Sergei Filin had been receiving intimidating phone calls for a while, and had had his tyres punctured and his email hacked, but the acid attack that has shocked the dance world is beyond all reasoning. While police are not ruling out a personal vendetta, it is almost certainly an attack by someone who wants him removed from his position as head of the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet.
Gennady Yanin, who was a previous frontrunner for the job, was dropped after a successful smear campaign about his homosexuality and some explicit internet photos. At the time, Anatoly Iksanov, general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, said,
There are some people in the theatre who would like to take the job of artistic director, and they must have played a role in this mean intrigue.
The Filin attack goes way beyond ‘mean intrigue'.
Nikolay Tsiskaridze, another contender for the job in 2011, lost out to Filin. Soon losing this opportunity he was also dismissed as a teacher at the Bolshoi school, apparently for having criticized the restoration of the legendary theatre, though the official version was that a working dancer couldn't have enough time for teaching commitments.
Tsiskaridze was furious,
I'm absolutely sure that this step by the Bolshoi Theatre proceeds exclusively from the desire to take revenge and teach a lesson to others.
He said he had no back up from the union either, being that Felin is also head of the union,
All complaints against Filin as the leader of the Bolshoi ballet end up being considered precisely by him. It's a dead-end situation, and some of my colleagues like the soloist Andrey Uvarov, who had to leave the theatre not long ago, have already paid the price for trying to stand against Filin.
One Russian journalist thought to contact Tsiskaridze after Thursday's brutal attack.
I'm totally innocent. I also want to point out that in Filin's letter reproduced on Facebook, he insulted not only me, but many artists. Sorry!
When the journalist pointed out that the Facebook page is supposedly fake as Filin had had his email and Facebook accounts hacked a few weeks ago, Tsiskaridze replied,
Maybe the Facebook page is a fake, but the letter, unfortunately, is true. Someone hacked his email and then exposed it. There are real facts described in the letter. This is his speech – the way he expresses himself. Now they want to cover up this scandal.
When asked what he thought about acid attacks to settle disputes, Tsiskaridze said,
These things have always happened when big money is involved (and there are a lot of gripes, judging by the letters) or when there are love triangles and complications. Both cases apply to Filin, as Facebook revealed.
With Gennadi Yanin, everyone knew about his personal life in the theatre. What was the problem? It was his personal life, it was an invasion of his privacy and had nothing at all to do with the theatre.
If Tsiskaridze seems to have little sympathy with his Filin's condition, colleagues at the Bolshoi have been shocked and outraged:
Ex-ballerina Anastasia Volochkova said,
I can't even imagine that this can happen in the cultured world… all this lawlessness, corruption, and anti-humanity – it's a sign of the end.
Star ballerina and Filin's frequent partner, Svetlana Zakharova, commented,
This is an animalistic crime and I very much hope the criminals will be punished.
And Alexei Ratmansky, former Bolshoi artistic director, described the attack as,
…one snowball caused by the lack of any ethics at the theatre.
Photo: from top Sergei Filin, Nikolay Tsiskaridze
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.