Scandal is deepening around Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet after a former soloist claimed female dancers were pimped to wealthy patrons by the theatre’s general director.

Anastasia Volochkova said the company became "a giant brothel" under Anatoly Iksanov, with dancers as young as 13 told they were expected to have sex with Russian philanthropists.

Volochkova, who was famously fired in 2003 for being too heavy, has since appeared on TV talent and talk shows and dabbled in politics. She made her accusations on a Russian TV talk show Sunday, then repeated them to Russian media yesterday.

'The girls were forced to go along to grand dinners and given advance warning that afterwards they would be expected to go to bed and have sex' —former dancer Anastasia Volochkova

General director Iksanov denied the allegations on Tuesday, saying, "I don't comment on dirt and ravings."

"It mainly happened with the corps du ballet but also with the soloists," Volochkova said in an interview with a Russian wire service.

"Ten years ago, when I was dancing at the theatre, I repeatedly received such propositions to share the beds of oligarchs.

"The girls were forced to go along to grand dinners and given advance warning that afterwards they would be expected to go to bed and have sex," she alleged.

"When the girls asked: 'What happens if we refuse?’ they were told that they would not go on tour or even perform at the Bolshoi theatre. Can you imagine?"

It is the latest controversy involving the world famous Russian theatre and its ballet company.

On Jan. 17, a masked man threw sulphuric acid in the face of Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin, leaving him severely scarred and impairing his vision.

Charges in acid attack

Dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko has been arrested on charges of ordering the attack, though Dmitrichenko says he asked a man only to beat up the artistic director, not do permanent harm.

Meanwhile Iksanov and principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze have been engaged in an ugly public battle about leadership of the Bolshoi.

Iksanov has blamed Tsiskaridze for creating an atmosphere of intrigue that contributed to the attack, while Tsiskaridze accused Iksanov of using the attack to settle scores. Tsiskaridze has also come to the defence of Dmitrichenko, saying the dancer had legitimate grievances.

Both are believed to have backing from senior government officials and Kremlin-connected business tycoons eager to extend their influence over the state theatre.


Nikolai Tsiskaridze, right, performs in the ballet Paquita in the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. He has been critical of the existing general director and is putting his own name forward for the job. (Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi/Associated Press)

However, 39-year-old dancer Tsiskaridze seemed to be gaining the upper hand after appearing on a live talk show on state-controlled NTV television, a channel that the Kremlin has used to attack its opponents or those who have fallen out of favour.

Rivalry for top job

The dancer poured scorn on Iksanov, accusing him of botching the Bolshoi's reconstruction, ruining its repertoire and treating dancers like slaves. He also put his own name forward for the general director's job.  

"I am absolutely ready," he said proudly.   More than anything else, the NTV show signaled that Iksanov's job could be in jeopardy. The station has often been used to broadcast documentary-style films about Kremlin foes, which often served as precursors for criminal investigations. A biting attack on the general director would not have been likely without a blessing from the top ranks of the government.

With files from The Associated Press