The other Russian ballet drama: Kekhman and the Mikhailovsky

With so much media attention on the Bolshoi Ballet due to the attack in January on its artistic director, the dramatic events at another Russian ballet company have taken a back seat in the news.

The Mikhailovsky Theatre of St Petersburg has announced that Nacho Duato, the artistic director of the ballet, is taking up the artistic directorship of the Staatsballett Berlin in August next year, replacing Vladimir Malakhov.

Duato will remain artistic director of the Mikhailovsky ballet until the beginning of February 2014 and “will continue to work with the company on a regular basis”, according to a media release.

Duato took up his appointment at the Mikhailovsky in January 2011, just a little more than two years ago, and may well have been unsettled by events at the theatre during the course of 2012/13.

Over the last few weeks, there’s been an escalation in the ongoing financial troubles of Vladimir Kekhman, the majority owner and general director of the Mikhailovsky Theatre.

Kekhman, founder of the importer, Joint Fruit Company, hired Duato as the ballet’s artistic director and lured the superstar couple, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, from the Bolshoi in late 2011.

The Russian press has recently reported that Kekhman has been barred from leaving Russia and ordered to pay part of his salary to debtors.

Acting on behalf of several banks, among them Sberbank, Uralsib, Raiffeisen Bank International and Bank of Moscow, St Petersburg bailiffs have frozen some of Kekhman’s assets – non-residential estate, a plot of land and cash.

The bailiffs are reported to be seeking 285 million rubles ($US9.3 million) in alleged unpaid bank debts.

At the end of last month (January 2013), The New York Times reported that law enforcement officials searched Kekhman’s offices as part of a widening fraud investigation into the Joint Fruit Company.

“Officials with the Interior Ministry told the news agency Interfax that it had uncovered evidence that between 2010 and 2012 leaders of the Joint Fruit Company had used falsified contracts with fictitious businesses to obtain large loans from major banks”, the Times reported.

“Investigators said Mr Kekhman was not a target of the investigation. The Joint Fruit Company filed for bankruptcy last year after creditors sought repayment of the loans. Mr Kekhman issued a statement saying that he was ‘outraged’ by the fraud allegations against company officials and that he was cooperating with law enforcement”.

Last November, Kekhman was successful in seeking individual bankruptcy at the High Court of Justice in London, and in this way protecting his foreign assets from creditors.

The case was reported as the first time a Russian businessman had sought individual bankruptcy in a foreign court.

The Bank of Moscow is now reported as asking the High Court of Justice to reverse its ruling on the bankruptcy.

The ban on Kekhman leaving Russia is to last until 12 August so that seems to put paid to any plans he had to travel to London for the Mikhailovsky Theatre’s ballet season at the Coliseum beginning on 26 March. The tour will feature Osipova and Vasiliev as well as guest principals, Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes.

Kekhman has owned the Mikhailovsky Theatre since 2007 and told The New York Times that he had invested $US40 million into restoring it.

When he lured Osipova and Vasiliev from the Bolshoi, Kekhman said they would receive a higher payment for each performance than at the Bolshoi but also an apartment in Moscow.

However, Kekhman said, the dancers would not own the apartment until they completed a five-year contract with the Mikhailovsky.

At the time, The New York Times reported that the dancers’ agent, Sergei Danilian of Ardani Artists in New York, who also represents Nacho Duato, wished that Kekhman had not discussed the apartment deal publicly, but added that Kekhman had “always displayed a singular style not long on discretion”.

Meanwhile, Osipova and Vasiliev are now doubling as principals at the Mikhailovsky Theatre and American Ballet Theatre (for the company’s 2013 season) and are also dancing as guest artists during the Bolshoi Ballet’s season at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in July and August this year.

They will guest with the Australian Ballet for two performances of the company’s Don Quixote season in Melbourne next month.

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Vladimir Kekhman, photo © Petr Titarenko for Andy Fiord Studio

Natalia Osipova, Don Quixote, photo © Damir Yusupov