Ballet star Nikolai Tsiskaridze’s last day at work at the Bolshoi Theatre will be 30 June: he has been told that neither of his two contracts (he’s both a dancer and a coach at the Bolshoi) will not be renewed. On Saturday, Tsiskaridze’s fans staged a picket in central Moscow seeking to have their idol back on stage; however, the theatre administration is having none of it.

The conflict began a while back, when the Bolshoi Ballet was headed by artistic director Alexei Ratmansky (from 2004–2008). A remarkable choreographer and creator of his own ballets, Ratmansky wasn’t really interested in the quality of the classical ballets – much to the chagrin of principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

Tsiskaridze was very forthcoming in his criticism of Ratmansky, comparing him unfavourably to Marius Petipa (whose ballets were being staged less frequently). Tensions subsided in 2009, though, when traditionalist Yuri Burlaka became artistic director of the ballet company. Like Tsiskaridze, Burlaka believed that the classical repertoire was the main value of the Bolshoi.

Two years later, Burlaka chose not to renew his contract and was replaced by Sergei Filin, which stirred up a new round of tensions. Filin focused on young dancers, who Tsiskaridze thought weren’t good enough. Meanwhile, Tsiskaridze’s student Anzhelina Vorontsova was getting no serious roles.

Source: RIA Novosti

But those were internal spats that could interest only the dancers and a narrow circle of ballet enthusiasts. The active phase of the ballet war began in October 2011, when the main stage of the Bolshoi was supposed to be unveiled after a drawn-out renovation. Prior to the opening ceremony, Tsiskaridze criticised the quality of the reconstruction, and the administration accused him of telling lies.

Since then, there have been no new roles for the dancer. In response, Tsiskaridze started to offer his opinion every time the administration did something wrong. His comments became especially vitriolic in autumn 2012, when the contract of the Bolshoi’s general director Anatoly Iksanov was supposed to expire (but was later extended for two years).

It was then that the 'letter of art directors' was issued, with directors of major Russian theatres signing a petition to Vladimir Putin asking him to appoint Tsiskaridze instead of Iksanov. A few days later, some of them withdrew their signatures, while the Bolshoi administration accused the dancer of initiating the letter (a claim which Tsiskaridze denies).

In January 2013, following the acid attack on the company’s artistic director Sergei Filin, the theatre’s press service said that Tsiskaridze might have been involved in the incident. The administration had to revise its position after the dancer threatened to file a lawsuit, and the Bolshoi general director said that he didn’t believe that there was a connection between Tsiskaridze and the attackers, but the dancer allegedly contributed to the atmosphere that resulted in the tragedy.

Tsiskaridze, however, was so outraged, that in his interview with the BBC called on the Russian authorities to fire the entire administration of the Bolshoi Theatre.

When Filin’s attacker – a career criminal by the name of Zarutsky – was apprehended (he pleaded guilty), attention turned to dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko, whom investigators accused of having paid for the attack. The Bolshoi administration hinted that Tsiskaridze was involved – Dmitrichenko is the boyfriend of Tsiskaridze’s student Anzhelina Vorontsova. Investigators thought that he could be seeking revenge, because his girlfriend was not getting roles. 

The Bolshoi got tired of the verbal clashes with the dancer, and Iksanov decided to fire Tsiskaridze, the main star of the Bolshoi Ballet. Notably, Tsiskaridze’s remarks about the poor quality of the renovation at the Bolshoi were officially confirmed the same week, as the Ministry of the Interior said that at least 90 million roubles (around $3 million) were stolen during the reconstruction – a contractor responsible for electrical equipment took the money, but failed to do the job.

Although it was the Ministry of Culture, and not the Bolshoi Theatre, that accepted the renovation, it was its general director that accused the dancer of lying and insisted that the renovation was fine.

What plans does Tsiskaridze have now? He won’t give any comments, but it’s clear that he won’t be left without a job. Some unofficial offers have already been made. Charles Jude, ballet director at the Bordeaux National Opera (a star dancer at the Paris Opera, who worked with Nureyev), who is currently in Moscow, has said that he would be happy to see the Russian dancer in his theatre.

Will Tsiskaridze become a huge loss for the Bolshoi? Ballet fans are certain that he will – on Saturday 15 June, about 200 Tsiskaridze fans staged a picket demanding a five-year extension of his contract at the Bolshoi. 

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