MOSCOW – Snow was falling in the late-night darkness Thursday when a masked figure called out the name of the most influential man at the Bolshoi Ballet - and threw acid in his face. The victim, Sergei Filin, was badly burned, and his sight is threatened.
Evil and betrayal have long played out on the Bolshoi stage, to the enchantment of ballet lovers. By many accounts Friday, they have spilled over into the dancers’ lives and now jeopardize its leadership. Although the motive remains unclear, the attack in central Moscow put a sudden spotlight on festering scandals, battles over artistic vision and historic struggles to shake off the Bolshoi’s Soviet past.
Filin, an acclaimed dancer, ascended two years ago to the all-powerful position of artistic director at the renowned Russian ballet company. In that role, his decisions can propel dancers to stardom or condemn them to oblivion. The institution he oversees is considered a national treasure by the men behind the Kremlin walls, just 500 yards away.
Police and colleagues outlined the bare facts of the crime: Filin, a youthful-looking 42-year-old, was attacked about 11:30 p.m. Thursday as he approached his apartment block, on his return from a theatrical celebration with the city’s glitterati. He suffered third-degree burns and underwent eye surgery Friday, according to Anatoly Iksanov, the Bolshoi’s director. Police said they were searching for a motive connected to Filin’s work but told the Interfax news agency they did not rule out a dispute over money or property.
In the past they dueled, said Anastasia Volochkova, a former Bolshoi ballerina, on Ekho Moskvy radio. People used to cross swords or tried to have it out in a decent way. But splashing acid into the face. This is so low. It’s hard to make any comment.
What’s happening there is a wild and scary fight, she said. It’s a fight for roles.