Ellen Barry, relocating from Moscow to Delhi for the New York Times, bids farewell to Russia with an incredible account of the claqueurs, the secretive middle-aged gang that runs the professional-applause racket at the Bolshoi:

Why do the artists need the claqueurs? Experienced performers are seeking something very specific from the applause, Mr. Abramov said, like extra seconds to catch his or her breath between the end of an adagio and the beginning of a variation. Young ones fear their performance will be met with silence. These agreements are made in private. Mr. Abramov says he and his “deputies” observe up-and-coming performers for some time before selecting those they deem most promising and setting up an informal meeting.

“This is where the first contact is made, then the next and so on, and then these contacts grow into normal working relations,” he said. The proposal — “You can be included in our situation,” was the way he phrased it — stretches out into a long symbiosis.

And the dancers who are not included in the situation?

Yes, he and his troops took revenge on occasion. It is possible, for instance, to clap off-rhythm when a dancer is performing the series of difficult turns called fouettés, he said.

“Kolya fell down because of us many times, because I was at war with him for years and arranged these things for him,” he said, of Mr. Tsiskaridze. “Poor guy, in ‘Raymonda’ he screwed up the whole variation and flew off and ended up with his nose on the floor. In ‘Nutcracker’ once, I made him drop his fouetté, from way up high, and he sat down on his bottom, butt facing the hall. And we all laughed.”

Everything in this piece is joyously horrifying, including the Bolshoi's official refusal to comment ("except to say that [the press secretary] regretted my choice of topic").

[Image via AP]