Russia's Bolshoi Theater, which made headlines earlier this year when its artistic director, Sergei Filin, had sulfuric acid thrown in his face by an enemy within the ranks of constantly jockeying ballet dancers, is currently undergoing a pretty dramatic (and public) power struggle. Appearing Sunday on NTV next to Nikolai Tsiskaridze, the Bolshoi's principal dancer, former prima ballerina Anastasia Volochkova reiterated a claim she made earlier this month in a lengthy New Yorker feature about the tangled web of ballet scandal at the Bolshoi: the female dancers are essentially being used as high-end escorts for Moscow's relatively new class of mega-wealthy businessmen.
Volochkova's televised allegations come at a particularly inconvenient time for the Bolshoi's General Director Anatoly Iksanov, who, according to NBC, is trying to protect his job (which he's held for the last 13-years) from Tsiskaridze. Both men are believed to have the backing of several senior officials in the Kremlin, as well as several Kremlin-linked tycoons trying to consolidate their influence over one of Russia's greatest national treasures, a theater that was first chartered in 1776 during the reign of Catherine the Great and stood more or less unchanged until 2005, when a massive, six-year renovation was undertaken to keep the Bolshoi from collapsing, as one contractor put it in the David Reminck's New Yorker piece, like "a house of cards."
If you don't tire quickly of the New Yorker's exhaustive style of longform journalism, Remnick's article sheds a lot more insight in Volochkova's recent NTV interview, in which she called the Bolshoi a "big brothel," and explained the inner workings of the supposed escort service:
An administrator would call them to say they are going to a party and a dinner ending in bed.
When the girls asked the administrator what would happen if they refuse, the answer was: You will have problems in the Bolshoi then.
By Remnick's estimation, Volochkova "occupies a place in Russian pop culture these days somewhere between a ring on ‘Dancing with the Stars,' and a cast member of the ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.'" She has been outspoken and candid about her time as the Bolshoi's top female dancer, even after Iksanov fired her in 2003, declaring publicly that she had gotten too "fat." Around the same time, she wrote on her blog that she was assaulted by one of her "hired-gun" St. Petersburg ballet partners before a performance of (and you probably saw this coming) Swan Lake, and warned that "things would get worse" if he continued to dance with her. She later told reporters, writes Remnick, that "the Bolshoi management was running, in effect, a terpsichorean escort service," and described a situation where dancers were vaguely promised career advancement if they attended parties organized for oligarchs and sponsors.
Iksanova dismissed her allegations at the time, but one of the Bolshoi's most prominent characters came out to offer full-fledged support to Volovchkova — Tsiskaridze, a figure who has been implicated in stirring an in-theater resistance again Sergei Filin, which created, according to Iksanov, a poisonous atmosphere of intrigue that precipitated the Jan. 17 attack on Filin. Remnick alludes to the widespread Bolshoi sentiment that Tsiskaridze, a longtime professional rival of Filin's, was more deeply involved in the attack than Russia's justice system has determined (Tsiskaridze, after all, is supposedly backed and protected by several high-level Kremlin officials), and his appearance alongside Volovchkova on NTV is further proof that, whatever role he did or didn't play in the recent Bolshoi drama, he is trying actively to push Iksanova out of a job.
That's not to say that Volovchkova's claims of prostitution within the Bolshoi aren't necessarily true — a lot of observers have suspected as much, especially with the proximity of oligarchs to the dancers (Volovchkova herself admitted to having several relationships with oligarchs while she was dancing at the Bolshoi). It's simply that the Bolshoi seems to be an onion of intrigue, suspicion, and double-dealing — peeling off one layer of scandal only reveals another, smellier layer.