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Bolshoi’s firing of ballerina sparks outsize scandal

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MOSCOW — The Bolshoi Theater fired a top Russian ballerina known as much for her diva status as for her dancing, and worst of all, some theater management complained she had literally gotten too big for her tutu.

Anastasia Volochkova, who has danced in "Swan Lake" and other ballets, was dismissed following a highly publicized rift with the theater's management, which said that male dancers refused to dance with her because her height and weight made for heavy lifting.

Volochkova angrily protested her ouster on nationwide television, telling Channel One that "a ballerina isn't measured by her height." She suggested it was about much more than her size, claiming she was being treated unfairly because of a contract dispute.

The 27-year-old said she is considering a lawsuit, and in one interview she said that every time Bolshoi director general Anatoly Iksanov talks to the press, he adds about a half-inch to her height — which, along with her weight, she kept to herself.

Volochkova's publicist, Gella Neminova, said the dancer is 5 feet 7. She wouldn't not give Volochkova's weight but said she is in "excellent shape."

According to the Russian media reports, Volochkova weighs 106 pounds. She told The New York Times she weighs 109, and a reporter for the newspaper measured her height as 5 feet 6.

"All these silly claims about her extra weight are absolutely groundless," Neminova told The Associated Press.

Bolshoi spokeswoman Yekaterina Novikova said that while a tall ballerina is not necessarily hard to lift, "The problem is that male dancers complained of her height and weight and refused to dance with her."

Volochkova's partner, Yevgeny Ivanchenko, resigned this summer after suffering an injury, and Iksanov also said that other dancers had refused to dance with her.

"I can't risk the artists' condition," the newspaper Gazeta quoted Iksanov as saying.

The dispute is not just about whether Volochkova is too big: Iksanov said he fired the ballerina after she refused to sign a proposed contract.

Part of the argument was that Volochkova wanted to dance in three out of five performances of "Swan Lake" in a scheduled Bolshoi visit to Paris — a demand Iksanov called unacceptable. "We have come to a dead end," he told Channel One.

Volochkova also rejected the contract in part because it was for four months instead of the customary year. The Bolshoi said a reason for the shorter contract was that a new a new artistic director for ballet, Alexei Ratmansky, is to take over in January.

Volochkova is a stylish dresser who dances often in heavily advertised solo performances outside the Bolshoi and has joined the main pro-Kremlin political party running in December parliamentary elections, United Russia. Many Russians see her more as a show biz figure than a classical ballerina is the tradition of Maya Plisetskaya and other greats.

The daily Vremya Novostei ran a front-page headline that was a double-entendre on the United Russia symbol, a bear, and the talk about Volochkova's weight: "Not even bears could hold her."

Ratmansky told the newspaper Gazeta that a Bolshoi dancer "must be a member of the collective. It is not enough to have long legs or other charms." In another interview, he told the business daily Kommersant that Volochkova is "an excellent dancer in her own genre" — which he described as "sort of pop."

Russian arts critic Vitaly Vulf said that Volochkova has "made many mistakes" since her successful Bolshoi debut in "Swan Lake" three years ago, attributing what he said was a decline her artistic form to her newfound fame, but dismissed the criticism of her weight as "stupidity" and said that Plisetskaya is about the same height.

"If you are heavy today, you can be light tomorrow," said Vulf. He said Volochkova is at least in part a victim of jealousy and criticized both the male dancers and the Bolshoi management, saying it was a mistake to fire her.

"She has to have good choreographers, good teachers, and she has to be at the Bolshoi. She is a beauty."