Dance Matters: The Aftermath of the Bolshoi Acid Attack

When Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin was verbally threatened by a disgruntled dancer last December, he had no way of foreseeing the nightmare that would follow. His email was hacked, his tires slashed, and on January 17 his face was doused with sulfuric acid, leaving him writhing in pain just outside his home. Shock rippled through the Bolshoi, Moscow, and the international ballet world.


At left: Filin and Galina Stepanenko, currently interim director, in Swan Lake. Photo from the Bolshoi archives, Courtesy Bolshoi.


Rumors flew. General director Anatoly Iksanov accused principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who had long been an outspoken critic of the Bolshoi’s leadership, of fomenting an atmosphere that made this brutal act possible. Tsiskaridze countered, bizarrely, by claiming that he himself was a victim of a witch hunt—and eventually suing the theater.


On March 5 the Moscow police arrested leading soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko, 29. He confessed to hiring an ex-convict to carry out an attack on Filin—although he claims he only asked the man to “knock him around.” What was Dmitrichenko’s complaint? He demanded that both he and his girlfriend, the promising Anzhelina Vorontsova, be given top roles that were deemed by Filin outside their abilities. The answer was no. He also accused the Bolshoi of corruption in the system of granting money to dancers.


Some at the Bolshoi, including Iksanov and Filin, feel sure that Dmitrichenko did not act alone. Many Bolshoi performers signed an open letter to President Putin to demand a reinvestigation. “Deep down,” says Larissa Saveliev, former Bolshoi dancer and founder/director of Youth America Grand Prix, “the dancers don’t believe that one of them could have done it.”


Meanwhile, a committee has been formed, Soviet-style, to assist in making artistic decisions.


As for Filin’s condition, he may have permanent blindness in one eye, and the other is regaining limited vision after many operations. While in Germany recovering, he’s been on the phone daily with Galina Stepanenko, the recently retired principal who stepped in as interim director—making her the Bolshoi’s first female leader. Filin hopes to join the company when they tour to London in July.

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