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?