Life must have been imitating some of art's darkest visions when a frustrated lead dancer for Moscow's Bolshoi ballet troupe allegedly arranged an acid attack on the prestigious theater's artistic director almost two months ago.
Moscow police say Pavel Dmitrichenko – a top soloist for the Bolshoi who specializes in playing villains – allegedly conspired with two other men to corner Bolshoi Artistic Director Sergei Filin on the street near his home on Jan. 17, and splash his face with a vial of highly concentrated sulfuric acid. Mr. Filin was appointed to his position two years ago amid fierce rivalry with other members of the troupe.
The two accomplices – who police say were paid by Dmitrichenko – were named as Yuri Zarutsky, who is alleged to have carried out the attack, and Andrei Lipatov, who is suspected of driving the getaway car.
The three suspects will go before a judge tomorrow to determine bail, and could now face up to eight years in prison for "willfully inflicting damage on the health of another."
The crime has riveted Russia and dominated news cycles for weeks, embodying as it does all the elements of suspense, intrigue, and evil-doing that one normally expects to find in one of the Bolshoi's own lavish productions – such as Ivan the Terrible, the tale of a mad czar who murdered his son, in which Dmitrichenko recently played the title role.
An Internet news site with close police connections, Lifenews.ru, posted a video Wednesday showing Dmitrichenko admitting to the crime under police interrogation. "I organized the attack, but not to the extent that it occurred," he is shown saying, apparently meaning he didn't intend it to go as far as it did.
Mr. Filin suffered third-degree burns over much of his face, and doctors reportedly struggled to save his eyesight. He has been undergoing treatment in Germany for several weeks, and is expected to return to his post at the Bolshoi by summer.
"The motive for the crime lies in Filin’s hostile relations with Dmitrichenko connected to his work," a police spokesman said on Wednesday.
Other sources have told Russian journalists that Dimitrichenko was furious that Filin had supposedly stalled the career of his girlfriend, ballerina Anzhelika Vorontsova. Ms. Vorontsova was passed over for an important role in the Bolshoi's upcoming production of Swan Lake – in which Dmitrichenko himself was slated to play the part of the evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart, who turns a group of beautiful women into swans.
"The public goes to the Bolshoi and sees these marvelous performances on the stage, and is unaware that behind that beautiful facade there is an ugly reverse side," says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.
"Now it's there in the open, for all to see," he adds.
The Bolshoi has been Russia's premier art theater for almost 200 years, and the private lives of its rigorously trained and disciplined troupes of performers – who become big stars in Russia – have frequently generated gossip and scandal.
The Bolshoi's iconic neoclassical main building, a stone's throw from the Kremlin, recently underwent a lengthy and controversial reconstruction which, after multiple cost overruns, ended up costing the Russian government a staggering $700 million, and is still the subject of public grumbling about corruption, nepotism, and incompetence at the highest levels.
The theater has also been criticized for its system of distributing tickets, a portion of which, under longstanding Russian tradition, are supposed to be made available at affordable prices to pensioners and students. But in practice the lower-priced tickets are rarely available, while agencies that cater to rich Russians and tourists and scalpers always have plenty available at many times the official price.
One of the theories about the attack on Filin that Moscow police were said to be looking into his supposed efforts to combat the misappropriation of Bolshoi tickets.
"The assault on Filin was an awful crime, which reminded me a bit of the mafia wars of the 1990s, and the way our Russian thugs like to settle scores," says Alexander Bril, a jazz musician and instructor at the Gnesin Academy of Music in Moscow.
"We have been living in this atmosphere for the past two decades. Why would anybody think the art world would be exempt, or that it wouldn't affect major cultural centers like the Bolshoi?" he adds.