Artistic director Sergei Filin gets warm Bolshoi Ballet new-season return after acid attack

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Irina Petrovna Voskoboinikova, who was honored for running the kindergarten for children of Bolshoi Ballet employees.


Bolshoi Ballet company artistic director Sergei Filin arrives for a meeting of the company in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. (Yuri Kochetkov/EPA)
September 17, 2013

Every red-velvet seat was taken. Countless drops of crystal shimmered from the chandeliers. The applause was long and warm. Sergei Filin, victim of an acid attack, had returned Tuesday to the Bolshoi Theatre.

Filin, the 42-year-old Bolshoi Ballet artistic director, wore sunglasses to protect his eyes. After 22 operations, his face was smooth and handsome, but his vision remained impaired. He has 80 percent vision in his left eye but can see little with his right eye. More operations lie ahead, and although he felt well, he said, he still could not return to work.

The company had gathered in the theater for the traditional season-opening ceremony Tuesday. Opera singers, ballet dancers, musicians, designers and production workers were there to mark the 238th season. Scores of journalists joined them.

Speaker after speaker wished the company good health, luck and success in the year ahead. They promised a memorable season, with an opera premiere — Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” — and a new ballet, “Lady of the Camellias.”

But the gathering was as much about closing a curtain on months of intrigue and scandal as it was about the promise of new triumphs and standing ovations ahead.

On a dark night in January, a shadowy figure accosted Filin as he returned home to his waiting family from a theater-world gala. The acid splashed on his face burned his skin and eyes. After treatment in Moscow, he was sent to Germany for more care and surgery. He returned Saturday to Moscow, his future still uncertain.

Pavel Dmitrichenko, a 29-year-old dancer who was said to have been jealous and resentful over how roles were assigned, has been blamed for the crime and sits in jail awaiting trial, his career ruined. A star dancer, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, was fired as summer began. Gossips accused him of being out for Filin’s job and part of a cabal plotting against Filin.

A $1 billion renovation of the theater, which kept it closed from 2005 to 2011, was accompanied by reports of embezzlement and overspending.

The general director, Anatoly Iksanov, was pushed out in July, replaced by Vladimir Urin, the head of the smaller Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko theater.

“There is no need to hide that this was not an easy season, maybe one of the most difficult in the history of the theater,” Urin told his audience Tuesday.

He promised openness in decision making, as well as respect for the past but an embrace of the future. “I want the Bolshoi name to mean what it has always meant,” he said. “I understand the responsibility I have undertaken.”

Such is the importance of the institution that the minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, also stood before the gold curtain, which is imbued with shades of red, embossed with the imperial double-headed eagle and imprinted with the country’s name in a recurring pattern. “I feel a positive feeling in this hall,” he said. “It’s very good.”

Filin — dressed in a dark suit, tie and crisp white shirt — thanked the dancers for carrying on despite the turmoil and his absence. “Because of all of your help,” he said, “I am here today.”

He introduced new dancers and recognized those returning, including David Hallberg, whom Filin had brought in as the first American to dance regularly with the Bolshoi. Hallberg was returning after recovering from an injury.

Awards were distributed — to the editor of the Bolshoi’s newsletter for 57 years of work, and to the director of the Bolshoi’s clinic. Irina Petrovna Voskoboinikova was given flowers and a plaque for running the kindergarten for children of Bolshoi employees.

Natalia Bereslavtseva, a 34-year-old flute player, walked away with a bouquet of flowers and a plaque. “This is a very unusual day,” she said. “I’ve been here 10 years and have always come to this opening ceremony, but this one is different.”

Everyone, she said, was awaiting a new beginning. “You know all the stories,” she said.

The company dispersed. Galina Stepanenko, dancer-thin and wearing towering black heels, stood at the door, talking to reporters, smiling at old friends. She has been filling in for Filin since the attack.

“Of course we are welcoming him back today,” she said, “but he has never left us. We talked, he knew about every little problem, he has been with us every moment.”

Filin, too, walked by her, guided by a friendly arm.

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