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Bolshoi ballet star sues theatre over reprimands

By Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A top ballet dancer is asking a Moscow court to annul official reprimands from the Bolshoi Theatre after he accused it of using an acid attack on its artistic director as a pretext for a "witch hunt" against him.

The late-night attack that almost blinded Sergei Filin on January 17 has exposed a seething ferment of rivalries at the ballet, perhaps Russia's best-known cultural symbol.

Bolshoi dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko and two alleged accomplices are in jail awaiting trial, and the investigation continues.

But immediately after the attack, the spotlight fell on 39-year-old Georgian-born Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a principal dancer and teacher who has been at the Bolshoi since 1992, and had clashed with the theatre's leadership.

Bolshoi director Anatoly Iksanov was quoted as saying in February that he saw the attack on Filin as "a logical result of the excesses created above all by ... Tsiskaridze" and accusing the dancer of "mudslinging". He and many performers said they suspected a wider conspiracy.

The Georgian-born dancer told the BBC in an interview that he felt he had been the main target of the attack. He said the management was using it as a pretext for a "witch hunt" against him, and compared the atmosphere at the theatre to 1937 - the height of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's deadly purges.

Tsiskaridze petitioned a Moscow court on Tuesday to annul two written warnings he had received from the management.

Multiple reprimands can be grounds for dismissal under Russian labor law and Tsiskaridze, who was represented by a lawyer at an opening hearing on Tuesday, has said he believes the management is trying to drive him out.

The judge at the hearing, Yevgeny Komissarov, said Tsiskaridze had been reprimanded twice in February, once for giving an interview without permission from the theatre's press service.

Komissarov did not give the reason for the other reprimand, and the theatre's spokeswoman was not immediately available to comment.

Tsiskaridze's lawyer, Svetlana Volodina, said there were no grounds for the disciplinary action.

"Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the constitution, as is his freedom to express himself," she said.

The attack on Filin stunned Russians, who are used to violence in the world of commerce, but less so in culture, and exposed bitter rivalries inside the Bolshoi over roles, power and pay. Filin was badly burned and is being treated in Germany.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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