Barbarism at the Bolshoi

Article excerpt

Byline: Anna Nemtsova

After he was attacked with acid, the artistic director talks of a 'war.'

Russian history books are thick with sinister plots and assassination attempts. But the acid attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet shocked even the most jaded Muscovites. On Jan. 17, Sergei Filin, whose aristocratic features and virtuoso technique as a dancer had earned him the nickname the Prince of Ballet, was walking up to his apartment building when a hooded man emerged from the shadows and threw sulfuric acid into Filin's eyes and face. As the man ran off, the desperate director grabbed clumps of snow to quell the burning in his eyes.

Having undergone an intense round of surgery to save his sight and his face, Filin spoke to Newsweek by phone from the intensive care unit at a Moscow hospital. Though no arrests have been made, he darkly suggested the attack was the culmination of a long-running battle at the Bolshoi Theatre over roles, money, and on-stage glory.

At the hospital, with only his wife and sister at his side, Filin had spent his time analyzing "the war" and said it was clear he was up against someone seeking to take power at the world-renowned theater. "I constantly faced provocations over bribes and pressure to hire certain ballerinas," he said. "Somebody must have been paying our dancers money to create conflicts and stage small revolutions, to confront me publicly and backstage."

In his younger days, Filin, 42, danced the most challenging parts in repertoire, becoming one of the most sought-after dancers in the world by the mid-1990s. But a hip injury forced him to retire as a performer, and he instead continued his career as artistic director.

Though police have questioned people who work at the theater, all they've found so far is suspicion among troupe members, says prima ballerina Anastasia Meskova. "The troublemakers managed to plant the seeds of strife among the ballet dancers. …