NEW YORK — A tear gas grenade exploded in the Metropolitan Opera House on Tuesday night, five minutes into a performance by a Russian dance troupe, forcing the evacuation of about 4,000 people.
Thirty people were treated for the effects of breathing the gas.
Callers who said they represented the Jewish Defense League claimed responsibility, but a JDL spokesman later denied that the group was involved.
The grenade went off with a loud pop that resounded through the sold-out auditorium in Lincoln Center, where the Moiseyev Dance Company was performing.
Tears ran down peoples' faces as the acrid gas wafted through the theater. The auditorium was emptied immediately.
The performers continued to dance without music as the orchestra filed out and members of the audience applauded. Then the dancers filed off the stage.
The bomb exploded just after the orchestra played the national anthems of the Soviet Union and the United States, said Johanna Fiedler, a spokeswoman for the Met.
She said the performance was canceled.
Minutes after the explosion, an anonymous telephone caller to the Associated Press gave this message and hung up:
"Approximately five minutes ago, a powerful irritant was released at the Moiseyev Dance Company at Lincoln Center. This was done by Russian members of the Jewish Defense League movement. These actions will continue and escalate. Never again."
However, a man answering the telephone at the Brooklyn home of JDL spokeswoman Fern Rosenblatt, who identified himself as Meir Judah Ben-Dov and called himself head of JDL's security, denied JDL involvement.
"The JDL does not take responsibility for the bomb but certainly applauds the actions of those courageous Jewish underground fighters who did take action on behalf of oppressed Jews in the Soviet Union," the man said.
Mayor Edward I. Koch, who went to Lincoln Center, told reporters that he spoke with Igor Moiseyev, the company's artistic director. Koch said Moiseyev took the incident in stride and told him: "It's probably good for business.
"I hope it will have no effect on (the) tour," he said. "Cultural exchange must be neutral. I am absolutely sure that anything like this could not happen in the Soviet Union."
The Moiseyev Dance Company, a 155-member troupe celebrating its 50th year, was opening its first appearance in the United States since 1974. Its shows at Lincoln Center are to run through Sept. 14.
The ballet company will perform tonight, said Moiseyev spokeswoman Meg Gordean.