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' They're pushing all of us out - the best artists of the Bolshoi'

8 JUN 13  

So it has happened. The outspoken Bolshoi Ballet star Nikolai Tsiskaridze, by his own account the world’s greatest dancer, is being dismissed by the Bolshoi Theatre. His contracts as dancer and teacher, which expire on 30 June, are not to be renewed, and on 1 July he will officially be out.

The news will cause shock-waves through Russia, and Tsiskaridze - whether he appeals against the decision or not - can be expected to exploit his enormous TV popularity to hit back against the theatre in times ahead. It was his readiness to criticise the Bolshoi Theatre director Anatoly Iksanov and ballet director Sergei Filin in the press that led to a series of reprimands this spring against him, putting him in peril of dismissal.

Under Bolshoi Theatre regulations, dancers may not speak ill of the theatre in public, and may not give unsanctioned interviews. Tsiskaridze is in process of challenging the validity of the reprimands on the basis of freedom of expression - his lawyer has been looking into applying to the European Court of Human Rights over the matter.

This is my translation of Izvestia’s report of the event.

Bolshoi Theatre to part with Nikolai Tsiskaridze

Izvestia, 8 June  2013, 16:33 by Yaroslav Timofeyev

The Bolshoi Ballet star, and People's Artist of Russia, Nikolai Tsiskaridze is to leave the theatre in which he has worked since 1992. The Bolshoi general director Anatoly Iksanov has decided to part with the company's most famous dancer and his own chief opponent.

"Nikolai Tsiskaridze received notice of the non-renewal of both his fixed-term contracts," Bolshoi spokesman Katerina Novikova told Izvestia. "He will have no more working contracts with the theatre."

The principal dancer and his lawyer have so far declined to comment.

Currently Tsiskaridze is working in the Bolshoi in two capacities: as principal dancer and as teacher-coach. In April Tsiskaridze told Izvestia that his contracts both expired on 30 June. At the time the dancer did not know whether they would be extended, but he said that the management were gradually driving him out of the Bolshoi.

"In the theatre they are recruiting people from outside, while those who have worked there for many years are not being allowed to dance. The last time I danced at the Bolshoi Theatre was on 16 March while my next performance will only be in late May," Tsiskaridze complained at the time.

Reprimands for press communication

Tsiskaridze's conflict with management has gone on for several years. The dancer publicly accused the administration of large-scale irregularities in the renovation of the historic Bolshoi Theatre and in putting pressure on dancers. The administration for its part, not limiting itself to slanging matches in the media with Tsiskaridze, began to issue him with reprimands for improper press communication, and then gradually reduced the number of performances given to him.

In autumn 2011, soon after the departure from the Bolshoi of the dancers Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, Tsiskaridze told Izvestia that management wanted to get him out.

"They're pushing all of us out - the best artists of the Bolshoi. They forced my wonderful friend Andrei Uvarov [Bolshoi principal] to write a statement. Not long ago the ballet artistic director Sergei Filin told me to leave. But this will not happen: for me ballet is the Bolshoi, and I'm not going anywhere," said the dancer.

The first attempt to dismiss Tsiskaridze from his position as teacher-coach occurred one and a half years ago. After the dancer threatened the administration with legal action, he found on the Bolshoi website a message stating that his contract after all would not be terminated.

Withdrew their signatures

Tsiskaridze has repeatedly said that he is willing and ready to head the Bolshoi Theatre. In November 2012, 12 leading figures in Russian culture, including Oleg Tabakov, Mark Zakharov and Alice Freydlich, wrote to the President asking him to appoint Tsiskaridze general director of the Bolshoi in place of Iksanov.

When the text of the collective letter was published on the internet, some signatories apologised to Anatoly Iksanov and withdrew their signatures. In particular, Zurab Sotkilava then explained to Izvestia that he had not read the text of the letter, though Tsiskaridze had personally asked him to join in the appeal.

The dismissal of Nikolai Tsiskaridze - if it is not challenged or reversed - will be another link in the chain of high-profile and troubled partings by the Bolshoi Theatre with prominent artists and artistic leaders: Alexander Melik-Pashayev, Kirill Kondrashin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Boris Pokrovsky, Vladimir Vasiliev, Anastasia Volochkova and others.

Nikolai Tsiskaridze [photo Izvestia/ Pavel Baranov]

Bolshoi fires star dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze