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After Years Of Scandal, Russia's Bolshoi Looks To Move On

Russia's world-famous Bolshoi Theater has been dogged by scandals and controversy in recent years. (file photo)
Russia's world-famous Bolshoi Theater has been dogged by scandals and controversy in recent years. (file photo)
Russia's world-famous Bolshoi Theater is hoping to finally turn the page after years of scandals, including an embezzlement case, accusations of pimping, and an acid attack that has left the artistic director of its ballet company almost blind.

On July 9, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky announced that Bolshoi head Anatoly Iksanov had been fired.

Speaking at a news conference, Medinsky said that "a difficult situation had developed around the theater" and that events "pointed to the need for renewal."

Vladimir Urin, the director of another major ballet and opera theater, the Stanislavsky Musical Theater, has been appointed to replace Iksanov.

Urin said he would do his best to restore calm at the Bolshoi. "It is very important that this transition from one director to another is done in a civilized, normal, calm, and businesslike manner," he added.

Despite the Culture Ministry's careful wording, there is little doubt that Iksanov was fired over the resounding scandals that have plagued the Bolshoi, one of the most celebrated theaters in the world, during his 13 years in office.

"From the point of view of anyone outside the theater, there is only one reason: the endless scandals that rocked the theater for many, many years," was how leading Russian cultural commentator Marina Timasheva put it.

The byzantine rivalries that have long dogged the Bolshoi escalated -- and became embarrassingly public -- after Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director, was attacked in January as he returned to his Moscow apartment late at night.

An assailant threw what investigators say was sulfuric acid into his face and eyes in an attack that shocked the country.

The Bolshoi says Filin, who is currently being treated in Germany, has been almost completely blinded by the attack despite undergoing 18 operations.

Disputed Allegations

One of the top dancers, Pavel Dmitrichenko, later admitted to hiring accomplices to attack Filin but subsequently retracted his confession.

He is now being held by investigators in pretrial detention with two other suspects. It is said that Dmitrichenko had tense relations with the artistic director.

He reportedly resented Filin for refusing to cast his longtime girlfriend, soloist Angelina Vorontsova, in prime roles.

Vorontsova has since quit the theater.

In March, Filin told reporters that he believed a "very narrow circle of people" were behind the attack, including Dmitrichenko.

Nonetheless, the case against Dmitrichenko has met with disbelief at the Bolshoi.

More than 300 staff members of its ballet company signed an open letter to President Vladimir Putin in defense of the dancer, calling the accusations against him "absurd."
Anatoly Iksanov, the outgoing director-general of the Bolshoi Theatre
Anatoly Iksanov, the outgoing director-general of the Bolshoi Theatre

Iksanov, too, said he didn't believe Dmitrichenko had ordered the attack.

At the same time, flamboyant Bolshoi soloist Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who has been at loggerheads with both Iksanov and Filin, has sought to cast doubt on Filin's injuries. The principal dancer, coach, and choreographer was told in June that his contract with the theater would not be renewed.

Tsiskaridze had called for the Bolshoi's management to be removed, accusing Iksanov of ruining the theater's repertoire and of mismanaging its recent $1 billion reconstruction.

Police say one of the companies contracted by the Bolshoi had embezzled almost $3 million while doing theater renovation work, which ran years over schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

'A Giant Brothel'

Iskanov, in turn, has accused Tsiskaridze of fuelling animosity between dancers and of orchestrating the release of explicit photos on the Internet that forced Filin's predecessor, Gennay Yanin, to resign in 2011.

In another blow to the Bolshoi's reputation, former soloist Anastasia Volochkova accused Iksanov of turning the theater into "a giant brothel."

Volochkova, who was fired by the ballet company in 2003 for allegedly being overweight, made the allegations in March during a television talk show alongside Tsiskaridze.

The Bolshoi, she claimed, regularly pimped out its ballerinas as escorts to wealthy oligarchs.

"The administrator -- I will not name him, he is a very famous person at the Bolshoi – calls in the girls, each in turn, and explains that they are going to a party -- a dinner with a follow-up in bed," Volochkova said. "And going all the way -- with oligarchs, some of whom are members of the [Bolshoi's] board of trustees, or with just the person organizing the party."

Volochkova said she herself had received numerous propositions by the Bolshoi to spend the night with oligarchs.

She claimed the ballerinas were threatened with a touring ban if they refused.

Iksanov has dismissed the allegations as "dirt and ravings."

Regardless of Iksanov's personal role in the scandals, Marina Timasheva says the sacked director deserves a lot of the blame for the poisonous atmosphere that has dogged the theater.

"I think that Iksanov's guilt lies chiefly with his lack of flexibility as a director," she says. "Instead of snuffing out scandals, he somehow provoked them. At any rate, he did nothing to stop them."

The latest setback to hit the Bolshoi came earlier this month when star ballerina Svetlana Zakharova pulled out of the ballet "Eugene Onegin."

Zakharova said she was protesting the theater's decision not to cast her on opening night.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

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