The Bolshoi theatre last night said it was saddened by the “tragic” death of a performer who was crushed on stage during an opera.
he actor was killed during a set change at the Moscow theatre on Saturday night.
Video shot from the stalls showed a backdrop being lowered into place before several actors raised their arms and waved for help. The curtains then rapidly closed.
It is thought 38-year-old Yevgeny Kulesh went the wrong way as the set descended and was trapped underneath it. Other witnesses said he was unable to move out of the way in time.
Many audience members at the performance of Sadko, an opera by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, initially thought the incident was part of the show, but performers shouted “call the ambulance, there is blood”, said Pavel Severinets, a journalist.
“It was terrible,” one woman wrote on Facebook. “We arrived and took our seats, and then in the very first scene, when the scenery came down and inside there was a crowd of actors and stage hands, as planned by the director, Volkhv [one of the characters] shouted: ‘Doctor! Come quickly, someone has fallen under the scenery’.
“The orchestra stopped playing and the curtain fell.”
Members of the audience said the management initially announced an interval.
“But half an hour later they were told the performance had been postponed for technical reasons and asked to leave the auditorium.
Mr Kulesh, who was an extra at the venue, had worked there since 2002.
“The theatre expressed sorrow for his death and said it was cancelling yesterday evening’s performance..
“It is with sadness that the management of the Bolshoi theatre and members of the actors and extras ensemble announce the death of our artist Yevgenny Kulesh,” it said.
“We extend our deep condolences to his family and friends.”
Russia’s investigative committee, the country’s equivalent of the FBI, said it was investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident and, in particular, whether workplace safety laws had been broken.
Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a former principal dancer at the Bolshoi, said blame for Saturday’s death lay with the management and shoddy back-stage safety procedures, not with Kulesh, and that he feared a cover-up.
“Backstage is hell. Dancers damage their legs when sets and staircases fall over. There are no windows or ventilation,” he told the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda.
“All the artists are saying with one voice that the victim did nothing wrong. Sure, now they will write that he should have gone left but he went right, as if he almost threw himself under the scenery.
“Like the sergeant’s widow who flogged herself,” he added, referencing a lie used by a corrupt official in Gogol’s The Government Inspector.
“I have no doubt the dead actor or one of the stage hands will be blamed and the case covered up.”
The Bolshoi has also known its fair share of tragedy and scandal, including deaths, fires, Cold War defections and allegations of corruption. In July 2013, senior violinist Viktor Sedov died after falling into the orchestra pit.
In December the same year, a Moscow court jailed Bolshoi Ballet soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko for six years after he was found to have organised an acid attack on Sergei Filin, the company’s artistic director.
(© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)
Telegraph Media Group Limited