Yeltsin wades into drama at the Bolshoi

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The Independent Online

A week after a backstage revolt scuppered a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Bolshoi Theatre, President Boris Yeltsin yesterday jumped into the messy political pirouettes of Russia's premier dance company and sacked its senior administrator.

To try to end an offstage drama that has badly tarnished the Bolshoi's reputation, Mr Yeltsin abolished the post of director-general, held until now by Vladimir Kokonin, and divided control of the theatre between an artistic director and the newly-created post of executive director.

The shake-up aims to establish clear lines of authority after the 30- year reign of Yuri Grigorovich, an autocratic choreographer whose resignation as artistic director last week prompted an impromptu strike by his wife, the prima ballerina Natalia Bessmertnova, and other supporters.

By sabotaging the performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, Mr Grigorovich's deeply-entrenched allies brought to a head a long power struggle that had sapped the Bolshoi's creative energy, disappointed fans and demoralised many of the company's leading dancers.

Announcing to the audience that they were "depressed and broken-hearted" by the departure of Mr Grigorovich and upset by reform plans put forward by Mr Kokonin that would put artists on fixed-term contracts, dancers refused to dance and went home.

Mr Kokonin, then director-general, denounced the action as hooliganism, suspended 14 ringleaders from their jobs and started legal action to punish what he called an illegal strike that had cost the Bolshoi millions of roubles in lost revenue and much more in bad publicity.

Mr Yeltsin's intervention may intensify rather than stop the quarrelling. "This affair is far from over," said Nina Ananiashvili, one of the Bolshoi's leading stars and a long-time foe of Mr Grigorovich. "Nothing is really solved yet."

Mr Yeltsin has had ultimate responsibility for the Bolshoi and other leading cultural institutions since their transfer two years ago from the control of the Culture Ministry to the Kremlin.