A former prima ballerina at Russia’s world-famous Bolshoi Theater has claimed in a television interview that dancers were essentially used as high-class prostitutes.
The allegation -- dismissed by the Moscow theater -- was made amid a power struggle for control of the company and in the aftermath of an acid attack in January on the Bolshoi’s artistic director that exposed rivalries reminiscent of the Hollywood movie "Black Swan."
Former Bolshoi prima ballerina Anastasia Volochkova alleged on Russia’s state-controlled NTV station that the Bolshoi was a "big brothel."
"An administrator would call them to say they are going to a party and a dinner ending in bed," she said.
"When the girls asked the administrator what would happen if they refuse, the answer was: You will have problems in the Bolshoi then,” she added.
Volochkova acknowledged that she herself enjoyed the protection of a billionaire businessman and was fired in 2003 after they separated.
Volochkova made the claims when she appeared on an NTV show Sunday with principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who is vying to take over from the Bolshoi’s General Director Anatoly Iksanov, who has been in the top job for 13 years.
Both are believed to have backing from senior government officials and Kremlin-connected business tycoons eager to extend their influence over a state theater that has been a symbol of national pride for centuries, and even features on the 100-ruble bill.
Iksanov accuses Tsiskaridze of creating an atmosphere of intrigue that set the scene for the Jan. 17 acid attack on the Bolshoi's artistic director.
Tsiskaridze rejects the claims and in turn points to the attack as evidence that the theater has descended into crime and violence under Iksanov's watch.
After weeks of increasingly venomous attacks from both sides, Tsiskaridze's star was seen as rising when he grabbed a high-profile platform for his case on NTV.
The exposure came even as Tsiskaridze has endorsed the grievances of the Bolshoi dancer accused of staging the attack on artistic director Sergei Filin, and defended the dancer in public. Tsiskaridze himself has not been accused of any involvement in the attack.
On NTV, Tsiskaridze poured scorn on Iksanov, accusing him of botching the Bolshoi's reconstruction, ruining its repertoire and treating dancers like slaves.
Asked bluntly whether he was ready to take the general director's job, Tsiskaridze answered proudly: "I am absolutely ready."
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 that have often served as precursors for criminal investigations.
A biting attack on the general director would not have been possible without a blessing from the top ranks of the government.