The Russian government has dismissed the head of the revered but scandal-plagued Bolshoi Theatre, six months after a hitman hired by one of its dancers threw acid in the face of its ballet director.
Anatoly Iksanov was replaced by Vladimir Urin, an experienced theatre boss whose task is to rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s great cultural institutions after a behind-the-scenes drama with more twists than an on-stage plot.
Mr Iksanov’s departure yesterday as general manager had been all but inevitable since a masked man with a jar of sulphuric acid almost blinded ballet maestro Sergei Filin, an incident which exposed bitter rivalries at the Bolshoi.
Theatre insiders said Mr Iksanov’s removal may have been hastened by a new spat over the decision not to give a lead role in a new production to a prima ballerina admired by president Vladimir Putin.
“A difficult situation had developed at the theatre and in the troupe, and everything pointed to the need for renewal at the theatre,” culture minister Vladimir Medinsky said.
Announcing Mr Urin’s appointment, the minister said: “He will be able to unite the troupe and continue the development of the best theatre in the country and one of the best in the world.”
Mr Iksanov, 61, sat beside the minister in an intended show of unity, but looked solemn and said little beyond thanking the company for his 13-year tenure. Although Mr Medinsky and others showered him with praise, there was no doubt he had been forced out, with more than a year of his contract left to run.
The theatre has been in the news for all the wrong reasons since the 17 January acid attack on Mr Filin outside his Moscow apartment late at night. He is now blind in one eye and has little vision in the other.
One of the company’s top dancers, Pavel Dmitrichenko, who made his name playing villains in Swan Lake and Ivan the Terrible, later confessed to hiring two accomplices to attack Mr Filin, but said he had not expected acid to be thrown in his face.
Mr Iksanov had already been under pressure over a lavish six-year renovation that restored the Bolshoi Theatre’s opulent tsarist furnishings for a grand reopening in 2011, but came with a price tag equivalent to about £470 million, much more than initially expected.
Mr Urin, 66, will be under intense scrutiny over the unity of the company, the quality of productions and his ability to restore the reputation of a theatre that dates back to 1776.
“I do not plan any revolutions,” said Mr Urin, who previously headed Moscow’s respected Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theatre. “Only together can we solve the problems that, as in any theatre, exist today in the Bolshoi Theatre.”
He faces a tough task after testimony in which Mr Dmitrichenko said Mr Filin had saved the best roles – and salary-boosting grants – for his favourites, pushing into the wings those who were opposed to his attempts to modernise traditional Russian ballet.
Top dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, once a fierce critic of Mr Filin and a former rival for Mr Iksanov’s post, was last month told his contract would not be renewed and he would have to leave the company, with no public explanation.
“All this constant publicity is making our job more difficult,” said ballerina Angelina Vlashinets. “No matter what you do, it’s immediately criticised by everyone. The dancers are seriously fed up with that. I don’t know Urin but I hope we will finally be able to start working normally again.”
In the latest intrigue, theatre sources said prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova was angry at not being handed a lead role in a new production of Onegin.
“The management offended Zakharova by not giving her a lead in Onegin, and she’s close to Putin,” said a Bolshoi musician.
However, the Kremlin has denied it has any role or say in the theatre.