As the police pull aside ballerinas for interrogation, sometimes hours before they are due to perform to a packed house, the dancers and Bolshoi staff are running through their own list of possible motives for the crime. They say the attack transcends the many theatrical scandals in the Bolshoi’s long history and comes against the backdrop of a bitter rift between Filin and a rival.
In multiple interviews this week, members of the Bolshoi’s troupe and staff shared their theories about the attack — money, ambition, artistic rivalry, a love affair gone awry. In a sign of how poisonous and conspiratorial the atmosphere has become, some have even asked whether Filin, who suffered third-degree burns to his face and neck, staged the attack himself, an accusation to be aired this weekend on one of Russia’s main TV channels.
“It is an absurdity, such an insane idea. But I understand where it is coming from,” Anastasia Meskova, a Bolshoi ballerina, said of the latest conspiracy. “Because truly, you throw up your hands, you just can’t explain it. You think, maybe this? But of course not! Maybe that? Of course not!”
Svetlana Lunkina, a principal ballerina at the Bolshoi who this week revealed she had been forced to flee Russia last year because of threats against her and her husband, said she had spent the days since the Jan. 17 attack on Filin scouring Facebook for hints about why it happened.
“Maybe it was personal, maybe it was theater-related. Nothing like this has ever happened before,” she said. “Yes, we have had intrigues, like any theater, with someone envying someone else, someone having more roles. . . . But that’s normal, it is probably part of the internal artistic process. The attack [on Filin] itself is so awful, so low, I cannot imagine what sort of person could resort to it. The Bolshoi is the face of our country.”
An institution founded under Catherine the Great, the Bolshoi has survived multiple fires, a World War II bombing and the early Soviet days, when the Bolsheviks considered closing the theater down.
The scandal comes amid a split in the theater between those who side with Filin, the boyishly handsome 42-year-old who has held the job since 2011, and those who side with his Georgian rival, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a Bolshoi prodigy like Filin and a household name in the West.
Tsiskaridze, 39, has waged battle with Filin and the theater’s general director, Anatoly Iksanov, for years, accusing the administration of mismanagement and corruption, which it hotly denies. In particular he has denounced a $1 billion renovation completed in 2011, which he labeled no better than a “Turkish hotel.”