'No revolutions’: Will new Bolshoi Theater director keep it scandal-free?

'No revolutions’: Will new Bolshoi Theater director keep it scandal-free?
Director of the Bolshoi Theater Anatoly Iksanov has been fired, six months after an acid attack on one of his top staffers. Iksanov’s departure comes as the Bolshoi has become associated with seemingly endless off-stage scandals.

Not a shameful kick-out, but rather an honorable discharge – that’s how Iksanov’s dismissal was presented by Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky. The ex-director was praised for his contribution to the theater’s overhaul and offered a job at the ministry. Medinsky, however, also hinted at how uneasy things have recently become at the iconic theater.

The challenging situation means the theater needs renewal,” Medinsky said.

Anatoly Iksanov (AFP Photo / Kirill Kudryavtsev)

The incoming director, Vladimir Urin, who previously headed the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theater, says he is aware of the challenge.

I realize perfectly well what burden I will have to shoulder. One person can’t do anything, but together we can go forward,” Urin said, adding he was not planning any revolutions.

Making off-stage life peaceful at the Bolshoi will be part of Urin’s mission, which he was reluctant to accept. He confessed his first reaction to the job proposal from the ministry was that of refusal.

Vladimir Urin, newly appointed CEO of the Bolshoi Theater, is seen here during his presentation to the Bolshoi company and staff (RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov)

The theater has rarely been out of the media spotlight this year, making headlines mostly outside the art and culture pages.

It started with the January acid attack on the theater’s Artistic Director Sergey Filin, who is still undergoing treatment in Germany with fears remaining that his eyesight could be irrevocably damaged. The incident six months ago eventually laid bare the fact that the Bolshoi’s behind-the-scenes life might have more drama in it than any of its performances.

A leading Bolshoi Theater dancer, Pavel Dmitrichenko, is the prime suspect in the acid attack, which was reportedly prompted by a Shakespearean-style feud between him and Filin over a young ballet dancer, Anzhelina Vorontsova.

The criminal investigation triggered an outpouring of mutual accusations by the two key Bolshoi players and long-time opponents: the now ex-director Iksanov and the Bolshoi’s biggest celebrity - premier dancer Nikolay Tsiskaridze.

Nikolay Tsiskaridze (RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov)

Tsiskaridze has for years been a major critic of the Bolshoi reconstruction, which lasted since 2005 to 2011. In 2009, Prosecutor’s office started investigation into the alleged misuse of the reconstruction funding.  The cost of the overhaul grew 16 times by the end of the works, according to the Russian Auditing Chamber estimates.

Tsiskaridze eventually saw his conflict with Iksanov result in his two contracts with the Bolshoi – as a dancer and as a teacher - dropped in June.

What can I say? He dug his own grave,” The New York Times cites Tsiskaridze’s reaction to Iksanov’s removal. However, the big question is if the dancer will be able to return to the Bolshoi, knowing he has long seen himself as its director.  

So far, the culture minister says the issue of Tsiskaridze’s return has not been, and presumably will not be, discussed.

The new director of the Bolshoi managed to keep the theatre he headed before out of scandal. But it remains to be seen if he is the one to put an end to the Bolshoi’s off-stage soap-opera-style existence.