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Battle for control over Bolshoi escalates

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 20, 2013 at 10:20 am •  Published: March 20, 2013

Dmitrichenko has been popular with dancers for his eagerness to defy management in support of other dancers. Last week the Bolshoi's 250 dancers elected him the head of their union, even though he remains in jail.

At the time of his arrest, Russian state television suggested that Dmitrichenko had been driven by a desire to avenge his girlfriend, 21-year-old soloist Anzhelina Vorontsova, who felt that Filin had unfairly denied her the lead in "Swan Lake." Tsiskaridze, who coaches the ballerina, said that Filin had advised her to change teachers.

Iksanov has sought to ease tensions in the ranks, promising last week that Dmitrichenko would keep his job pending the outcome of the criminal case. The reclusive, moon-faced director has been on the defensive ever since.

In an interview with the online Snob magazine last month, Iksanov said that his foes include people in the top echelons of government and business, along with their jet-setting wives who want to turn the Bolshoi into their playground.

Iksanov's patron, former culture minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, who is now serving as the Kremlin envoy for international cultural relations, acknowledged in an interview published last month that some of the country's most influential people are behind Tsiskaridze, but insisted that Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were staying above the fray.

Ever since the Bolshoi reopened in 2011 after a six-year reconstruction that cost more than $1 billion, Tsiskaridze has aired accusations of mismanagement and corruption, alleging that the renovation destroyed historical interiors and replaced them with low-quality replicas. The NTV show featured photos of cheap and already crumbling interior decor to illustrate his claims.

Iksanov and his backers have dismissed the criticism, saying that the Bolshoi has been restored to all of its past glory.

Raising the heat on Iksanov, former Bolshoi prima ballerina Anastasia Volochkova alleged on the NTV show that Iksanov oversaw a practice of ballerinas being used as escorts.

"An administrator would call them to say they are going to a party and a dinner ending in bed," she said. "When the girls asked the administrator what would happen if they refuse, the answer was: You will have problems in the Bolshoi then."

Volochkova acknowledged that she herself enjoyed the protection of a billionaire businessman and was fired in 2003 after they separated. She described the Bolshoi as a "tangle of snakes" and a "big brothel."

Tsiskaridze and Dmitrichenko have also criticized what they describe as Filin's unfair distribution of pay to the Bolshoi dancers.

Valeria Uralskaya, editor of Ballet magazine, said that the huge amount of money involved has made smoldering conflicts worse.

"When money gets involved in the arts, conflicts become more likely," she said. "A lot of commercial issues have come to be part of our lives — and in the arts, too. Twenty years ago less money went around, there were fewer foreign tours then and people would spend more time training for their parts."

Permission for dancers to go on foreign tours has been a point of conflict and has served as an instrument of control over the troupe.

"I hear a lot about grudges about this," said Anna Gordeyeva, a ballet critic at the Moskovskie Novosti daily. "Many dancers tell me that they cannot understand why somebody gets a leave of absence and somebody else doesn't."

Rivalries over top parts also have continued to fuel conflicts. "There are a lot of questions about how Filin picked the dancers he wanted to promote," Gordeyeva said.

Filin's assistant, Dilyara Timergazina, joined Iksanov in pointing to Tsiskaridze as "a key source of the tensions." She said that Tsiskaridze's students "extort parts" and "are always unhappy with everything."

On the television show, Tsiskaridze expressed indignation over the criticism.

"For 21 years. I have honestly served not only the Bolshoi but the country's image," he said. "I have represented the country on the stages of all the world's leading theaters. I don't know why I should bear these insults."


AP writers Nataliya Vasilyeva and Lynn Berry contributed to this story.