The artistic director of Russia’s most famous ballet troupe is in hospital with severe chemical burns after an unknown assailant threw acid in his face outside his central Moscow home.
The attack on Sergei Filin, artistic director of the Bolshoi, is shocking even by the standards of the theatre, where infighting and backstabbing among the troupe have been rife ever since the Soviet period.
Mr Filin is in a Moscow hospital with burns to his face and eyes. Doctors have been working through the night to try and preserve his sight but Russian website Life News is reporting that he has been blinded.
The Bolshoi said that the artist could be flown abroad for treatment. The theatre’s General Director, Anatoly Iksanov, said yesterday that Mr Filin had been receiving threats for months, as well as having his emails hacked and the tyres on his car slashed. “He told me he felt like he was on the front line here,” said Mr Iksanov. “I told him that we all feel the same, working in the theatre is hard. We knew about the threats, but nobody could have imagined that they would end so tragically.”
Russia’s premier opera and ballet theatre has a troubled history, with the intrigue, rivalries and backstabbing behind the scenes a match for any of the tangled plots that adorn its stage. During the Soviet era, artists were targeted by Joseph Stalin’s purges, and later those dancers who were considered “politically unreliable” were not allowed to travel on coveted foreign tours, leading to squabbling and enmities among the soloists.
The rivalries have continued on into the post-Soviet era, with the infighting particularly acrimonious on the theatre’s ballet side. The Bolshoi’s leading male dancer, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, is a virtual outcast from the theatre, claiming that he has been penalised for his outspoken views. He has launched a campaign to try to remove Mr Iksanov as director of the theatre, and frequently complains about the theatre’s management in the media. He criticised the quality of the reconstruction of the theatre, which underwent a massive refurbishment that cost hundreds of millions of pounds and was finally completed in 2011. He said it looked like a Turkish hotel and was permeated with design flaws that made rehearsals and performances difficult, including windowless make-up rooms and bumps in the stage.
Anastasia Volochkova, who was fired from the Bolshoi in 2003 for being overweight, has also claimed that the theatre hires out its female dancers as escorts to Russian oligarchs at parties, allegations that the theatre has always strongly denied.
The 42-year-old Mr Filin, who was previously a dancer at the theatre, took over as artistic director in 2011. At the time, another leading dancer, Gennady Yanin, was forced to resign after gay pornographic photographs in which he allegedly featured were uploaded anonymously to a website.
Despite the theatre’s chequered history, the Russian ballet world was in shock at the brutality of the attack on Mr Filin. “Everyone knows that there will always be battles at the Bolshoi, it goes with the territory and it’s all part of being the best theatre in the country,” said one former ballerina who asked to remain anonymous. “But for something like this to happen is just disgusting. I can’t believe it.”
Last night friends of Mr Filin said that he had a good idea of who could be behind the attack but would not say anything publicly so as not to affect the investigation.