MOSCOW (Washington Post) — Police visited Sergei Filin in his Moscow hospital room Saturday as they investigated an acid attack that left the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director recovering from eye surgery and stunned dancers and fans around the world.
Police were circumspect, telling Russian news services that they were only beginning their investigation, but that reserve did not extend to the world of ballet. Dancers and theater people, struggling on talk shows and in interviews to make sense of what happened, said the only motives that made any sense were professional resentments or an intrigue concerning control of the company. The Bolshoi, founded more than 200 years ago, is something of a national shrine, treasured by czars and Communists, dictators and democrats, all regarding it as emblematic of Russia’s culture and eminence.
Filin, the company’s powerful artistic director for the past two years, was attacked as he returned home to his wife and children after a gala theatrical celebration. He suffered third-degree burns and faces numerous plastic surgeries and at least six months of recovery. His sight will be evaluated in two weeks, Alexander Mitichkin, chief physician of Moscow’s Hospital No. 36, told the Interfax news agency. For now, he is blindfolded.
“It is premature to speak about his eyesight,” Mitichkin said. He said Filin can see but did not say how well or whether he has sight in both eyes.
As artistic director, Filin assigned roles and made decisions about repertoire — choices that could make or break a career. Critics here and abroad gave him credit for making the Bolshoi dancers look better than ever, and reviews were good.
On a TV Rain talk show, Gedeminas Taranda, a former Bolshoi dancer who has formed his own company, said the Bolshoi has always been riven by feuding groups, who in earlier times coalesced around luminaries such as Maya Plisetskaya and Vladimir Vasiliev, or even Communist or KGB elements. Now, however, the rivalries have apparently reached unparalleled levels.
Taranda said he was convinced that the acid was thrown by someone within or close to the Bolshoi. “It was so theatrical,” he said, suggesting that common criminals might not care so much about disfiguring a victim.
Katerina Novikova, the Bolshoi’s spokeswoman, said she feared that the crime might never be solved.
Just before Filin was hired in March 2011, she said, sexually explicit photos of the company’s manager were widely distributed online, humiliating him and destroying his chances for advancement. The perpetrator has never been found, she said.
Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, visited Filin at the hospital Saturday and described him as dealing with his condition courageously. Medinsky told Interfax that the country was doing everything it could to help and that Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets was supervising the case.
“I would never have thought that artistic differences could take such forms,” he said. “This is a terrible crime.”