Battle for control over Bolshoi escalates
In this photo made Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 Bolshoi ballet dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze wipes the sweat as he holds a rehearsal in the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Russia. General director Anatoly Iksanov has accused principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze of creating an atmosphere of intrigue that set the scene for the Jan. 17 acid attack on the Bolshoi’s artistic director. Tsiskaridze has rejected the claims and in turn pointed to the attack as evidence that the theater has descended into crime and violence on Iksanov’s watch. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
MOSCOW (AP) — The foes make a striking contrast — a bald, stolid general director versus an extravagant dancer with an opulent mane of dark hair.
And the stakes could hardly be higher: control over the storied Bolshoi Theater in a battle that has gone into overdrive since the January acid attack on the artistic director that exposed rivalries reminiscent of the Hollywood movie "Black Swan."
In a surprising twist, principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze may be gaining the upper hand against General Director Anatoly Iksanov, who has been in the top job for 13 years.
Both are believed to have backing from senior government officials and Kremlin-connected business tycoons eager to extend their influence over a state theater that has been a symbol of national pride for centuries, and even features on the 100-ruble bill. The Bolshoi's annual budget also is not too shabby: $120 million, up from $12 million only 10 years ago.
Iksanov accuses Tsiskaridze of creating an atmosphere of intrigue that set the scene for the Jan. 17 acid attack on the Bolshoi's artistic director. Tsiskaridze rejects the claims and in turn points to the attack as evidence that the theater has descended into crime and violence under Iksanov's watch.
After weeks of increasingly venomous attacks from both sides, Tsiskaridze's star was seen as rising when he grabbed a high-profile platform for his case on state-run television. The exposure came even as Tsiskaridze has endorsed the grievances of the Bolshoi dancer accused of staging the attack on artistic director Sergei Filin, and defended the dancer in public. Tsiskaridze himself has not been accused of any involvement in the attack.
On Sunday, the 39-year-old dancer appeared on a live talk show on state-controlled NTV television, a channel that the Kremlin has used to attack its opponents or those who have fallen out of favor. Dressed all in black and with an air of sad rebuke, Tsiskaridze poured scorn on Iksanov, accusing him of botching the Bolshoi's reconstruction, ruining its repertoire and treating dancers like slaves.
Asked bluntly whether he was ready to take the general director's job, Tsiskaridze answered with a proud: "I am absolutely ready."
More than anything else, the NTV show signaled that Iksanov's job could be in jeopardy. The station has often been used to broadcast documentary-style films about Kremlin foes, which often served as precursors for criminal investigations. A biting attack on the general director would not have been possible without a blessing from the top ranks of the government.
Tsiskaridze was joined on the program by an equally sharp-tongued former Bolshoi prima ballerina, who alleged that Iksanov oversaw a practice of ballerinas being used essentially as high-class prostitutes for members of the Bolshoi board and other influential people.
Some Russian media have reported that Tsiskaridze's patrons include Sergei Chemezov, a former KGB officer close to President Vladimir Putin who now serves as the CEO of Russian Technologies, a state-controlled industrial conglomerate.
Iksanov looked tired and tense on Tuesday at a news conference called to promote a big ballet festival this spring. He said he would not comment on "the nonsense and dirt" aired on the television show and shrugged off Tsiskaridze's ambitions.