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A fight at the ballet: The power struggle tearing apart the Bolshoi

By Phil Black, CNN
updated 5:23 AM EDT, Mon April 15, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An attack on Bolshoi Theater's artistic director has put the institution in the spotlight
  • Phil Black says the theater's general director and a dancer are fighting for control
  • Dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze has had two warnings for speaking to media without permission
  • A court has overturned one, but Tsiskaridze says he is fighting for the Bolshoi's future

Moscow (CNN) -- As the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director Sergei Filin entered the security code of his Moscow apartment, a masked assailant tossed sulfuric acid onto his face, temporarily blinding him and leaving him with severe burns.

A Russian police investigation led to the arrests of three people: an alleged assailant, a getaway driver and a Bolshoi dancer who they say had a "hostile relationship" with Filin and confessed to ordering the January attack.

Investigators say they've solved the case and the company's traumatized dancers are getting on with their jobs of rehearsing and staging productions.

But this world famous institution is still very much in a state of crisis. It's being torn apart from within as two men battle fiercely to control it.

The opponents are very different people. Anatoly Iksanov is a long-serving bureaucrat. He's been general director of the Bolshoi Theater for more than 12 years.

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Russia's Bolshoi Theatre

Nikolai Tsiskaridze is one of the Bolshoi's principal dancers and a superstar of the ballet world.

Tsiskaridze says he is fighting for his job and the future of the Bolshoi.

The bitterness between these men became very public in January after the acid attack on Filin.

Police investigating the attack always suspected the attack was connected to his work. It's no secret that Tsiskaridze and Filin do not get along and Tsiskaridze was interviewed. But another dancer -- Pavel Dmitrichenko -- was arrested.

Read more: Russia's Bolshoi Ballet director may lose sight after acid attack

Dmitrichenko has confessed to organizing the attack but says Filin was only supposed to be beaten and that he was shocked when he heard about the acid.

Iksanov, the general director, says the attack is the result of a lawless atmosphere within the dance company he says has been created by Tsiskaridze.

But Tsiskaridze says Iksanov has been trying to get rid of him ever since he criticized the Bolshoi Theater's $760 million renovation.

He says as one of the theater's most famous artists he has been able to speak without restraint and that if he were to be fired no-one in the theater would have a voice. "It means evil will completely win."

Read more: Bolshoi Ballet 'villain' arrested in director's acid attack

Tsiskaridze says there has been an attempt to create a public perception that he was somehow involved in the criminal case, despite investigators not linking him to the attack.

"Three days after the tragedy, the general director himself suddenly made a statement claiming that I allegedly had nothing to do with all this -- just so that my name would be sounded," he said.

Tsiskaridze says other dancers were asked to sign a letter against him and that his students are punished by being overlooked for important parts.

The dancer appeared in court Friday in an attempt to have two official employment warnings overturned. He had received them for giving two media interviews without the theater's permission.

His lawyer, Svetlana Volodina, confirmed to CNN that the court overturned one of the warnings but ruled that the other should stay in place. She said they would appeal after reading the full written judgment.

Read more: Bolshoi prima ballerina's grace under pressure

Speaking to CNN ahead of the hearing, Tsiskaridze said the Bolshoi was not "a secret organization" and that he was entitled to his opinion -- which is that President Vladimir Putin should step in to settle the dispute -- and fire Iksanov.

Tsiskaridze says he's ready to take up the job of director general himself, if he's asked.

"The president himself should get involved because the president is the face of the country. This is a flagship of Russian art. A bureaucrat with no musical education cannot be allowed to get even with a dancer," he said. "This is primarily causing enormous damage to the reputation of the country."

However, Iksanov dismisses Tsiskaridze's allegations and says he's not ready to leave the Bolshoi.

"If Tsiskaridze thinks he can help the theater that's his personal matter. I don't think he can -- because you need a few more qualities than just scandal and fame."

Both men are said to have support from different factions within the government, but so far President Putin hasn't declared any view on the rivalries, which are steadily tearing away at the credibility of one of Russia's most iconic international brands.

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