Bolshoi dancer confesses to attack on ballet chief

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Associated Press

Posted on March 6, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 7 at 1:31 AM

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian ballet star who has danced the roles of violent and powerful historical figures at the Bolshoi Theater has confessed to organizing the acid attack on the theater's ballet chief, Moscow police said Wednesday.

A masked man threw a jar of sulfuric acid in the face of artistic director Sergei Filin as he returned home late on Jan. 17, severely burning his eyes. The 42-year-old former dancer is undergoing treatment in Germany.

Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko, 29, confessed to masterminding the attack, and two other men confessed to being the perpetrator and the driver of the getaway car, police said in a statement. All three were to appear in court on Thursday, when prosecutors were to move for criminal charges to be filed against them.

"I organized that attack but not to the extent that it occurred," a bleary-eyed Dmitrichenko said in footage released by Russian police.

Moscow police said in a statement that investigators believe that Dmitrichenko harbored "personal enmity" against Filin.

The attack threw light on a culture of deep intrigue and infighting at the famed Moscow theater. Within hours of the attack, Bolshoi managers were speculating that the attack could have been in retaliation for Filin's selection of certain dancers over others for prized roles.

Dmitrichenko, who joined the Bolshoi in 2002, has not suffered for starring roles. Most recently, he danced the title role in "Ivan the Terrible," a ballet based on the life of the ruthless 16th-century czar who killed his son in a rage. He also has danced Spartacus in the ballet of the same name. Dmitrichenko's page on the social networking site VKontakte includes a photograph of him as the leader of the slave uprising dancing with a dagger in each hand.

Dmitrichenko's girlfriend, who also is a Bolshoi soloist, is reported to have had a troubled relationship with Filin and felt she was unfairly denied major parts, an angle to the case that has been played up by Russian state television.

Filin's lawyer and wife, however, both cautioned that the ballerina is unlikely to have been the only cause of the conflict.

"Sergei thinks the motives of the crime are somewhat different," Filin's wife, Maria Prorvich, was quoted as saying in an interview to the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. "The girl is only a pretext, but certainly not the main cause of the crime."

She said Filin had suspected Dmitrichenko's involvement in the attack, but is certain that the circle goes beyond the three men arrested on Tuesday.

Filin's lawyer agreed. "We believe that investigators still have a lot of work to do to establish all of the facts," Tatyana Stukalova said in an interview on Rossiya state television.

Investigators became suspicious of Dmitrichenko when they found out that he had recently been in a close contact with an unemployed man with a prison record. The suspects were making inquiries about Filin's schedule and whereabouts, and bought SIM cards for mobile phones registered under fake names, police said.

Police determined that the acid that the alleged attacker, 35-year-old Yuri Zarutsky, splashed on Filin's face had been purchased at an auto shop. Police said Zarutsky is believed to have heated it to evaporate the water to make the acid stronger. On the night of the attack Dmitrichenko tipped off Zarutsky when Filin left the theater, police said.

Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova told The Associated Press that Filin had been informed about Dmitrichenko's detention, but said the theater would not comment until after the trial.

The Bolshoi's general director, Anatoly Iksanov, has accused veteran principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze of inspiring the attack. Tsiskaridze, a long-time critic of the theater's management, has denied the allegation.

Dmitrichenko's girlfriend, Anzhelina Vorontsova, was coached by Tsiskaridze.

When contacted Wednesday by the AP, Tsiskaridze texted back: "I have nothing to say..."

Izvestia, a Kremlin-friendly daily, on Wednesday quoted ballet teacher Marina Kondratyeva as saying that Vorontsova had not been given leading parts lately but for a good reason: "How could Filin 'elbow her out'? Tsiskaridze is mentoring and coaching her — but she was just plain fat."

Filin was instrumental in bringing Vorontsova to Moscow to study and had hoped she would stay to dance for him at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater, Moscow's second ballet company, where he was artistic director before taking up the Bolshoi post in March 2011. Instead she joined the Bolshoi.

Russian newspapers quoted unidentified ballet dancers as saying that Dmitrichenko had a fiery temper.

In a rare public outburst, Dmitrichenko posted an angry comment in November responding to a newspaper review that said his "artistic scope is limited not to mention his physical potential."

On the website of the Kommersant daily, Dmitrichenko accused the ballet critic of bias, calling the writer "a failed performer." Kommersant later took down his comment. One of the screenshots of the detailed remarks read: "I'm happy, I'm accomplished, I work with the genius of a teacher, I work with a genius, Grigorovich himself!!! What about you??"

Yuri Grigorovich led the dance company for three decades, resigning in 1995, after losing a protracted dispute with theater management, but he remains on the Bolshoi staff. Dancers and teachers still loyal to Grigorovich have resisted efforts by a series of successive artistic directors to bring a more modern repertoire to the theater, still celebrated mainly for the classical ballets that grace its stage. Filin, who danced for the Bolshoi from 1989 until 2007, was seen as capable of bridging that gap.

Both of Dmitrichenko's main starring roles were in ballets choreographed by Grigorovich. He was next due to appear at the Bolshoi on March 16, in "Sleeping Beauty, dancing the part of Bluebird.

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AP writers Lynn Berry, Varya Kudryavtseva, Sasha Merkushev and Yelena Yegorova contributed to this report.

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