Before dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko emerged as the self-confessed ringleader of the brutal acid attack on the Bolshoi Ballet’s director, he starred in a fictional show of clashing testosterone and bloody rebellion. In 2010, Dmitrichenko performed at the Kennedy Center as the heroic leader of a slave revolt in the Bolshoi’s fiery Soviet-era ballet “Spartacus.”
Now he’s starring in a violent uprising whose viciousness has shocked even hardened Muscovites. According to a Moscow police spokesman, Dmitrichenko, 29, confessed on Wednesday to organizing the Jan. 17 assault on Bolshoi Artistic Director Sergei Filin. As Filin was making his way home after a party, a masked assailant hurled acid in his face, causing severe burns and threatening his eyesight. Filin, 42, is currently undergoing treatment in Germany to at least partially save his vision.
A possible motive for the attack has surfaced, as The Washington Post’s Kathy Lally has reported. More than a romantic triangle, the scenario involves a foursome led by operatic passions that could fire the kind of wildly emotional ballet the Bolshoi is famous for: Dmitrichenko is romantically involved with another Bolshoi dancer, Anzhelina Vorontsova. She apparently wasn’t promoted when Filin took over the company in 2011. Additionally, her teacher and mentor is principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who has openly complained about Bolshoi management and reportedly wanted the top job himself.
Were these alliances enough to drive Dmitrichenko to a gangster-style attack? As police continue to sort out the mess, which so far includes an unemployed man with a criminal record and a driver who claims not to know what he was hired for, we can look to recent ballet records for possible clues. But they show no clear reason why the dancers would have such a beef against their director.
Vorontsova, a soloist, was not exactly sidelined at the Bolshoi; according to the Kennedy Center, she danced featured solo roles in “Coppelia” when the Bolshoi performed there in 2012.
Dmitrichenko was promoted to first soloist in 2012, Kennedy Center records show—which was during Filin’s tenure—though he didn’t dance at the center in “Coppelia.”
It’s for his 2010 performances in “Spartacus” that Washington audiences will chiefly remember Dmitrichenko. The artistic irony is rich: In the title role of the Thracian captive who whips up a revolt against the Romans, Dmitrichenko rose in chest-thumping outrage at the treatment of his character’s enslaved wife and, later, rescued her. Yet she was ultimately left alone to mourn her husband, as he ended up impaled on the Romans’ spears. This presents a striking image for the real-life straits Dmitrichenko finds himself in now: hoisted by his own petard, so to speak.
Another link between “Spartacus” and the recent savagery at the Bolshoi comes to mind. “Spartacus,” considered the quintessential Bolshoi ballet, was created by former Bolshoi director Yuri Grigorovich in 1968. Grigorovich dominated the Bolshoi for 30 years, leaving in 1995. It’s fair to say the company has been unsettled ever since, going through one director after another. Washington audiences saw Grigorovich at that 2010 run of “Spartacus,” when the white-haired former director took a bow onstage.
I recently ran into a Russian acquaintance, a close follower of the ballet, who remarked that, in retrospect, it seems only Grigorovich was strong enough to control the Bolshoi, a company of 200 dancers and 200 egos. How did he do it? Authoritarian might. Grigorovich was hardly a universally beloved figure: He had long been accused of harsh behavior with the dancers, of rejecting modernity and of miring the company in stagnation. But I wonder if my acquaintance has a point. Can anyone who is less domineering hope to run a deeply fractured institution?