Kremlin's Court Ballerina Defects to Opposition

In a spectacularly public falling-out, the Kremlin’s favorite court ballerina turns on Russia’s ruling party.

Until last month, Anastasia Volochkova—long-limbed, big-boned, blue-eyed—was the Kremlin’s official court ballerina and a larger-than-life celebrity. Her talent, beauty, and eccentric lifestyle (nude photographs, juicy private dramas) fueled a national obsession and made her the darling of Kremlin apparatchiks, oligarchs, and commoners alike.

But now Volochkova has fallen out with the country’s ruling party, United Russia, in typically sensational fashion. She publicly accused the party of being a “Stalinist-style repressive” authority and a “bunch of corrupt liars.” She claimed that in 2005, without her knowledge, the party signed her name on a letter in support of the imprisonment of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In a parting shot at the Kremlin, she called Khodorkovsky “more of a man” than any member of the ruling party, and said she’ll join “any alternative opposition group of brave men”—comments seemingly aimed at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s cherished masculinity.

Volochkova is no stranger to drama. Her backstage battles put the intrigues of the Black Swan ballerinas to shame. In 2003 the Bolshoi fired the dancer for allegedly being too heavy to appear onstage (at 1.7 meters, she weighed 49 kilos). Volochkova blamed the sacking on a vindictive former lover with powerful ties, though she has refused to name him publicly. Despite the scandal, Volochkova remained Russia’s favorite diva: in 2007 she dazzled the public with a €1.5 million wedding, making her entrance at St. Petersburg’s Catherine Palace suspended from a hot-air balloon.

Volochkova has leveraged this talent for theatrics in her break from United Russia. At a concert in the Rust Belt town of Tolyatti, she addressed her audience with tears streaming down her cheeks: “My dear spectators … from the day I quit United Russia Party, the Kremlin has been blocking me from you.”

The Kremlin has, indeed, added Volochkova to a “block list” for state television channels in retaliation for her disloyalty. (A Kremlin spokesperson refused to comment.) The ballerina’s exit comes at a horrible time for United Russia: the party is facing parliamentary elections soon and is desperate to present a united front. Now, as its once favored virtuoso dissents up a storm, Moscow may soon discover that a diva’s wrath knows no bounds.