Bolshoi star dancer battles theatre in court

A star dancer at the Bolshoi appeared in court on Friday to sue the theatre after it officially reprimanded him for vehemently criticising the management in interviews following an acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin.

Nikolai Tsiskaridze, 39, a flamboyant top-ranking dancer at the theatre, has publically criticised general director Anatoly Iksanov and suggested he should run the theatre himself.

In the employment dispute, Tsiskaridze is asking the court to cancel reprimands issued by the Bolshoi that it could use to sack him, although it has not sought to do so. The court was set to rule on the dispute later Friday.

The dancer appeared in Moscow's Tverskoi district court for a hearing, dressed in a black polo neck and trousers. At times he held his head in hands in the courtroom and complained to journalists: "They are trying to destroy a person."

"I am the Bolshoi," he commented at one point, when accused of insulting the theatre.

The Bolshoi lawyers confirmed that the theatre refused to settle out of court by cancelling the reprimands issued to Tsiskaridze, ensuring a court drama that revealed more damaging insights into the famous ballet troupe.

"A peaceful settlement has not been reached," Bolshoi lawyer Alina Kudryavtseva told the judge.

Tsiskaridze is contesting two reprimands issued over three media interviews where he compared the theatre's atmosphere to Stalin purges and called for the management to be sacked and for himself to be put in charge. He even questioned whether Filin was really the victim of an acid attack.

Tsiskaridze's lawyer Svetlana Volodina argued that the Bolshoi did not have the right to punish him for giving the interviews without its permission, saying the theatre's internal rules breached the freedom of speech guarantee in the Russian constitution.

Tsiskaridze and Iksanov have fought a war of words in the press, with Iksanov saying that Tsiskaridze carried moral responsibility for creating a poisonous atmosphere that made the acid attack on Filin possible.

Filin had sulphuric acid flung in his face in January outside his Moscow apartment. He is undergoing treatment in Germany and doctors say they hope to restore enough vision in both his eyes for him to resume his profession.

A top dancer at the theatre, Pavel Dmitrichenko, has been charged along with two accomplices after confessing to organising an attack on Filin. The case has not yet gone to trial.