Russia drops curtain on Bolshoi director


Bolshoi Theatre's general director, Anatoly Iksanov, shown here in a photograph from 2011, was fired after reports of scandals, feuds and criminal charges. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty)
July 9, 2013

The Bolshoi Theater, racked by feuds, scandals, criminal charges and tantrums as over-the-top as its recent extravagant renovation, lost its general director Tuesday when he was fired by Russia’s culture minister.

Anatoly Iksanov, who had led the theater since 2000, seemed as recently as June to have gained the upper hand in the struggles over its direction, when he forced out Nikolai Tsiskaridze, his arch critic. The emotional star dancer had accused Iksanov of favoring the wrong performers, the wrong repertoire and the wrong sorts of shady characters who lurk on the Bolshoi’s lucrative fringes.

But last week, prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova stormed out after she learned that she hadn’t been cast for the opening night of a new production of “Eugene Onegin” — and she isn’t someone to tangle with lightly. In addition to being one of the company’s biggest stars, Zakharova also holds a seat in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, as a member of the ruling United Russia party.

When Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky arrived at the Bolshoi on Tuesday morning to announce Iksanov’s firing, he was accompanied by a deputy prime minister, Olga Golodets, as if to emphasize the keen official interest in the ­goings-on there.

“The complicated situation means that the theater needs a new start,” Medinsky said.

The Bolshoi, still reeling from the acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin this year, will now be led by Vladimir Urin, who moves over from the well-regarded Stanislavsky Theater. Another dancer has admitted to arranging the attack, while Tsiskaridze, who wanted Filin’s job, has been notably unsympathetic to the victim.

The replacement of Iksanov may not be a victory for Tsiskaridze, though, because Filin had worked successfully under Urin at the Stanislavsky before moving to the Bolshoi. Reached Tuesday by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda while he was on vacation, Tsiskaridze said he had no comment and didn’t care what happened.

The newspaper also interviewed Mikhail Shvydkoi, a former culture minister who was considered a candidate to replace Iksanov. “The new director will be committing suicide if he returns Tsiskaridze to the theater, and I haven’t noticed a passion for suicide in Urin,” Shvydkoi said.

Filin, who is still being treated in Germany, is blind in his right eye and has limited vision in his left, Iksanov told reporters last month.

In his years at the Bolshoi’s helm, Iksanov always seemed beset by storms. He did not have a background in theater or ballet, which some of his stars held against him. He had to push hard to expand the repertoire to include non-Russian works and to incorporate modern approaches to dance. He oversaw a renovation that dragged on for years, went way over budget and left the Bolshoi looking like a “Turkish hotel,” in the sneering words of Tsiskaridze.

After Tsiskaridze failed to land Filin’s post, he had said he wanted the top job. But it went instead to Urin, who also appeared at the theater Tuesday.

“I realize that this is extremely difficult,” he said. “I am not planning any revolutions, and I perfectly understand that one person alone cannot do anything in this theater. I truly hope that the majority of people working in this theater, the talented, wonderful people, will be my allies and only together we will be able to resolve the issues.”

But more change will be coming. Urin will bring in his own people, the Kremlin’s adviser on culture, Vladimir Tolstoy, told the Interfax news agency. And that, he added, is just what the Bolshoi needs.

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