MOSCOW — When a star dancer unexpectedly confessed last week to plotting the acid attack against the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director, it looked as if, with a smattering of applause for fast police work, the curtain would be closing on an episode that had horrified and absorbed the public. But this is Russia.
On Tuesday, 300 Bolshoi dancers, crew members and administrators declared that they couldn’t believe that Pavel Dmitrichenko could have committed the crime. They accused the police of pressuring him to confess. They suggested that the evidence looked fake. And, in a letter to President Vladimir Putin and the public, they asked for an independent inquiry that would find the reason someone threw acid in Sergei Filin’s eyes the night of Jan. 17.
Officials did not offer an immediate response. But the crime has led to something of a national soul-searching, with talk that it was a metaphor for the way corruption, favoritism and cynicism infect so much of life here. Whatever was going on in the theater — Alexei Ratmansky, a former Bolshoi artistic director and now artist in residence at the American Ballet Theatre, called it a cesspool — has been seen as a reflection of the larger society.
“Unfortunately, there have been many examples in the history of our country and our society,” the Bolshoi company’s letter said, “when the result that the investigation needed was achieved by illegitimate methods and evidence very often turned out to be fake.”
The letter called the police conclusions hasty, the evidence unconvincing and the confession a result of pressure, assertions that many Russians, who tend to distrust officialdom, would find within the realm of possibility. It had 300 signatures. Overall, including the Bolshoi Opera, the organization has about 3,500 employees.
Police said Dmitrichenko, a 29-year-old dancer, confessed to paying a 35-year-old ex-convict $1,600 to carry out the attack. He was shown on television, looking tired and disheveled. In a court appearance, Dmitrichenko backed off, saying he had talked about having Filin roughed up but not attacked with acid.
Dmitrichenko was described as holding a grudge against Filin over salaries, bonuses and the distribution of roles. Investigators suggested that Dmitrichenko was upset because his girlfriend, also a Bolshoi dancer, was not being promoted quickly enough.
Doctors in Germany have been attempting to restore Filin’s vision, and it is not yet clear how successful the operations have been. In an interview Tuesday with the Russia 24 television network, he said Dmitrichenko had been hostile toward him but they had not had overt conflicts.
The letter signers said they supported Filin as well as Dmitrichenko. They called both men great artists whose careers and reputations were inextricably tied to the institution of the Bolshoi — all of which was being damaged by a lack of clarity about the attack.
“It is not just about two famous artists,” the letter said, “but about the reputation of one of the best theaters in the world and about Russian culture as a whole. A verdict in this case will have crucial significance for the whole country.”