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Bolshoi Negotiates with Russian Labor Ministry over Fired Ballerina - 2003-10-20

Negotiations have begun between management at Russia's world-famous Bolshoi ballet and the country's Labor Ministry, after the recent firing of a top Russian ballerina triggered international media frenzy amid allegations that she weighed too much. The Labor Ministry had advised the Bolshoi to re-instate the ballerina earlier this month, saying her firing was in violation of Russian labor law. But the advice has gone unheeded.

Russia's Labor Ministry says the final decision about whether to re-instate ballerina Anastasia Volochkova rests with the Bolshoi theater management. The two sides are involved in ongoing negotiations in Moscow to try to resolve the public standoff.

Ms. Volochkova was fired last month amid a contract dispute and allegations that at 50 kilograms she was too heavy for male dancers to lift. It was the latter allegation that attracted the weight of the world media.

But when asked to comment on what is the appropriate size for a Bolshoi ballerina, the theater's spokeswoman denied that weight was ever an issue in the ballerina's firing. She suggested that the real problem is that there are no partners willing to dance with Ms. Volochkova.

The ballerina denies the charge. "It is absolutely untrue because with Yevgeny Ivanchenko, who I danced the most in my life, we danced 10 years together, I had never a problem. Apart from him, I have many dancers at the Bolshoi. So [a] partner is not the problem at all. So, you see, they just start to create any other idea, and when they see that one idea does not go they create another one," she said.

As for the contractual dispute, Ms. Volochkova said the theater only offered to renew her contract through December, instead of what she says is a customary one-year deal offered to all other Bolshoi ballerinas. Ms. Volochkova said she wants the same contract on equal conditions as that offered to her colleagues.

Bolshoi spokesperson Katerina Novikova said the theater stands by its decision to fire Ms. Volochkova and intends to make its views known during the talks with the Labor Ministry. "It is probably possible to re-establish her inside the Bolshoi, which would be a formal decision. So that they can push us to hire her from nine o'clock in the morning until six in the evening, on an eight-hour working day with one-hour break, which we do not think is fair toward her and toward us. But we will try to prove our position," she said.

Neither the Bolshoi nor the Labor Ministry has given any indication of how long the closed-door negotiations will last. And Ms. Volochkova said she is not involved in the process in anyway. The only thing she said she wants now is to return to the Bolshoi ballet. "I want to dance for my public, I want to dance in the world, because after all these scandals [and] all these terrible things, these lies that were put on my shoulders," she said. I want to show to the public my dance, and I want to give this right to the public to judge me and to make their opinion about me."

While her future in the Bolshoi remains very much in question, Ms. Volochkova next takes to the stage at the Kremlin in a heavily advertised private performance scheduled for November.