MOSCOW (AP) _ The Bolshoi Theater director on Saturday fired some of his biggest stars for staging a surprise strike over the resignation of the company's artistic director.

NTV independent television said prima ballerina Natalia Bessmertnova and music conductor Algis Shuraitis were among the 15 people fired by director Vladimir Kokonin.

Kokonin also fired several other principal dancers, including Yuri Vetrov, Natalia Arkhipova and Marina Bylova.

The dancers went on strike Friday night, forcing the cancellation of ``Romeo and Juliet.'' It was the first dancers' strike in the Bolshoi's 218-year history and it enraged the audience.

The strikers said they were unable to perform because of their grief at the resignation of Yuri Grigorovich, the Bolshoi's master choreographer and artistic director for three decades.

Grigorovich, 68, quit following repeated clashes with Kokonin over artistic and management styles, including plans to institute a contract hiring system and a board of directors.

The Ministry of Culture said the measures were aimed at reversing the Bolshoi's artistic decline. Grigorovich's supporters say a board would dilute the artists' influence and a contract system would throw injured and older employees out on the street.

The Bolshoi's declining fortunes and the internal bickering have also led many dancers to leave for more lucrative jobs abroad.