Police said they questioned Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a principal dancer, as a witness in the assault on Sergei Filin on Wednesday.
“Employees of the Bolshoi Theatre, relatives and acquaintances of Filin, have also been questioned,” they added in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
A masked assailant threw sulphuric acid in Filin’s face last week in a late-night attack that has shocked the country. Filin, as well as the leadership of the Bolshoi, have repeatedly insisted the attack was linked to his work as the artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet.
The horrific attack has exposed the poisonous atmosphere inside Russia‘s most famous theatre.
Speaking to the Guardian, Tsiskaridze said he had no connection to the attack. “It’s a tragedy,” he said. “It’s a horror.”
Tsiskaridze, 39, was a contender for ballet director in 2011, but lost out to Filin, 42. The previous director stepped down after a suspected rival posted online photographs of him in bed with other men.
Tsiskaridze is a well-known figure in Russia beyond the world of ballet, having appeared as a judge on Russia’s version of Dancing with the Stars and other reality shows. He has also become the loudest critic of a wildly over-budget and delayed reconstruction that he likened to “vandalism”. The Bolshoi reopened in October 2011 looking, according to Tsiskaridze, “like a Turkish hotel”.
He said the theatre’s leadership, headed by general director Anatoly Iksanov, had turned against him following his criticism. Early last year, they tried to fire him but failed. Now, he claimed, the theatre’s administration was trying to force other dancers to sign a letter demanding he be fired as a teacher at the theatre.
“The methods of 1937 are back,” he said, referring to the height of Stalin-era purges.
Attempt to blame him for the attack on Filin has been made because “it was useful” for some “bad people”, Tsiskaridze said, declining to elaborate further.
Filin was attacked outside his home on 17 January, after weeks of receiving threatening phone calls. He has since said he regretted not taking on a bodyguard, or publicising the threats against him. The acid attack left him with third-degree burns to the face and neck.
He has undergone a reconstructive operation to repair the damage to his face, as well as two operations to restore his eyesight. He can now see from his left eye and doctors will decide next week whether another operation is needed to restore his right eye.
One of Filin’s doctors, Vladimir Neroyev, said this week that “he will be fully fit for work” although he will have to undergo many months of treatment and rehabilitation.
“He’s doing OK,” said Katerina Novikova, the Bolshoi spokeswoman. She denied that the Bolshoi leadership was organising any sort of campaign against Tsiskaridze.
“The investigation is going at full speed,” she said. “The Bolshoi is very interested that this crime will be uncovered as quickly as possible.”
Although long plagued with vicious rivalries and rumours, competition inside the Bolshoi has never reached the level of brute violence.
Tsiskaridze said life inside the theatre was returning to normal. “We are working and we will keep working,” he said. “Everyone is tired of talking about it. We are working, quietly, around the clock.”
The Bolshoi has named Galina Stepanenko, a former principal dancer at the Bolshoi, as acting artistic director.