Prisca Zeisel – from Germany to Russia

Prisca Zeisel, formerly a principal dancer with the Bavarian State Ballet, has moved to Russia and is now performing with the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. She has participated in various performances, including roles in ballets such as “Giselle, ou Les Wilis” and Nacho Duato’s “Swan Lake,” where she performed as Odette-Odile​​. The Mikhailovsky Theatre officially announced her as a prima ballerina in October 2023, highlighting her debut in the role of Gamzatti and her subsequent performances as Medora, Giselle, and Odette/Odile, which were well-received by audiences​.


Prisca Zeisel’s participation in the Sevastopol gala, held in Crimea during the summer of 2023, became a significant controversy due to the geopolitical tensions surrounding Crimea’s status. This event was dedicated to the 240th anniversary of Sevastopol as part of an international festival of opera and ballet named “Chersonese,” which has been seen as part of a broader strategy by the Kremlin to legitimise its control over the region. The gala concert and the broader festival have been criticised for serving as propaganda tools for the Kremlin, with the involvement of artists from abroad being particularly contentious.


Following her participation, the Bavarian State Ballet’s administration reportedly sought for Zeisel to publicly condemn the international crimes of the Kremlin, indicating that doing so could have resolved the situation. This demand appears to have been linked to the broader context of international sanctions and the cultural boycott against Russia following its actions in Ukraine. Zeisel’s decision to perform in Sevastopol and her subsequent departure from the Bavarian State Ballet were influenced by complex interactions involving personal decisions, and the highly politicised nature of international cultural events in contested territories.


The involvement of high-profile Russian cultural figures for projects like the opera and ballet theatre on Cape Khrustalny, developed by the Austrian architectural bureau “Coop Himmelb(l)au”, and potentially led by Igor Zelensky, who has personal connections to Putin’s family, highlights the intertwined nature of culture, politics, and international relations in this context. Zeisel’s participation in the Sevastopol gala, therefore, became a focal point of controversy, reflecting the broader dynamics of cultural and political tensions surrounding Crimea.


Igor Zelensky resigned as the director of the Bayerisches Staatsballett in April 2022, citing “private family reasons” for his departure. However, there were additional complexities surrounding his resignation. Before leaving, Zelensky had been summoned by the German Ministry of Science and the Arts to answer questions about his secondary role for Russia’s National Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is close to Putin and involved in projects in Crimea. This situation, along with his failure to denounce the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, contributed to the circumstances surrounding his resignation. The Bavarian Ministry of Science and Art and the general director of the Bayerische Staatsoper expressed their respect for his decision and acknowledged Zelensky’s contributions to the ballet’s international reputation. It’s also noted that Zelensky is reportedly the partner of the daughter of Russian president Vladimir Putin, further complicating the context of his resignation amidst geopolitical tensions.

After Zelensky’s departure from the Bavarian State Ballet, Prisca Zeisel maintained connections with her former director and his dancers, some of whom also left Munich following his departure. This suggests that while there might not be a direct link or explicit involvement of Zelensky in Zeisel’s decision or move to Russia, there were professional and possibly personal connections that remained active after his departure​​.


Igor Zelensky is reportedly the partner of Katerina Tikhonova, the second daughter of Russian president Vladimir Putin, with whom he reportedly has a daughter born in 2017​.


Prisca Zeisel’s move to the Mikhailovsky Theatre has been covered neutrally by some in the dance community, emphasising the separation of ballet from politics, especially considering the complex geopolitical context involving Russia. The coverage focuses on Zeisel’s career transition without delving into the potential political implications or the involvement of other figures in her move​​.
Zeisel herself, in an interview, reflects on her roles and the artistic aspects of her work rather than the politics or the decisions leading to her engagements, indicating a focus on her craft and professional growth in the ballet world.


Prisca Zeisel’s move to Russia to continue her career at the Mikhailovsky Theatre is seen as controversial by some due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Her participation in a gala in Crimea, a territory internationally recognized as occupied by Russia, has particularly drawn criticism in the context of the geopolitical tensions surrounding Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

(C) Jack Devant

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