Russia's Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow has cancelled a much anticipated ballet about dancer Rudolf Nureyev just three days before the opening night.

Bolshoi made the announcement Saturday, saying that Tuesday's premiere of Nureyev has been cancelled and instead the ballet would stage an old favourite, Don Quixote.

The ballet about Nureyev, who defected from the Soviet Union to the West in 1961 in a famous run through the Paris airport, was directed by Kirill Serebrennikov, known for bold productions that poke fun at Russia's growing social conservatism.

He was considered one of ballet's most gifted dancers and went on to dance with the Royal Ballet in London and be partnered with starring ballerinas around the world. In later life he was a choreographer and became director of the Paris Opera Ballet. 

Show's director arrested in May

Serebrennikov was detained and questioned in May in a criminal case over embezzlement of government funds. He denies wrongdoing and supporters have said they believe the case was politically motivated, as the director is known for skewering Russian officialdom in his work.

Speaking to journalists Monday, Bolshoi director Vladimir Urin denied reports that the show had been scrapped because of its frank portrayal of Nureyev's gay relationships. The dancer was diagnosed with HIV in 1984 and died in 1993.

The Bolshoi is famous for its behind-the-scenes intrigue and dancers were reported to be upset the lavish production had been cancelled.

Urin simply said that the ballet wasn't ready and it will instead premiere next year.

In response to numerous anonymous reports that the ballet was banned by Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky because of its portrayal of homosexuality, the ministry told the Interfax agency that Medinsky had a "long, detailed telephone conversation" with Urin about Nureyev but denied applying any pressure on the Bolshoi.

"Censorship and bans are not the style of our ministry," the statement said, adding that it trusts the state-funded theatre to decide which shows to put on.

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Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev dances on Jan. 10,1962, with Rosella Hightower at BBC television studios in London. (AFP/Getty Images)

With files from CBC News