Moscow, Jan. 18: A masked man threw acid in the face of Sergei Filin, the artistic director of the legendary Bolshoi Ballet, last night, leaving him with third-degree burns and possibly threatening his eyesight, Bolshoi officials said this morning.
The attack followed a series of anonymous threats to Filin, 42, a dancer who rose through the ranks of the world's largest ballet company to become its head.
Investigators have not ruled out a dispute over money or property, but are focusing on the theory that Filin was targeted because of his work, a police spokesman said.
As dancers kept an overnight vigil at the burn unit where he is being treated, his colleagues said they suspected that professional jealousy was behind the attack. In recent weeks, his tyres were punctured and his car scratched, and his cellphones and personal email account were hacked and correspondence published, his associates have said. A relative had offered to supply Filin with a bodyguard, but Filin refused because he did not believe that the threats would lead to physical violence, said Dilyara Timergazina, his assistant and adviser.
The threats, she said, "don't show that someone with great conceptual thinking is behind that, but someone very primitive, with unhealthy aspirations ' I don't know how to put it ' someone full of hate".
Katerina Novikova, the Bolshoi's spokeswoman, said Filin was opening the gate to his residence when a masked man called out his name and threw the contents of a bottle in his face. After the attack he was able to see out of one eye but not the other, Timergazina said. An official at the theatre told Interfax that he would be sent overseas, probably to Germany or Israel, for treatment. Doctors have said his recovery may take as long as six months.
The Bolshoi has a reputation for intrigue, but Novikova said she never imagined that it could lead to violence. "Sergei was constantly receiving threats after he took up this post and his predecessors were under attack before him," she told Russia's Channel One. "We never thought that this war for roles ' and not for real estate or for oil ' could reach such a criminal level. And we always wanted to believe that people connected with theatre would have a minimal level of morality. That's why this is an absolutely frightening story."
Filin signed a five-year contract as director of the Bolshoi in 2011. Among his first big decisions was to hire David Hallberg as a principal dancer ' the first American to hold that coveted status, which has traditionally gone to Russian-trained dancers. He suffered a setback when two of its stars, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, left the Bolshoi for a far lesser-known theatre in St Petersburg.
Novikova said Filin met earlier today with Anatoly Iksanov, the theatre's director, and discussed the hacking attacks and other threats. She said Filin's personal email account was penetrated and personal correspondence was published in an attempt to discredit him in the eyes of the theatre's leadership, a tactic that was also used against Filin's predecessor.