fans, including former Bolshoi ballerinas.

“I feel a big part of the spirit of Bolshoi has been destroyed together with the building,” mourns ballet dancer Anastassia Volochkova.

“In my opinion the current new stage looks more like a nightclub, and it’s impossible to create an atmosphere of a real theater there! Sometimes when I stop by I can see a woeful mood reigns among the artists,” says Volochkova.

Despite the criticism of the present venue and the problems with the old, in the best tradition of the stage, the show, as they say, must go on. The Bolshoi company has just opened its 234th season, and is busy planning for the future.

Bolshoi Theater press-secretary Katerina Novikova assures that “The main thing for us is that all these investigations do not delay the reopening even further. We were promised recently that the main building would open on the 2nd October, 2011. So all our plans have been made taking into account that date. The actors cannot wait for the restoration to finish on time.”

And neither, it seems, can the Kremlin, which now says it will exercise greater vigilance over Bolshoi spending in a bid finally to get the theater reopened.

The restoration saga continues with some claiming that, realistically, the building will not be able to reopen any earlier than 2013. And while tickets for the company's shows in Moscow still sell out and its stars are booked to appear on stages around the world, it seems everyone will just have to continue waiting patiently for the day the Bolshoi and its theater shine together again.