Ballet wars at the Bolshoi

File picture of the Bolshoi Theatre illuminated for a gala opening in Moscow, October 2011 Not all is well behind the facade of the Bolshoi theatre

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The acid attack on the Bolshoi ballet's artistic director Sergei Filin has come as a real shock in Russia.

And even before police find the culprits - if they ever do - many will connect the attack to the ongoing squabbles and infighting that have been plaguing this jewel of Russian culture.

Most of the squabbles that have affected the theatre have not been about money, but about personal competition, and they appear to have degenerated into nasty attacks on the talented dancer-turned-director.

Before acid was used in Friday's attack, Sergei Filin had already received numerous phone threats, and his email and Facebook accounts had been hacked.

Acid may be the newest and nastiest weapon in instances of infighting at the Bolshoi, but the tensions go back decades.

Sergei Filin

Sergei Filin - file pic
  • 1970 - born in Moscow
  • 1988 - began dancing at Bolshoi
  • Winner of Russian and international awards
  • Performs abroad, including at Covent Garden, London
  • 2008 - dancing career ends
  • March 2011 - takes over as Bolshoi artistic director

Bolshoi dancers have been known to place crushed glass inside each other's ballet shoes, or set an alarm clock to go off during a tour de force (a feat of technical skill during a ballet performance).

In Soviet days, incidents like these were never reported, even though everyone in the theatre world knew about the acrimony between cliques around well-known figures such as veteran Soviet choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, or star dancers Vladimir Vasiliev and Maris Liepa.

The opera world fared no better. Fans of leading Bolshoi opera singers Sergei Lemeshev and Ivan Kozlovsky were known to pull each other's hair.

In most cases, the stars themselves were unaware of the objectionable methods used by fans on their behalf.

But the verbal and media attacks they have launched on one another have been frequent and vicious.

Last November, a group of leading Russian cultural figures published a letter urging the Bolshoi's management to dismiss Sergei Filin and appoint another Bolshoi star, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, as his replacement.

The Bolshoi has been going through a major renovation costing many billions of roubles.

The irony is that it appears much easier to put in a new stage, seats and lighting than change the age-old culture of infighting and intrigue.

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