Head of Russia’s Bolshoi Theater fired six months after acid attack

Anatoly Iksanov, head of the Bolshoi Theater, was fired Tuesday. Sergei Chirikov / EPA

MOSCOW - The head of the world-famous Bolshoi Theater was fired Tuesday, according to media reports, six months after a hit-man hired by a dancer threw acid in the face of its director of ballet.

That attack, which almost blinded ballet maestro Sergei Filin, exposed an undercurrent of intrigue and rivalry that has tarnished the reputation of the Moscow institution.

"A difficult situation had developed around the theater and the troupe, and everything pointed to the need for renewal at the theater," Russia’s culture minister Vladimir Medinsky told a news conference Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Medinsky announced that Anatoly Iksanov had been replaced by Vladimir Urin, until now general director of the Stanislavsky Musical Theater, another leading Moscow venue.

"He (Urin) will be able to unite the troupe and continue the development of the best theater in the country and one of the best in the world," Medinsky said, according to Reuters:

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 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. 

Iksanov's removal was presented by Medinsky as "an honorable discharge" rather than a dismissal, according to Kremlin-backed news site Russia Today.

In March, ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko - who has performed as the crazed monarch in Ivan the Terrible and the villain in Swan Lake, admitted his role in January’s acid attack on Filin.

In court testimony, Dmitrichenko said Filin had saved the best ballet roles and salary-boosting grants for his favorites, pushing into the wings those opposed to his attempts to modernize traditional Russian ballet.

And in the aftermath of the attack, a former prima ballerina at the Bolshoi claimed in a television interview that dancers were essentially used as high-class prostitutes.

"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.

Reuters reported:

Scandal has long been endemic behind the cream-colored, eight-columned facade close to Red Square which reopened to great fanfare in 2011 after a $700-million, six-year renovation that restored the theatre's opulent tsarist beginnings, doused its interior in gold-leaf and introduced cutting-edge acoustics.

The theatre's history is laced with tales of tricks to put off rivals: needles left in costumes; crushed glass in ballet shoes; an alarm clock timed to go off during a particularly intense dance sequence; even a dead cat thrown on stage. 

Reuters contributed to this report.