For nearly three weeks, the main action at the Bolshoi theatre has been happening far from its famous stage, as dancers and directors exchange heated accusations about who is behind the brutal acid attack on its ballet troupe’s director, Sergei Filin.
Now, police have begun to treat several employees and dancers as suspects, according to an “informed source in Moscow’s law enforcement agencies” cited by the Interfax news agency.
“Evidence is now being collected,” the source said, providing no further details.
The unprecedented attack against Filin has lifted the veil on the bitter rivalries and personality clashes inside the country’s most renowned theatre. Filin immediately linked the attack to his work as artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet.
The 42-year-old former dancer is in Germany receiving treatment aimed at restoring his eyesight. He was released from a Moscow hospital on Monday after undergoing several operations on his eyes and face, which were left with third degree burns after a masked attacker accosted him with sulphuric acid outside his home on 17 January.
Since the attack, the key players in the Bolshoi drama have approached the incident with theatrical flair, giving incendiary interviews and trading accusations almost daily. On one side stands Filin, backed by the Bolshoi’s general director, Anatoly Iksanov. On the other is Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a principal dancer and celebrity backed by hordes of adoring fans. He has been a longtime critic of the theatre’s leadership and had been a contender for Filin’s position.
The Russian press immediately turned to the rivalry between the two men in speculating what could have prompted the brutal assault.
In television interviews, some from his hospital bed, Filin has said he knows who was responsible for the attack, but has refused to name names. Iksanov has repeatedly pointed the finger at Tsiskaridze – if not for carrying out the attack, at least for creating an “atmosphere” that allowed it to happen.
Tsiskaridze has denied being involved. Speaking to the BBC in an interview that aired on Friday, he went one step further and wondered if Filin was attacked at all.
“If this, God forbid, really was acid, you wouldn’t be able to show your face for months,” Tsiskaridze told the BBC. “I don’t know what the substance was, but it’s clear that it wasn’t what they claim.”
Filin left hospital on Monday wearing dark glasses, his face exposed but framed in a white bandage.
Tsiskaridze speculated that the attack and its attendant publicity could have been part of a set-up designed to blacken his name.
“If you look at all the specially commissioned TV shows that have been hinting at my involvement, it looks like a campaign against me,” Tsiskaridze said. “This isn’t against Sergei Filin, it’s against me.”
Tsiskaridze has long had a contentious relationship with the theatre’s management. He has publicly denounced favouritism inside the Bolshoi and likened the result of the theatre’s recent major renovation to a “Turkish hotel”. He has accused the management of trying to push him out.
“It’s like 1937, the days of Stalin – they’re constantly organising meetings against me, they’re trying to force staff to sign letters condemning me,” he told the BBC.
The attack on Filin has had its effect on the theatre. Last week, the Bolshoi postponed its premiere of a new version of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring by British choreographer Wayne McGregor, one of the most eagerly awaited new productions in its repertoire.
“The Bolshoi management and the stage team led by Wayne McGregor have taken a joint decision to postpone The Rite of Spring as Sergei Filin is undergoing treatment,” the Bolshoi said in a statement. It said it would announce new dates once Filin was back at work.