The administration of the State Academic Bolshoi Theater (the GABT) believes that 27-year-old Anastasia Volochkova, a fashion and make-up model, a show business personality and an actress, who is constantly in the spotlight of the Russian mass media and who, until recently, was a top dancer of the Bolshoi ballet, can not stay with the company any longer. On September 16, the ballerina was fired from the Bolshoi Theater amid the dispute over a contract she refused to sign because instead of a customary one-year deal it offered her an extension through December this year. The GABT Director General Anatoli Iksanov stated "the absence of a partner" as a motive for the dismissal. Her most recent partner, Yevgeni Ivanchenko, cannot dance with her fearing possible back injury. The ballet Prima Donna has been practically left without repertoire because classical ballet traditionally means duet performances rather than solo dances.
The second reason for dismissal is the fact that Anastasia Volochkova, according to Mr. Iksanov, "is not a prominent leader of the ballet troupe to represent the theater during important performance tours." Russian Labour Minister Alexander Pochinok came to defend Miss Volochkova, stating her dismissal was "illegal." In response, Russian Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoy announced that "the Labour Minister does not have the right to interfere with the activities of cultural institutions." He suggested that Miss Volochkova's fate should be decided either by a district labour inspection office or by a court.
Apparently, there are other motives behind the ones stated in the official announcement of the Bolshoi Theater administration. Former partners and teachers of the popular ballet dancer provide various commentaries of the situation.
During her artistic career, Anastasia Volochkova has changed a lot of theaters and partners, who refused to dance with a rather tall and heavily-built ballerina. The problem, though, is not her physique, but rather her inability to adjust to a partner. "The ability to tense the muscles is the key here. If a ballerina fails to do it, her weight increases," said Volochkova's former partner, leading dancer of the Bolshoi Theater Alexander Uvarov. "Anastasia does everything possible to dance in a correct way, but her physical attributes sometimes interfere." The ballerina has heard similar comments quite often. She was accepted in the St. Petersburg Russian Academy of Ballet only after a third attempt, at the age of 7, because, according to Miss Volochkova, teachers doubted that she could ever become a professional ballet dancer. Later, her classmates adopted the same attitude towards her and the ballerina recalls that she felt like a pariah at the Academy. Nevertheless, her diligence and persistence prevailed and Anastasia became a professional ballet dancer at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.
According to teachers and partners, her difficult character quickly became burdensome for people around her. "Our ways quickly parted," says Andrei Uvarov, who danced with Anastasia Volochkova in Tchaikovski's ballet Swan Lake. The star dancer of the Bolshoi ballet Nikolai Tsiskaridze reproached Miss Volochkova on numerous occasions for improper and loud self-advertisement during performance tours. In Great Britain and in the United States, her performances were always accompanied by loud scandals, which involved her patrons from business circles. The ballerina accused many of those who had business contacts with her of scheming against her. She even speculated that the Bolshoi Theater administration had been trying to..."hide" Yevgeny Ivanchenko from her.
Teachers, whom Anastasia Volochkova used to change like gloves, point out at excessive ambitiousness of the ballerina. "If a person works in a theater, he or she obviously has responsibilities before other members of the group. Anastasia, on the contrary, does not even realize that she might owe somebody some sort of respect," says Yekaterina Maksimova, the star ballet dancer of the Soviet era, a former teacher of Miss Volochkova. "For as long as I know her, she has always paid little attention to the art of ballet dancing, although, as we all know, professional ballet is not something you can regard as an in-between pastime," adds Mrs. Maksimova.
Nobody denies Miss Volochkova her talent. After all, she was invited to perform at the Bolshoi Theater from Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1996 by one of the best Soviet-era ballet dancers Vladimir Vasilyev, who was the Bolshoi director at that time. The performances with her participation, in particular, famous ballet The Swan Lake (she performed the part of Odetta-Odillia) was staged by choreography master Yuri Grigorovich, who discovered many talented ballet dancers in his time, and nobody would doubt his intuition.
The older and middle-age generations of the fans of ballet, despite their pronounced conservatism, are not dogmatists. They are not shocked by extravagant shows performed by the stars of the Bolshoi Theater anymore, as well as by the popularity achieved in such manner. Everybody knows that salaries of ballet dancers are low, and their professional careers are too short. Obviously, they must use all aspects of their creative work to their advantage. However, when artists try to increase their ratings by using scandalous PR propaganda, ballet fans rise to defend the principles of professional art. As to Miss Volochkova, occasionally, she would announce her whim to become a member of a political party (she finally decided to join the ranks of the United Russia), or she would promote her talent during popular TV programs. You can see huge billboards with her picture along all major thoroughfares in Moscow. In addition, she models clothes during various fashion shows.
She has already acquired the reputation of a "made-up star." Until recently, the Bolshoi Theater has been turning a blind eye to the promotional activities of its star ballerina. However, it has finally taken a course on drastic reforms and invited the best artists in its troupe. For example, star ballet dancer Svetlana Zakharova came from the Mariinsky Theater, and the ballet troupe is going to be led by Alexei Ratmanski, whose talent as a choreographer and dancer is in high demand not only in Russia, but abroad, as well.
Anastasia Volochkova claims she has several offers from the leading ballet companies in "Ukraine, Belarus, Baltic republics, Norway and the United States," and she "might consider them." Besides, even if she is not satisfied with these offers for whatever reason, she can always find something to do in the sphere of show business, where scandals are common and even beneficial for performers who start losing their popularity.
Olga Sobolevskaya, RIAN