Video shows ‘accident waiting to happen’ at the Bolshoi where actor was crushed to death: Performers flee during rehearsal as wobbling background is lowered and hits scenery

  • Footage shows performers fleeing an apparently malfunctioning backdrop
  • Taken at the Bolshoi Theatre during rehearsals for 19th century opera Sadko
  • Telegram post alleges video shows problems with set prior to an actor’s death
  • Yevgeny Kulesh, 38, was crushed to death during a performance on Saturday 
  • He was crushed by a two-tonne piece of backdrop lowered from above 
  • The audience was promptly ushered out as actors on stage began screaming for help, but Kulesh died at the scene before emergency services arrived 
  • Moscow’s Investigative Committee said it was probing the death of Kulesh
  • Former Bolshoi Theatre performers have condemned the working conditions the actors and dancers are subjected to 

A video has emerged which appears to show technical problems at the Bolshoi Theatre ahead of a performance in which an actor was killed.

Performers are seen fleeing the stage during a rehearsal as the mechanism lowering the backdrop appears to malfunction. 

It wobbles and collides with other pieces of the set as it is lowered, creaking from above. 

The video, which was shared on a Telegram channel called Devil in Pointe Shoes, was taken at the world famous Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow during rehearsals for the 19th century opera Sadko. 

During a performance of the same opera on Saturday night, actor Yevgeny Kulesh, 38, was killed in front of a full house when a two-tonne backdrop crushed him to death.  

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Performers are seen fleeing the stage during a rehearsal as the mechanism lowering the backdrop appears to malfunction

During the performance on Saturday, actors were seen frantically waving their hands to alert staff to the incident, while screams of ‘Get a doctor! Call an ambulance, someone got hit by the backdrop!’ rang out around the hall as actor Yevgeny Kulesh lay trapped

The Telegram channel alleged: ‘There were problems with backdrops at rehearsals….

‘No one cared to change anything.’   

The report also alleged a cover up over Kulesh’s death, and called for the senior management at the illustrious theatre to resign.

Instead of equipping the moving parts of the scenery with ‘motion sensors’, money was wasted elsewhere, claimed the account. 

Nikolai Tsiskardze, a former principal dancer at the theatre, told Russian newspaper Komsomolkaya Pravda following Kulesh’s death that the company’s actors, dancers and workers suffer frequent injuries and near-misses as a result of the dangerous working conditions.

‘Backstage is hell,’ said Tsiskardze.

‘Dancers damage their legs when sets and staircases fall over. I have been screaming about the problems of the Bolshoi for 25 years. There is no order, no medicine, no ethics.’

‘We are all serfs!’ Tsiskardze exclaimed, comparing the treatment of theatre workers to that of the lowest peasant class in tsarist Russia.

‘We must not blame Yevgeny or find a scapegoat.’ 


Actor Yevgeny Kulesh, 38, somehow became trapped underneath the backdrop and was subsequently crushed to death

It is thought that Kulesh – who had performed at the theatre since 2002 – walked the wrong way during a set change on Saturday and then could not get out of the way of the backdrop in time.

The orchestra abruptly stopped playing as actors began screaming for help, while bemused spectators thought they were witnessing part of the performance before the full horror of what was happening dawned on them.  

Kulesh had been performing with the theatre company for almost the entirety of his adult life in a career spanning almost two decades

Ushers then emptied the auditorium as actors pleaded with stage-hands to raise the backdrop so medics could get to Kulesh.

But medics said nothing could be done to help the actor, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

Moscow’s Investigative Committee said it is probing the death, while former Bolshoi Theatre actors have condemned the working conditions at the world-famous venue. 

The footage shared online shows panicked performers pleading with staff to lift the scenery that had fallen on top of Kulesh, as the orchestral music stopped abruptly and actors began screaming.   

Actors can be seen frantically waving their hands to alert staff to the tragedy, while screams of ‘Stop, Stop! Call an ambulance, someone got hit by the backdrop! There’s blood!’ rang out around the hall as Kulesh lay trapped.  

An esteemed actor and stalwart of the Bolshoi Theatre, Kulesh had performed with the company for almost all of his adult life over the course of nearly two decades.

‘It was awful,’ one witness wrote on Facebook after she was ushered out of the theatre.

‘We arrived at the Bolshoi Theatre and sat in our seats. Then suddenly, when the scenery went down during the very first scene, someone shouted: ”Doctor! We need an ambulance quickly, someone fell under the scenery!”

‘The orchestra fell silent and the curtains were closed.’

Kulesh died during a set change in Sadko, an 19th century opera by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

The incident happened on Saturday evening at Moscow’s world-famous Bolshoi Theatre during an opera performance

The witness added that the audience were told by the theatre the performance was stopped due to technical difficulties, but she found out that Kulesh had been killed after speaking to security guards on the way out of the theatre. 

Other theatregoers on social media said that they first thought they were witnessing a staged trick, but it quickly became apparent what was happening when the other performers reacted in horror. 

It is not the first time that Bolshoi Theatre workers have been killed or injured during a performance.

In 2013, a senior violinist – Viktor Sedov, who had played violin at the theatre for four decades – died after falling into the orchestra pit.

Ballet soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko – formerly a principal dancer of the Bolshoi Theatre – was jailed for six years for organising an acid attack on the company’s artistic director just two years prior.  

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