Filin, an acclaimed dancer, ascended two years ago to the all-powerful position of artistic director at the renowned Russian ballet company. In that role, his decisions can propel dancers to stardom or condemn them to oblivion. The institution he oversees is considered a national treasure by the men behind the Kremlin walls, just 500 yards away.
Police and colleagues outlined the bare facts of the crime: Filin, a youthful-looking 42-year-old, was attacked about 11:30 p.m. Thursday as he approached his apartment block, on his return from a theatrical celebration with the city’s glitterati. He suffered third-degree burns and underwent eye surgery Friday, according to Anatoly Iksanov, the Bolshoi’s director. Police said they were searching for a motive connected to Filin’s work, but told the Interfax news agency they did not rule out a dispute over money or property.
Speculation about who was behind the attack — and why — electrified the dance world, where the Bolshoi is known for the technical brilliance, dramatic characterization and high emotion of its performances — and artistic rivalries — rather than for dangerous intrigue.
“In the past they dueled,” said Anastasia Volochkova, a former Bolshoi ballerina, on Ekho Moskvy radio. “People used to cross swords or tried to have it out in a decent way. But splashing acid into the face. . . . This is so low. It’s hard to make any comment.
“What’s happening there is a wild and scary fight,” she said. “It’s a fight for roles.”
Volochkova became known here as the fat ballerina after a previous artistic director at the Bolshoi dismissed her in 2003, accusing her of being too heavy to lift. She weighed 109 pounds at the time, she said.
Filin had been repeatedly threatened in recent days, according to Katerina Novikova, press secretary for the Bolshoi. His tires had been slashed several times, his Facebook page was hacked, and he had received ominous telephone calls, she said.
On Russian television, Iksanov suggested that the attack must be related to Filin’s work. Perhaps someone wanted to set different parts of the company at odds, he said.
People who know the company well unleashed their fury over the assault. It was no accident, said Alexei Ratmansky, who preceded Filin in his Bolshoi post from 2004 to 2008 and now is artist in residence at the American Ballet Theatre. In a Facebook posting, he described how the two-centuries-old Bolshoi was being destroyed by a lack of ethics.