The war at the Bolshoi Ballet escalates to a crime with a vicious attack on Sergei Filin

The shocking attack on the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director, Sergei Filin, marks a major escalation in the war between internal factions of the theatre, a war that has been tormenting the company for years.

But the slander and bitchiness of former years are nothing compared with Thursday’s criminal attack.

About midnight on Thursday, near Filin’s home in central Moscow, a masked man threw acid on the face of Filin who was initially admitted to the burns unit of a Moscow hospital, then had surgery on his eyes and is soon to be transferred to a military burns centre in Belgium.

A spokeswoman for the Bolshoi, Katerina Novikova, said that his condition was stable but his eyesight is threatened.

During Filin’s recuperation, Ruslan Pronin, the ballet manager of the Bolshoi Ballet will be interim director.

The director general of the Bolshoi Theatre, Anatoly Iksanov, told Channel One in Russia that he believes the attacked was linked to Filin’s work.

“He was a man of principle and never compromised”, Iksanov said. “If he believed that this or that dancer was not ready or was unable perform this or that part, he would turn them down”.

The New York Times has just reported that one of Filin’s predecessors, the acclaimed choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky, wrote on Facebook that “many of the illnesses of the Bolshoi are one snowball – that disgusting claque which is friendly with artists, ticket speculators and scalpers, half-crazy fans who are ready to slit the throats of their idol’s competitors, cynical hackers, lies in the press and scandalous interviews of people working there. The cause of it is the lack of theatrical ethics, which were gradually destroyed in the Bolshoi by specific people. This is the real trouble of this great theatre.”

One year ago this week I interviewed Filin at the Bolshoi Theatre. He was reluctant to discuss Bolshoi politics but talked freely about his plans to continue commissioning choreographers such as Wayne McGregor and Mats Ek to create contemporary works on the company.

Factions within the company remain unhappy with this direction.

Almost two years ago, the British critic and dance writer, Ismene Brown, who has followed Bolshoi politics for many years, wrote that Filin’s appointment in March 2011 on a five year contract had “brought to a swift culmination a terrible week for the Bolshoi, where their second-in-command (the company manager, Gennady Yanin), resigned after compromising sexual images were released onto the internet, just as the previous artistic director, Yuri Burlaka, had had his contract terminated”.

She listed the history at the Bolshoi as follows:

Yuri Grigorovich 1964-95 (choreographer and chief balletmaster – made to resign)

Vladimir Vasiliev 1995-2000 (superstar dancer – overall theatre artistic director – fired)

Alexei Fadeyechev 1998-2000 (ballet director under Vasiliev – made to resign)

Boris Akimov 2000-3 (coach – contract not renewed)

Alexei Ratmansky 2004-8 (choreographer – resigned)

Yuri Burlaka 2009-11 (academic – contract not renewed)

As Ratmansky has said: “Being at the Bolshoi means being caught up in politics”.

I interviewed Ratmansky in 2008, soon after he left the Bolshoi.

Here are his email responses to some of my questions:

Why did you decide not to continue at the Bolshoi?

“No time to prepare new works, to think about it, to accumulate energy. No time for family. Pressure of responsibility. Too much negative emotions”.

What will your legacy be at the company?

“Twenty five new ballets plus two more planned this fall. A lot more creative work than they used to have. That helped new generation of dancers to establish themselves. I was happy to give chances despite the hierarchy.

“Guest teachers (first time in Bolshoi history), choreographic workshops, important tours, carefully planned (London, Paris, New York), which helped to restore the reputation. I myself did four full-length ballets, bringing back and rethinking some important works of the heritage. I hope they stay in the repertory”.

What challenges still face the Bolshoi?

“To find its identity in the new times, to produce new important ballets”.

Ratmansky was committed to the new. So was Filin. Who will now have the courage to continue their mission and end decades of infighting at the Bolshoi?