Vladimir Urin: theatre visionary with nerves of steel

Vladimir Urin, the man who was appointed Tuesday as the new Bolshoi Theatre director, is a respected manager who turned a small obscure music theatre called Stanislavsky into a must-stop venue for the art scene.

The 66-year-old now faces an uphill battle after being placed at the helm of Russia's historic theatre and charged with rescuing its reputation following a string of scandals and infighting of the vast troupe.

Urin won respect from colleagues by quietly revamping Moscow's 90-year-old Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre to prominence over the past decade by attracting international talent while also popularising contemporary ballet in Russia before the trend caught on in the Bolshoi.

He organised several international modern dance festivals in Moscow which proved immensely popular, and was one of the founders in 1994 of Russia's prestigious Golden Mask theatre festival, where he sits on the jury.

Although he has stayed behind the scenes in most of his theatre's successes, Urin is viewed as experienced and perceptive, successfully bringing in an array of acclaimed names from abroad to stage ground-breaking performances despite having considerably less money than the Bolshoi or Mariinsky in Saint Petersburg.

"Urin was an outstanding director -- both as manager and artistic director. It must be sad for him to leave the theatre that under him became world-class," said theatre critic Alexei Parin, who hosts programmes about music on Moscow Echo radio.

"Urin is a very experienced director, with a very clear vision of what a modern musical theatre is," Parin added. "The Bolshoi has a good future."

In 2008, Urin made an eyebrow-raising decision to hire Sergei Filin, then the star dancer of the Bolshoi with no choreographing experience, as artistic director of the Stanislavsky ballet.

Under Filin's watch, however, the Stanislavsky brought in foreign modern choreographers. But Filin left for the Bolshoi in 2011, and earlier this year became the victim of a horrendous acid attack that may leave him blind.

Last year, the theatre also made headlines for hiring Sergei Polunin, the talented young Royal Ballet principal who shockingly quit his job in early 2012, moving to Moscow several months later.

The Stanislavsky this year was a finalist for the International Opera Award in "best company" category, a top honour in the world of classical music.

Critics unanimously praised Urin as a talented manager who is not afraid of experimentation and manages to create ideal working conditions for the complex personalities of the ballet and opera world.

"Urin is an educated, very responsible person. He is a manager with nerves of steel," said Sergei Khodnev, a music critic for the Kommersant newspaper.

"With Urin, the theatre was not limited by profitable dependable performances, it experimented," he told AFP.

But Urin also has a huge task ahead of him as he enters the Bolshoi, an enormous institution with big egos, warring factions, and scrutiny of the federal government.

"The Stanislavsky theatre is not large, and he was wonderful there, but here at the Bolshoi there is a huge troupe with exorbitant ambitions," said Vadim Gayevsky, a ballet critic and historian. "It's a mutinous troupe that has become spoilt."

Born in Kirov, a provincial city 900 kilometres (560 miles) northeast of Moscow, Urin headed its youth theatre for nearly a decade before moving to the capital in 1981.

Before he became the director at Stanislavsky in 1995, he worked for Russia's theatre workers union, where he organised youth festivals and workshops. There, he oversaw the first Russian-American festival of the perestroika era, called "Baikal-Michigan" and held on the Lake Baikal in 1990, focusing on environmental problems.