On Monday, Anatoly Iksanov, the besieged general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, was forced to resign. It has been speculated in Moscow that his departure was hastened by Yuri Grigorovich, the octogenarian éminence grise of the Russian dance scene, who had not to this point got involved. The intervention was long overdue, in the opinion of Iksanov’s harshest critics, who have compared his tenure to a plague in the land. His supporters say he did the best he could to handle crises of a sort that no screenwriter would dare contrive.
The prima ballerina Svetlana Lunkina fled to Canada last September out of fear for her safety. In January, there was the acid attack on the artistic director Sergei Filin, who remains in hospital in Aachen, Germany. The dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko confessed to organising the crime, then recanted; his closest colleagues have rallied to his defence. His trial is scheduled for August, though it has already been twice delayed. The dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze was sacked for misconduct, but not before declaring that he, rather than Iksanov, should be running the theatre. And last week, Svetlana Zakharova, the Bolshoi’s prima ballerina assoluta and a member of the Russian parliament, remonstrated when she learned that she had been assigned to the second cast of Eugene Onegin. She quit the production, turned off her mobile phone, and left town.
That was the end of Iksanov. Someone at the top, one of the never-named powerbrokers in the Kremlin, had decided that enough was enough. The minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, has apparently offered Iksanov a consulting position, and he is certain to be fêted for his service to the nation.
He is being replaced at the Bolshoi by Vladimir Urin, the general director of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre. The Stanislavsky has come to the creative and administrative rescue of the Bolshoi in the past, and Urin has a reputation for being firm but fair. I asked the Bolshoi’s dispossessed for their opinion of the change in leadership. From Toronto, Lunkina’s husband, Vladislav Moskalev, hoped that
Urin (in distinction from his predecessor Iksanov) will show some interest in Svetlana’s fate (as a person, as a mother of two children, and, chiefly, as prima ballerina of the theater he now directs) and personally ask her why she was forced to leave Russia. But even if Mr. Urin says ‘please come back’ to Svetlana, she must assess the risks.
Those risks are connected to the noxious falling-out between Moskalev and his one-time business partner Vladimir Vinokur, who, Moskalev has repeatedly alleged, was grooming Filin for the position of general director.
Filin declined to comment on the appointment of Urin and its implications for his own career, post-acid attack. His lawyer let it be known that he was ‘surprised’ by the news, but otherwise absorbed it ‘calmly’.
The person that I most wanted to hear from was the person everyone had always heard from during Iksanov’s reign, Tsiskaridze. For years he had been the loudest voice of the opposition, the self-proclaimed defender of Bolshoi tradition, a repressed Old Believer, concocting a witches’ brew of invective against the nouveaux riches on the Board of Trustees. But now he was silent. I prodded him by text message, and he responded: ‘I’m on vacation.’