Harrowing new footage and images have emerged of the moment an actor of Russia’s legendary Bolshoi Theatre was killed on Saturday by a piece of the set.
The clip shows a huge backdrop being lowered onto the stage behind the actors during a scene change, but Yevgeny Kulesh, 37, somehow became trapped underneath the backdrop and was subsequently crushed to death.
A man can be heard shouting while the orchestra continues to play, before the music cuts off abruptly and the cast break out into screams at the sight of the accident.
The incident occurred during a set change early in a performance of Sadko, a 19th century opera by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
The theatre said Yevgeny Kulesh, who had been with the theatre since 2002, died at the scene as the audience was promptly ushered out of the performance hall.
Moscow’s Investigative Committee said in a statement that it was probing the death of the 38-year-old performer, while former Bolshoi theatre actors have condemned the working conditions at the world-famous venue.
Yevgeny Kulesh, 38, somehow became trapped underneath the backdrop and was subsequently crushed to death
Kulesh sustained critical injuries at the scene and died before the emergency services could arrive to save him
Kulesh had been performing with the theatre company for almost the entirety of his adult life in a career spanning almost two decades
The incident took place on Saturday evening at Moscow’s world-famous Bolshoi theatre during an opera performance
The Bolshoi theatre company told Interfax that Kulesh sustained critical injuries in the accident in which he was crushed underneath the set, and died before an ambulance arrived.
It is believed that the actor moved in the wrong direction during a scene change as the scenery was being lowered, and subsequently became trapped underneath.
The shocking footage shared online appears to show panicked performers pleading with staff to lift the prop that had fallen on top of him, 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 Yevgeny lay trapped.
The audience were promptly asked to leave the hall – after originally believing the incident was a staged trick that was part of the show.
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.’
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 theatre-goers 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.
Actors can be seen frantically waving their hands to alert staff to the tragedy, while screams of ‘Get a doctor! Call an ambulance, someone got hit by the backdrop!’ rang out around the hall as Yevgeny lay trapped
The audience were promptly asked to leave the hall as the curtains closed, after originally believing the incident was a staged trick that was part of the show
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, while 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.
Nikolai Tsiskardze, a former principal dancer at the theatre, told Russian newspaper Komsomolkaya Pravda following the incident 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.’
The incident occurred during a set change in Sadko, an 19th century opera by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Pictured: security guards making their way back inside the theatre after the incident on Saturday night