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exterior of the Bolshoi theatre Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Bolshoi Ballet is based at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow

Russia's Bolshoi theatre has shocked art critics by cancelling the world premiere of Nureyev - one of the most anticipated ballets of the season.

The ballet's outspoken director, Kirill Serebrennikov, was recently questioned in an investigation into alleged embezzlement over state arts funding.

Supporters of Mr Serebrennikov say his questioning was politically motivated.

The Bolshoi reportedly said the premiere has simply been "postponed to a later date" until it is ready to run.

The ballet is about Rudolf Nureyev, a dancer who defected from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Image caption Nureyev is pictured here with Margot Fonteyn in 1967

Mr Serebrennikov has been a vocal critic of increasing censorship of the arts and has been critical of Russia's authorities.

His flat was raided, along with the state-funded theatre he heads, two months ago in an investigation into alleged embezzlement. The accountant and a former director of a company he founded were arrested.

The general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, Vladimir Urin, wrote to Russia's President Vladimir Putin to complain about how the investigation had been handled.

'The main event'

An announcement on the Bolshoi's website states that Don Quixote will be performed on several nights next week instead of the new Nureyev ballet, and that tickets will still be valid.

The news has sent shockwaves through arts circles.

Ballet critic Tatiana Kuznetsova wrote in the Kommersant newspaper that the premiere had been anticipated as "the main event of the ballet season in Russia, and possibly in the world".

She reported that there were rumours the ballet depicted public personalities who are still living.

It is based on the life story of Nureyev, who defected from the Soviet Union to the West in 1961. His was the first defection of a Soviet artist during the Cold War. He danced with London's Royal Ballet and directed the Paris Opera Ballet.

He died of Aids-related illness aged 54.