sat 20/07/2024

Opinion: Crime and moral evasion at the Bolshoi Ballet | reviews, news & interviews

Opinion: Crime and moral evasion at the Bolshoi Ballet

Opinion: Crime and moral evasion at the Bolshoi Ballet

Charged dancer won't apologise to acid victim as he "didn't order the acid"

Unrepentant: Pavel Dmitrichenko today at his first court appearance© Alexander Davashkin/Izvestia

So the man who specialises in dancing Bolshoi ballet villains has been arrested and confessed to the infamous attack on his boss, Sergei Filin. But today Pavel Dmitrichenko, well-known to Bolshoi audiences for playing Ivan the Terrible, one of Russia's more pitiless Tsars, showed an equally Tsarist haughtiness when he made his first appearance in a Moscow court.

He had nothing to apologise for, he said, even though it's emerging that at the very least Filin, a 42-year-old father of three, will never see normally again and his future employment must be in doubt.

Dmitrichenko insisted it wasn't his fault. He didn't mean for acid to be chucked at Filin - that was a step more than he'd paid £1,000 for. He just wanted him beaten up. Things can get out of hand when you pay a Moscow hood, obviously.

dmitrichenko ivan the terribleThe wiry, beady-eyed dancer of 29, who has had a successful and prominent career in the Bolshoi's more tyrannical roles (pictured right as Ivan the Terrible, © Bolshoi Theatre), was refused bail and remanded in custody till April while charges are prepared and investigations continue. In the dock alongside him are Yuri Zarutsky, 35, who carried out the attack, and Andrei Lipatov, the driver hired by Zarutsky to take him from his suburb into central Moscow to Filin's home on the night of 17 January.

Dmitrichenko's story in court was that Zarutsky, who police say has a criminal record, was to blame for the worst atrocity and it appears that the dancer's legal team may attempt to get him charged with a lesser offence. The Bolshoi soloist stood unrepentantly by his onslaught on Filin, who he claims had insulted his girlfriend, a young ballerina, and denied her the roles she deserved. He also claimed that his boss was involved in a Bolshoi management system of corrupt payments to control performers' outside appearances, which he himself had attempted to expose by hacking email and other methods. He had then decided to try to "scare" Filin.

What everyone wants to know is why, if Dmitrichenko only ordered a smashed nose and broken teeth, the hired hand Zarutsky took it further to permanent disfigurement and possible blindness. Was it his own idea, Dmitrichenko’s instruction - or someone else’s?  After all, the court was told, he prepared car battery acid to ensure it would be more destructive. This is rather more cold-blooded and considered than a mere beating-up.

The dancer admitted he knew Zarutsky beforehand and had sat with him in a cafe in a Moscow suburb discussing how to take revenge on Filin. Zarutsky had suggested beating Filin up, and “striking him on the head”, to which Dmitrichenko agreed. He paid him 50,000 rubles (about £1,100). When he later heard that sulphuric acid had been used, he said, “I was in shock.”

Yesterday some Bolshoi dancers were equally in shock at the accusations against Dmitrichenko. Elements of his anti-Filin campaign - the falsification of a Facebook page, the hacking of emails, silent phone calls to his home and slashing of car tyres - were dismissed as "normal adventurism and mischief" in the phrase (translated) of one colleague who, like many others, disbelieved that the impulsive, hot-headed Dmitrichenko could hatch and plan something as cold-hearted as an attempt to maim and blind.

Vorontsova Tsiskaridze NutcrackerBut Dmitrichenko by his own evidence and that of others, extensively revealed in the Russian press over the past two days, had a powerful personal hatred for Filin.

Nothing to do with his own career, which was burgeoning - it was about his live-in girlfriend, a rising young ballerina Angelina Vorontsova, 21, who believed she was destined for greater things than Filin was casting her in. Her weight is an issue, however, and while Filin cast her healthy form in the lead role of The Nutcracker he refused her the most coveted of roles, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. (Vorontsova pictured dancing The Nutcracker with Nikolai Tsiskaridze, © Irina Lepnyova)

Was there more to this than reasonable artistic judgment? Dmitrichenko believes so. He and others note that Vorontsova had effectively snubbed Filin when she joined the Bolshoi three years ago - when he was director of Moscow's second resident ballet troupe, the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko, he had spotted the teenaged Vorontsova in a provincial school and hothoused her in Moscow intending to hire her for his own theatre. Vorontsova and her boyfriend thought that Filin, when he was then appointed to lead the Bolshoi, paid her back for her ingratitude by refusing her the big roles.

In fact, there is a view among respected senior staff that Vorontsova isn’t ready for the big time yet - especially in a 220-strong company with so many equally competitive ballerinas. But it only muddied the waters that she and boyfriend Dmitrichenko were close to the divisive Bolshoi star Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who has made no secret for many years of his loathing for Filin and the longtime Bolshoi general director Anatoly Iksanov. Tsiskaridze, who has coveted both their jobs, is either loathed or idolised in the theatre, and the current management have eagerly cast him as chief villain in present general turmoil.

