The Russian government has replaced the head of the Bolshoi Theatre, six months after a hit man hired by one of its dancers threw acid in the face of the company’s artistic director.
In a move that was surprising only because it took so long, the Russian government has fired the head of the embattled Bolshoi Theatre. Anatoly Iksanov was put in place in 2000, shortly after President Vladimir Putin came to power and promised a dramatic shake-up of Russia’s leading theatre, but his reign has instead been characterised by a series of scandals.
Repeated allegations of huge corruption during the renovation of the theatre in recent years were compounded by the horrific acid attack on Sergei Filin, head of the ballet troupe, in January. A dancer, Pavel Dmitrichenko, was arrested for ordering the assault and is currently awaiting trial, while Mr Filin is still undergoing treatment in Germany and has lost most of his sight.
Mr Iksanov brushed off criticism and appeared to have got the upper hand over his long-standing rival, the premier ballet dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who has coveted the top job at the Bolshoi and been a stringent critic of the administration of Mr Iksanov. Both Mr Iksanov and Mr Tsiskaridze are believed to have backers at the very top of the Russian state, but the dancer’s group looked like it had lost the battle for power when Mr Tsiskaridze’s contract at the Bolshoi was not renewed at the end of last month.
The dancer had criticised the renovations, saying that they looked like a “Turkish hotel” despite a price tag of more than £600m, and he had also organised several hundred employees of the theatre to sign a letter saying that Mr Dmitrichenko was innocent of the acid attack.
Announcing plans for the Bolshoi’s new season last month, Mr Iksanov brushed off criticism and refused to answer questions about Mr Tsiskaridze, but the authorities have finally tired of the permanent aura of scandal around the theatre. Russia’s Culture minister Vladimir Medinsky said that Mr Iksanov was dismissed because of the “difficult situation” inside the theatre.
The 61-year-old will be replaced by Vladimir Urin, who has run the city’s second opera and ballet venue, the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko theatre, for nearly two decades.
The final straw for Mr Iksanov appears to have been a recent wave of criticism from some of Russia’s best known cultural names. The opera diva Anna Netrebko said last month that the only hope for the Bolshoi was “to sack everyone and start again from scratch”.
Another conflict erupted last week over prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova’s refusal to dance in a new production of Eugene Onegin, reportedly after a conflict with the management.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Bolshoi in Russian cultural life. Formerly the venue where Tsarist coronations were celebrated, its stage also saw speeches from Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, and the theatre has always been seen as something of a reflection of the country itself. When it reopened after the controversial renovations in 2011, President Dmitry Medvedev said that the Bolshoi was one of only a few “national brands” of which Russia could be proud.
The new General Director, Mr Urin, is a well-respected figure in the theatre world and is seen as a safe pair of hands. Mr Urin told the Bolshoi’s troupe that he did not want to see “a revolution” at the theatre, but the task of calming passions and defusing rivalries will be daunting.
Mr Tsiskaridze refused to comment on the developments or suggestions that he might now return to the theatre.
Timeline: Anatoly Iksanov
1952 Iksanov is born in Leningrad
1977 Graduates from Leningrad Institute of Theatre, Music and Cinematography
1978 Appointed chief administrator of Moscow’s Maly Theatre
1996 Named director of the Bolshoi Drama Theatre in St Petersburg
2000 Appointed general director of the Bolshoi by Vladimir Putin
2005 Theatre’s historic stage closes for renovations
2009 Contractor changed after renovation lags behind schedule
2011 Stage reopens but quality of the work comes in for criticism
January 2013 Acid attack on artistic director of ballet troupe, Sergei Filin
June 2013 Russia’s Interior Ministry launches probe into alleged corruption at the Bolshoi
July 2013 Iksanov is fired