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Bolshoi Ballet acid attack trial focuses on gossip, intrigue as victim testifies

The rumors of intrigue and jealous rage that have been floating around the Bolshoi Ballet since an acid attack on the company’s artistic director last winter leapt onto center stage Wednesday as a star dancer stood trial for the crime.

Pavel Dmitrichenko, a 29-year-old soloist, is accused of orchestrating the Jan. 17 assault that inflicted third-degree burns on Sergei Filin, leaving him with no vision in one eye and very little in the other.

Filin, 43, told his story for more than an hour before Judge Yelena Maximova or the prosecutor asked a single question. As artistic director, he assigned roles that could vault a dancer to stardom — or relegate him or her to the provinces. Never, he said, had he taken a bribe in return for assigning a role, despite speculation after he was injured that the Bolshoi was a nest of favoritism, corruption and plots for revenge.

After Filin spoke, Dmitrichenko rose in the metal cage where he was confined with two other defendants. He looked pale. He had been writing on a sheaf of papers as Filin testified, shaking his head in disagreement now and then. He had questions for Filin, he said, and the judge gave her assent.

The dancer, who been reading over several photocopied pages with some passages highlighted in pink, stood up and looked at Filin, a few feet away. He cited Volume 6 of the investigation, which he said recounted evidence of Filin having had sexual relationships with several ballerinas and conflicts with other dancers over roles and their job performance.

“I have never had sexual relations with them,” Filin said, looking straight ahead at the judge. “This is an insult.”

His wife, Maria Prorvich, dances with the Bolshoi, Filin added. Had he acted out of favoritism, he said, she would be a soloist instead of being relegated to the corps de ballet. “I love my wife,” he said. “I have loved her for many years.”

Filin, who wore dark glasses, looked trim and athletic in a dark shirt and jacket. He denied rumors that Olga Smirnova, a star dancer, had gotten roles because they were involved in an affair. She was simply talented, he said, more so than his wife. “The dancer’s talent is most important,” he said.

The prosecutor asked Filin if Dmitrichenko had ever threatened him. “Pavel threatened me indirectly,” he responded.

His enemies had sought but failed to find blackmail material, Filin said, an occasional hazard of the job. His predecessor as artistic director, Gennady Yanin, quit after photos purportedly showing him in sexually compromising situations were circulated on the Internet.

“I would like to say that this attack stems directly from the lack of any compromising evidence against me,” said Filin, who gestured from time to time with the grace of a dancer.

When first arrested, Dmitrichenko confessed to arranging the attack with the help of his co-defendants — Yuri Zarutsky, an unemployed man accused of throwing the acid, and Andrei Lipatov, who is charged with driving the getaway car. Later, the dancer said he had never asked anyone to throw acid. All three face up to 12 years in prison.

“I don’t deny moral responsibility for what happened to you,” Dmitrichenko told Filin in court Wednesday, “and I want to apologize for that. But I never asked anyone to do that to you.”

Dmitrichenko, who danced fierce roles in “Ivan the Terrible” and “Swan Lake,” was described by police as a performer who felt underrated and was infuriated by Filin’s treatment of Anzhelina Vorontsova, a promising ballerina and Dmitrichenko’s romantic partner.

Filin said he had treated Vorontsova well and had decided to give her a coveted role in “Swan Lake.”

The high-drama case almost set off a stampede among journalists seeking entry into the courtroom, which has room for only 40 spectators. Photographers were not allowed in. Instead, they were kept penned down the hall from the door where Filin was ushered in and out, accompanied by a bodyguard and a doctor. Court was recessed briefly three times while a doctor saw to him.

Three special troops wearing heavy armor backed up three regular police officers in the courtroom, and a small but scrappy special officer glared at the print reporters who managed to get in. Anyone who even thought about taking a photo would be thrown out, he warned.

As the judge prepared to adjourn Wednesday evening, she asked Filin, who is seeking about $90,000 in moral damages and $15,000 in physical damages, what harm he had suffered.

“I lost my eyesight,” he said. “I cannot see my children.” He left the courtroom wiping away tears.

The session resumes Thursday, but Filin is not expected to return. He will soon be on his way to Germany for his 24th operation. His once-bright career at the world’s storied ballet has been badly harmed. And no matter the verdict, Dmitrichenko’s has been ruined.



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