Moscow — In the crowd that enters the Bolshoi Theater just before the ballet, it is not hard to location Roman Abramov and his group, as lengthy as you know what you’re seeking for.
They are not the nouveau riche types wearing gold brocade harem trousers, or carrying hobo bags made out of tiny puffs of chinchilla. Their faces do not display the juicy gratification of officials’ wives collecting what they are owed. Nor are they the tourists in hiking boots, gaping up at the vestibule, with its gold-leaf-and-cotton-sweet glow.
Mr. Abramov’s people are common-hunting middle-aged Russian girls in cloth coats, and their expressions are all company. They assemble on the stairs, and as the 1st curtain ways, they crack up into formations, like synchronized swimmers, and vanish into the stream of people heading to their seats.
Watching more than all this is Mr. Abramov himself, his dark, smart eyes scanning the foyer. His occupation is to engineer applause and ovations, on the foundation of key agreements with dancers, utilizing associates planted in the audience. These collaborations — portion passion, portion commerce — can go on for a long time they can also occasionally bitter into terrible, revengeful dramas.
Claqueurs, as these professional supporters are known, have been as soon as typical in the world’s great theaters, but the practice primarily died out halfway by way of the twentieth century. Their survival here may have long gone unnoticed have been it not for previous winter’s acid assault on Sergei Filin, the ballet company’s creative director. Mr. Filin has gone through numerous rounds of surgical treatment in hopes of conserving his vision. A Bolshoi dancer, Pavel Dmitrichenko, was later charged with orchestrating the assault.
Cruel scrutiny has fallen on the Bolshoi considering that then, exposing some of the shadowy nonofficial energy constructions that shape existence at the theater. It can be challenging, in Russia, to know what is actual and what is synthetic, and so it is in the gold-drenched auditorium. Those cries of “Bravo!” that ring out soon after a magnificent pas de deux? It could be that the audience is genuinely electrified.
Or it may be the seem of a extremely classy theatrical security racket.
Inside of the Bolshoi’s main corridor for a springtime “Swan Lake,” Mr. Abramov, who is in his late 40s, was entirely in his component. As he experienced promised, the guards at the front responded instantly when I mentioned his title, pushing open the large picket doorways and permitting me pass. He was wearing pale jeans and New Equilibrium sneakers, with the faintest trace of a beard he appeared a small like a bookmaker. He could hardly discuss, since he was in a point out of deep emphasis, steering his individuals to a constellation of stools and chairs that did not exist on the official seating chart.
As men and women streamed out for intermission, a exceptional number greeted him personally. A girl in a watermelon-coloured tunic, evidently the mom of a performer, approached him in the corridor, hoping to enlist the claque’s assist at an approaching overall performance. Mr. Abramov was too hectic to chat, so she stood there in the hallway, fidgeting.
The notion that applause in reaction to overall performance ought to be spontaneous is a relatively new 1. Roman emperors qualified professionals to mingle with crowds at important times, encouraging the boring roar of approval that speaks of a mandate. This conduct was refined in the theaters of 18th- and 19th-century France, where the term “claque” — from the phrase “to clap” — was coined.
At the Paris Opera, claqueurs grew to become mighty arbiters of theatrical good results Balzac writes in “La Comédie Humaine” that the main of the claque had “the endorsement of the boulevard playwrights, all of whom have an account with him, as they would with a banker.”
Mr. Abramov’s face is well acknowledged in the Moscow theater world, which is not shocking he says he attends three hundred demonstrates a calendar year at the Bolshoi. But the specifics of his procedure — he calls it a “ministry” that he does out of adore and fanaticism — are mysterious Mr. Abramov has only provided one prior job interview, in 2004. The Bolshoi’s press secretary, Katerina Novikova, would not comment for this article, other than to say that she regretted my choice of subject.
When I asked the Russian ballet critic and historian Pavel Gershenzon about Mr. Abramov, Mr. Gershenzon’s confront took on a rapt expression.
Nikolai Khalip contributed reporting.