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Bolshoi vitriol emerges

Date

Tom Parfitt

Deadly rivals … principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

Deadly rivals … principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Photo: AFP

THE Bolshoi Theatre's principal ballet dancer has been interviewed as a witness over an acid attack on the troupe's artistic director.

Moscow police said they had spoken to Nikolai Tsiskaridze about the assault on Sergei Filin, who had sulphuric acid flung in his face near his home in the city this month.

Officers also questioned employees at the theatre, as well as Filin's friends and relations.

Sergei Filin before the attack.

Sergei Filin before the attack. Photo: AFP

''I was questioned as a witness, although a witness to what I don't understand,'' Tsiskaridze told a Moscow radio station.

The dancer admits that he and Filin had differences of opinion over the theatre's artistic direction but he denies any involvement with the assault and has condemned it as ''a terrible crime which must be harshly punished''.

The horrific attack has exposed the poisonous atmosphere inside Russia's most famous theatre.

The Bolshoi's general director, Anatoly Iksanov, denied suggestions this week that the management had hinted at Tsiskaridze's involvement although he blamed the dancer for creating a tense atmosphere at the theatre.

Tsiskaridze is a well-known figure in Russia beyond the world of ballet, having appeared as a judge on reality television shows. He has also become the loudest critic of a wildly over-budget and delayed reconstruction of the Bolshoi that he likened to ''vandalism''.

The Bolshoi reopened in October 2011 looking, according to Tsiskaridze, ''like a Turkish hotel''.

Tsiskaridze, 39, was a contender for ballet director in 2011, but lost out to Filin, 42. The previous director stepped down after a suspected rival posted online photographs of him in bed with other men.

He said the theatre's leadership had turned against him following his criticism. Early last year, they tried to fire him but failed. Now, he claimed, the theatre's administration was trying to force other dancers to sign a letter demanding he be fired as a teacher at the theatre.

''The methods of 1937 are back,'' he said, referring to the height of Stalin-era purges.

Filin was attacked outside his home on January 17, after weeks of receiving threatening phone calls. He has since said he regretted not having a bodyguard, or publicising the threats against him. The acid attack left him with third-degree burns to the face and neck.

He has undergone a reconstructive operation to repair the damage to his face, and two operations to restore his eyesight. He can now see from his left eye and doctors will decide next week whether another operation is needed to restore his right eye. Although long plagued with vicious rivalries and rumours, competition inside the Bolshoi has never before reached this level of brute violence.

Tsiskaridze said life inside the theatre was returning to normal. ''We are working and we will keep working,'' he said. ''Everyone is tired of talking about it.''

Telegraph, London; Guardian News & Media

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