His best roles on the Bolshoi stage have been villains; at a recent premiere he played Ivan the Terrible, hunched and gurning as the brutal but psychologically tortured Tsar. Even so, there was shock when dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko admitted to masterminding the real-life episode of villainy that has thrown Russia’s ballet world into chaos.
The 28-year-old soloist, who has danced at Russia’s most famous theatre for over a decade, was arrested on Tuesday evening and today confessed that he had planned the attack on 42-year-old Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi’s artistic director. No motive for the attack has been made public but there is speculation that Mr Dmitrichenko was engaged in a dispute with Mr Filin over the fate of his girlfriend, Anzhelika Vorontsova, also a soloist at the Bolshoi.
Police released brief footage of Mr Dmitrichenko confessing to the crime. Looking tired and dishevelled, the dancer said that he did organise the attack, though “not in the way that it turned out”. He refused to give his reasons for the assault, but said he had stated them in his written confession.
“We are very grateful to the investigators for doing such a thorough job and we hope that everyone involved in this and other crimes involving the theatre will be caught,” said Katerina Novikova, the theatre’s spokesperson. She refused to comment on any other aspects of the arrest, or on whether there was evidence of a dispute between Mr Filin and Mr Dmitrichenko.
In 2011, Mr Dmitrichenko told a Russian website that he had been an unruly student at ballet school and even thrown firecrackers at teachers. “I didn’t get serious until I was 16,” he said.
Suspicions had been cast on veteran premier dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who was accused by Bolshoi manager Anatoly Iksanov of inspiring the attack, if not being behind it. Mr Tsiskaridze was questioned, but denied any involvement and has not been charged. He has clashed publicly with the Bolshoi’s management and made a public challenge to Mr Iksanov, launching a petition to take his place, which failed.
Sources at the Bolshoi said that Mr Tsiskaridze and Mr Dmitrichenko were close, and that Ms Vorontsova was the premier’s favourite student. In a television interview prior to the acid attack, Mr Tsiskaridze claimed that the theatre management and Mr Filin had told Ms Vorontsova that she could only dance the leading role in Swan Lake if she agreed to stop taking lessons from him, which she refused to do. Ms Vorontsova has not commented on the scandal so far, and last night was due to dance in a performance of Jewels, a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine, on the main stage of the Bolshoi.
Mr Filin was attacked with sulphuric acid outside his Moscow apartment in mid-January, and is undergoing treatment in a German hospital for his eyesight and facial burns. He said all along that he believed the attack was connected to his work at the theatre.
Police were put on to Mr Dmitrichenko as a possible lead after analysing mobile phone records. They have arrested two other men over the attack, including the alleged assailant, Yury Zarutsky, and a man accused of driving a getaway vehicle, 31-year-old Dmitry Lipatov.
Both have no previous connection to the theatre, according to police and both have confessed, though Mr Lipatov says that he was not aware of the kind of crime that would be carried out.
All three remain in custody and will appear in court tomorrow for a bail hearing. The theatre has said it will substitute other soloists for performances where Mr Dmitrichenko is due to dance, the first of which is on 16 March, when the dancer was down to dance in Sleeping Beauty.