The cost of corruption at the Bolshoi

A day before sentence was passed on the three men accused of organising the acid attack on Sergei Filin he gave an exclusive interview to CNN in Aachen, Germany, where he has undergone many operations on his eyes.

The artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet said the attack had dented his spirit as well as leaving him in agony and partially disfigured.

“It’s not just a problem with my eyes, it’s a problem with my heart,” he said.

Filin was not prepared to forgive and forget.

“Of course not, I cannot forgive them because there is no sentence nor punishment today that would enable me to recover my eyesight, the eyesight that I once had,” he said.

Filin, attacked in Moscow last January, said nobody knows what will happen as his treatment continues and that “whatever is ahead, it will be a struggle”.

The Bolshoi soloist, Pavel Dmitrichenko, who masterminded the attack was sentenced to prison for six years last Tuesday while his accomplice Yuri Zarutsky was sentenced to 10 years and the driver Andrei Lipatov sentenced to four years.

As I’ve written before, the London-based critic, Ismene Brown, has excelled in reporting the scandal.

Her article, published this week on the UK website, The Arts Desk, is a must read, especially for her summation of how the trial revealed that competition between dancers at the Bolshoi “has been contorted into a malicious Darwinian battle to be noticed, by any means.

“In the corps de ballet …you are paid a pittance, and only by being spotted and cast regularly as one of the 32 swan-girls in Swan Lake or a snowflake in The Nutcracker can you hope to start making a living. To win a tiny solo could even be a career breakthrough, but at least it will bring you a cash bonus.

“But what if you are one of the unwanted corps de ballet? The dancers who are bidden to daily class, to go through motions of a swan-girl or tentatively practise a solo, and yet never find your name on the printout of the lucky bunch, day after day, week after week? What if you become depressed, bitter, wretched?”

Brown makes it clear that corruption within the company is partly due to the large number of Bolshoi dancers.

The Bolshoi website shows more than 200 dancers in the company, with 156 of those in the corps de ballet.

Even in a company where the corps numbers no more than 50, there are many dancers that are not even third cast so one can only imagine the desperation among the Bolshoi corps as they attend class but never get cast.

Brown sees signs of hope.

“The new Bolshoi Theatre chief executive, Iksanov’s successor Vladimir Urin, has spent the past three months consulting on a ground breaking union agreement, which could be in operation by the New Year.

“Under it, perhaps, the taint of favouritism and exploitation will be banished from an unfair working environment. Under it, perhaps, dancers will mete out respect to their leaders, and leaders will win their trust. Under it, perhaps, good artistic decisions can be calmly taken. Under it, perhaps, morale and morality will go hand in hand, creating an environment in which the Bolshoi Ballet acid trial would never have happened”.


In the meantime, whoever leads the company in the long term will need much courage and even more protection from the enemies they are destined to make.

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Former Bolshoi ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko (R) is escorted by policemen for a sentence reading at Meshansky district court in Moscow, Russia, 3 December 2013. Photo © EPA/Maxim Shipenkov

Sergei Filin, photo © AFP