Bolshoi Bribery

The Bolshoi Ballet is one of the most prominent and internationally renowned ballet companies in the world.  Located in Moscow, Russia, the company had its first American join the company last year.  Joy Womack, a young dancer from Texas, attended the training academy for the Bolshoi, formally known as the Moscow State Academy of Choreography, since age 15, until she joined the company.  Ms. Womack has recently quit the company, alleging claims of extortion.  Ms. Womack’s dream was to attain a prominent role in the company, and apparently because she was an American, Womack says she was told she would have to pay a bribe of $10,000 in order to get that solo role.  $10,000 was just the starting point, and for a girl who’s short-term contract paid her $700/month, to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, that was certainly not going to happen.  Womack has said that she will not file a complaint, but law enforcement may investigate.

The Bolshoi has seen more than its’ fair share of controversy in recent years.  One of its’ former principal dancers is currently on trial for arranging an acid attack against the company’s artistic director.  Claims of favoritism and bribery have also arisen in that trial.  In such a rigorous trade such as ballet, and in one of the most prominent companies in the world, one may expect this type of behavior to be going on.  It seems though that Womack was treated very harshly because she was American.  Being offered only short-term contracts instead of the “state” contract the Russian dancers get from the government-run Bolshoi, and also having problems attaining a work visa.  It seems that the Russian company just does not treat foreigners, or specifically Americans, with the requisite level of respect and law-abiding behavior that it should.  Do you think that this type of conduct goes on more frequently than we realize?  Will it ever change?

NY Times


  1. As long as there are high-profit activities such as ballet or even sports, this type of activity will most likely go on. It happens all over the world with match fixing scandals of Sumo Wrestling to point shaving in basketball and football games. Why should it stop with sports? As long as there is a high profit activity, there will always be people trying to make money off of that activity for the wrong reasons. The money is an incentive for them to commit fraud, such as the bribery. Further, the fact that these companies have a world renown reputation, gives them even more bargaining power to demand these bribes. The only way it could be decreased is by trying to regulate these companies and industries, or setting higher punishments for people who commit these crimes. Regardless, as long as there is money to be made, this activity will continue to happen.

  2. I am not surprised that this activity took place, especially in Russia. While I feel sorry for the American dancer, there are certain circumstances that that can’t go unnoticed. Ballet represents much more of a nationalistic attitude in Russia when compared to its level of exposure and respect in the states. While this is no excuse for attempting to extort money from a young girl, her family should have known that there is still quite an anti-American mentality throughout Russia. Note the exchanges between Obama and Putin over the past few months. I can imagine that the idea of featuring an American dancer in a Russian ballet would have caused quite a stir among the patrons. This adverse sentiment was most likely amplified by the inner workings of the ballet company which has quite a reputation for the dramatics. She should have been tipped off that the company was not overly welcoming to her addition based on the first contract that she was offered. At least she was smart enough to know that the extortion would most likely not stop with the first payment of ten thousand dollars and left. I doubt any recourse will come via the investigation by the authorities, however, hopefully she will turn this sequence of events into an opportunity further her dancing career in America.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *