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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Getting Bolshie at Bolshoi

When the Bolshoi Theater fired one of its ballerinas because she was not quite anorexic, the storm that followed felt very familiar. Ballet in Russia can never be confined to pink satin shoes and sugarplums.

Underneath, it has always been a rough business -- its turmoil part of the reason that dance remains one of Russia's national obsessions.

Speculation about what happens in the dark, nefarious back rooms of Moscow's famous theater only highlights whatever unfolds on stage before the Bolshoi's enraptured following.

This time, the question is whether Anastasia Volochkova, a star who first joined the Bolshoi in 1998, is prey or predator in her dealings with the Bolshoi managers.

Volochkova commands the limelight wherever she is, and she has collected a host of powerful fans to feud with her army of noisy detractors.

She tends to remind some Russians more of Madonna than Maya Plisetskaya.

But if the ballerina's personality contributed to her ouster, her enemies doubled the indignity by spreading the story that she had gotten too big for her partners.

As the Bolshoi tried to explain her departure, Moscow was buzzing about a male dancer who was said to be laid up somewhere, secretly nursing a back ailment, after trying to hoist Volochkova during a pas de deux.

The ballet world, like the fashion world, sets wildly unrealistic standards for what a woman is supposed to look like -- although perhaps only in Russia could a dancer's weight become the subject of such a frenzy of national gossip. Although there are arguments about her exact proportions, Volochkova is probably 1.68 meters tall and about 49 kilograms. On the American body mass index, she would be considered underweight.

But on the late George Balanchine's scale, which now encourages female dancers to look like will-o'-the-wisps, Volochkova would be entirely too healthy.

The real clue to the Volochkova case may turn out to be not her body weight but her contract negotiations, which have apparently been stalled for a while now.

Volochkova hints at dark forces within the ballet world that are trying to get rid of her.

In the Soviet years, when a ballerina suddenly disappeared from the stage, or sometimes disappeared altogether, there was always room for suspicion about the secret police. The government subsidized the ballet, keeping it alive in hard times but also meddling with the way it was performed.

Stalin himself commanded a happier ending for "Swan Lake,'' so for many decades, Odette and Siegfried did not die.

Instead, they ambled off into a joyous Soviet dawn.

Now there is less paranoia about the Kremlin and more about the accountants, or the money people who have been charged with the task of turning the Bolshoi into a profit-making enterprise. As any Western ballet theater director could explain, profit and ballet do not dance an easy duet.

If the bottom-line apparatchiks at the Bolshoi had really studied Western marketing, however, they would be preparing a different fate for Volochkova.

The statuesque blonde is said to have some very powerful friends. Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly, has sponsored some of her solo performances, and she is said to be close to oil company executives and the hyperkinetic American actor Jim Carrey.

One thing these people all have in common is money.

A dancer with powerful sponsors always had a future in ballet under the tsars, and a woman with the tabloid drawing power of Jennifer Lopez should certainly have a place in the modern entertainment business, no matter how rarefied the venue.

Instead, the Bolshoi seems to be suggesting that she take her friends and her controversial form somewhere else.

Eleanor Randolph is a member of the editorial staff of The New York Times, where this comment first appeared.