But putting personal conflicts aside, there is something more rotten at the heart of the Bolshoi, if Dmitrichenko is to be believed.

Dmitrichenko claimed in court that he wanted to expose corrupt payments used by management to control dancers

He claimed in court that he wanted to expose corrupt payments used by management to control dancers' appearances in lucrative outside engagements, and that the Bolshoi leadership including Filin were out to stop him. Described as a computer expert, he hacked management email boxes. The Russian daily Izvestia reported yesterday that it had seen extracts from the 16,000 emails the hackers exposed, in which lay what might or might not be clues to some sort of kickback operation.

It’s interesting, therefore, that Izvestia journalists didn’t take this “evidence” any further when they were given it. What the paper quoted in yesterday’s reports actually looked capable of a far different construction than Dmitrichenko apparently put on it. Where he saw Filin outraged that dancers had arranged a gig in Israel without going through him (and thereby presumably controlling it via these so-called kickbacks), one could just as readily read the exasperation of a director whose dancers were away without permission or notice, were freelancing under the Bolshoi brand for their own purposes, and made it impossible to plan casting or control the company's international image. This was a factor that Filin and Iksanov cited last December as relevant to the deterioration of relations with their former star young couple Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev who quit for the Mikhailovsky.

Events in the Bolshoi are now guided more by personal animosities and alliances, it appears, than anything recognisable as company discipline or cultural aspiration.

Setting aside the acid attack on Filin (if one can) - if dancers are getting themselves their own freelance engagements under the Bolshoi flag but without its knowledge, and if dancers are breaking into mailboxes believing the management are running organised extortion, and if the management is going around pointing fingers at certain personalities after crimes before the police have arrested anyone, these are symptoms of a collapse of trust and moral responsibility on all sides. The Bolshoi clearly has far more dancers on its roll than it can hope to satisfy, and its contracts for coaching staff mean that animosities build and fester through decades, more about power-play than a shared endeavour to keep refreshed the aesthetic spirit of this great and historic ballet company.

The Russian government must be aghast at the disgrace being heaped on the Russian world brand by events in its ballet companies

I would suspect the lid on this pressure cooker will burst, very messily, very soon. The Russian government must be aghast at the disgrace being heaped on the Russian world brand by events both at the Bolshoi and St Petersburg's second ballet company, the Mikhailovsky, whose general director and chief patron Vladimir Kekhman is a declared bankrupt currently detained in Russia while his company’s gigantic debts are being investigated.

And at the "other" Russian flagship, the Mariinsky Theatre's newly built second auditorium has been strongly condemned by the Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky, accusing the theatre leadership of letting nationalist public opinion substitute cheap blandness for a superior architectural project simply because it was designed by a foreign company. This chimes with the Bolshoi/Tsiskaridze camp’s stance that the outside world has nothing other than decadence to offer “real” Russia. It's all getting uncomfortably close to old Soviet sabre-rattling.

But even in the Soviet era, the great performers were expected by their public to be moral icons. Mikhail Baryshnikov told me to be a dancer at the Kirov Ballet was to enter an almost holy profession. And even out here in the decadent West Sylvie Guillem told me that it is a privilege to be a dancer and no dancer should forget it.

The refurbished Bolshoi Theatre may claim to be state-of-the-art, but what is going on inside is not. Someone at the top of the Bolshoi needs to take charge, establish moral discipline and create an atmosphere in which ballet means showing the best of humanity, not the worst.

Below, Pavel Dmitrichenko in a tango with Nina Kaptsova in Grigorovich's The Golden Age to Shostakovich's score

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'Moral evasion' is putting it mildly. I wondered about jumping to conclusions over Russia's current state just because Dmitrichenko thought it was normal to pay a gangster to beat up a fellow artist he didn't like. But then I read the bit about the earlier attacks being deemed 'normal adventurism and mischief' by another artist. Well, maybe in Putinville. Yes, I know it sometimes happens here and in America, but the majority wouldn't see it as acceptable. There, more and more it seems, this really is the norm - as my Russian friends are always telling me. Parallel universes again.

False Facebook page, hacked emails, telephone terror and slashed car tyres are "normal adventurism and mischief"? No -- they are serious mobbing tactics. What a joke.

Fascinating article about a totally repellent and disgraceful situation in what should be one of Russia's flagship cultural institutions and is presumably heavily subsidised by the state. However, no mention is made of a board of management or indeed of any body with authority which could go in and bang heads together (not literally, I hasten to add, but you know what I mean). What's the solution? In a country which can cheerfully sling young ladies in gaol just for getting up the nose of the Church, perhaps only the top man can intervene meaningfully. So, step forward Vladimir Vladimirovich - though no doubt he prefers judo to ballet!

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