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Russia picks Bolshoi star fired in acid row to run top school

Russia on Monday appointed outspoken ballet star Nikolai Tsiskaridze to head its top dance school after he was dismissed by the Bolshoi in a row over an acid attack on its artistic director.

Tsiskaridze, a former principal dancer at the Bolshoi, will head the Vaganova Ballet Academy in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg — one of the world’s oldest and famed for its impeccable classical technique.

The 39-year-old dancer was dismissed by the theatre in June after giving highly critical interviews reacting to the January acid attack on the troupe’s artistic director Sergei Filin.

In a surprise announcement, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky presented Tsiskaridze as the new Vaganova head and told journalists that he would “begin his professional duties” at the ballet school on Tuesday.

Tsiskaridze had been expected to appear at a Moscow court on Tuesday as a defence witness in the case against Pavel Dmitrichenko, the Bolshoi soloist who is accused of organising the acid attack.

The Bolshoi opted not to renew Tsiskaridze’s contract after he publicly questioned whether Filin really had sulphuric acid flung at his face.

In a public row, the Bolshoi’s general director Anatoly Iksanov responded by accusing Tsiskaridze of creating a poisonous atmosphere at the theatre that made such an attack possible.

The war of words ended with Iksanov also being dismissed from the state-run theatre.

Filin suffered severe eye damage and underwent dozens of operations after the attack. He returned to the Bolshoi this season after months of treatment in Germany which has restored much of his vision.

Tsiskaridze’s appointment comes after weeks of uncertainty over the future of the Vaganova academy — and even came as a shock to its staff.

Vaganova spokeswoman Yulia Telepina told AFP the academy was reacting to the news “very emotionally”.

“They should have let the school know in advance. People have worked here for many years and they deserve that.”

Tsiskaridze will be replacing Vaganova director Vera Dorofeyeva, who was fired after a high-profile feud with the director of Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky ballet, Valery Gergiev.

After Dorofeyeva’s dismissal, the government also appointed Uliana Lopatkina, a Mariinsky prima ballerina and one of Russia’s most famous dancers, as artistic director in the academy.

The Vaganova academy was established in the 18th century as the Imperial Ballet School. It is now named after Agrippina Vaganova, a gifted dance teacher who created a method of ballet instruction in the early 20th century.

Vaganova graduates have included Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.