The Bolshoi's top manager lost his job Tuesday after months of infighting following an acid attack on its artistic director that has stained the reputation of the famed Moscow theatre.
The departure of Anatoly Iksanov, the theatre's director general, comes just a few weeks after the ouster of his rival, principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Both men have enjoyed the backing of senior government officials and Kremlin-connected tycoons, and their successive dismissals appear to reflect high-level intrigue.
Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said only that the 61-year old Iksanov, who led the Bolshoi for nearly 13 years, was fired because of a "difficult situation at the theatre."
He told a news conference that Vladimir Urin, head of Moscow's No. 2 ballet company, the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theater, would succeed Iksanov.
Acid attack a catalyst for conflict
The Bolshoi has been shrouded in scandal for years but a fierce conflict erupted in January after an assailant threw acid into the face of Sergei Filin, the artistic director of ballet.
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Iksanov accused Tsiskaridze, of creating an atmosphere of intrigue that set the scene for the attack. The 39-year old dancer rejected the claims and argued that the theatre has plunged into crime and violence under Iksanov's watch.
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Iksanov managed to cling to his job for months despite fierce attacks from Tsiskaridze and seemed even to have won the battle when Tsiskaridze was forced out after his contract expired on July 1.
But Alexei Pushkov, the Kremlin-connected chief of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Parliament, tweeted that Tsiskaridze's dismissal was "the last straw" that led to Iksanov's ouster.
Apparently reflecting a continuing battle on top, he added that Iksanov's patron Mikhail Shvydkoi, an ex-culture minister who now serves as the Kremlin envoy for international cultural relations, is trying to prevent Tsiskaridze's return to the theatre.
Minister Medinsky said that there is no talk about Tsiskaridze coming back.
Conflict damaged Russia's reputation
The decision to purge both men also appears to reflect the Kremlin's dismay over the infighting that has dented the nation's prestige. Pushkov said on Twitter that Iksanov's ouster was overdue: "This decision long has come to a head. The Bolshoi's condition has hurt Russia's image abroad,"
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In March, police arrested Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko on suspicion of involvement in the acid attack. Dmitrichenko admitted that he had agreed to an offer from an acquaintance to rough up Filin, but he insisted that the man had used acid on his own initiative.
Despite Dmitrichenko's confession, many in the ballet company have stood by him, saying they do not believe him capable of staging such a crime. About 300 dancers and staff, led by Tsiskaridze, signed an open letter claiming that Dmitrichenko had slandered himself under police pressure.
The Bolshoi reopened in 2011 after a $1 billion renovation. Despite the lavish sum, some of the work was of poor quality, with cracks appearing in the walls and gold leaf crumbling away. Tsiskaridze has accused Iksanov of mismanaging the reconstruction, ruining its repertoire and abusing dancers' rights. Iksanov and his backers have dismissed the criticism..