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Russia’s culture ministry fires Bolshoi chief

July 9, 2013

MOSCOW (AP) — The chief of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater was fired Tuesday after months of infighting following an acid attack on its artistic director that has stained the reputation of one of the legendary names in world ballet.

The departure of Anatoly Iksanov, the theater’s director general, comes just a few weeks after the ouster of his rival, principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Both men have enjoyed the backing of senior government officials and Kremlin-connected tycoons, and their successive dismissals appear to reflect high-level intrigue and score-settling.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said only that the 61-year old Iksanov, who led the Bolshoi for nearly 13 years, was dismissed because of a “difficult situation at the theater.”

He told a news conference that the head of Moscow’s No. 2 ballet company, the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theater, would succeed Iksanov.

The Bolshoi has been shrouded in scandal for years but a fierce conflict erupted in January after an assailant threw acid into the face of Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin. After numerous eye and facial surgeries, Filin has remained at a German clinic where doctors are trying to save his vision. The Bolshoi has named an acting artistic director.

Iksanov accused Tsiskaridze of creating an atmosphere of discord that set the scene for the attack. The 39-year-old dancer rejected the claims and argued that the theater has plunged into crime and violence under Iksanov’s watch.

Iksanov managed to cling to his job for months despite fierce attacks from Tsiskaridze. He seemed even to have won the battle when Tsiskaridze was forced out after his contract expired on July 1.

But Alexei Pushkov, a powerful Kremlin-connected lawmaker, suggested that a high-level power struggle was under way when he tweeted that Tsiskaridze’s dismissal was “the last straw” that led to Iksanov’s ouster. He added that an ex-culture minister who has been Iksanov’s patron is trying to prevent Tsiskaridze’s return to the theater.

The decision to purge both men also appears to reflect the Kremlin’s dismay over the infighting that has dented the nation’s prestige.

In March, police arrested Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko on suspicion of involvement in the acid attack. Dmitrichenko admitted that he had agreed to an offer from an acquaintance to rough up Filin, but he insisted that the man had used acid on his own initiative.

Despite Dmitrichenko’s confession, many in the ballet company have stood by him, saying they do not believe him capable of staging such a crime. About 300 dancers and staff, led by Tsiskaridze, signed an open letter claiming that Dmitrichenko had slandered himself under police pressure.

Dmitrichenko has remained in custody pending trial.

The Bolshoi has served as a top symbol of the nation’s artistic achievements since the czars. Its annual budget stands at an impressive $120 million, 10 times more than a decade ago.

The Bolshoi reopened in 2011 after a $1 billion renovation. Despite the lavish sum, some of the work was of poor quality, with cracks appearing in the walls and gold leaf crumbling away.

Tsiskaridze has accused Iksanov of mismanaging the reconstruction, ruining its repertoire and abusing dancers’ rights. Iksanov and his backers have dismissed the criticism.

Some said that a recent conflict involving prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova may have contributed to Iksanov’s downfall. Last week, Zakharova refused to dance in Eugene Onegin following a rift over parts with the management.

Vladimir Urin, the new Bolshoi chief, is widely respected in Russia’s theater world. He sought to quell passions, voicing hope for a “calm and business-like” climate and saying that he doesn’t want any “revolutions.”


Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report.

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