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Bolshoi dancer who played villains admits acid attack

Sergei Filin, artistic director of Russia's Bolshoi Ballet, speaks to journalists as he leaves a hospital in Moscow February 4, 2013. REUTER
Sergei Filin, artistic director of Russia's Bolshoi Ballet, speaks to journalists as he leaves a hospital in Moscow February 4, 2013. REUTER

By Thomas Grove and Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A dancer at Russia's Bolshoi ballet who made his name playing villains has confessed to ordering the acid attack that nearly blinded its director, angry that his lover was being kept out of leading roles.

Pavel Dmitrichenko, who has danced the crazed monarch in Ivan the Terrible and the villain in Swan Lake, was detained on Tuesday for a crime that shocked Russia and blackened the reputation of the world-famous theatre.

Dmitrichenko was shown haggard and unkempt in a police video confessing to plotting the attack, in which a masked man threw a jar of sulphuric acid in the face of artistic director Sergei Filin late on January 17.

"I organized this attack, but not to the extent that it happened," he said, apparently meaning he did not intend the attack go so far.

Two other men who had no known connection to the Bolshoi also confessed in the video, made available by police to Reuters and other media. One said he had thrown the acid at Filin and the other that he had driven the getaway car.

Dmitrichenko, who is in his late 20s, said he had given the reasons for the attack in a written statement to police but did not say what they were on camera.

A source at the Bolshoi confirmed media reports that the outspoken dancer was angry that his partner, ballerina Anzhelina Vorontsova, had missed out on top roles including the lead in Swan Lake.

"Filin certainly squeezed out Vorontsova, but that is not a reason to throw acid in someone's face," the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Moscow police said they believed the motive was personal hostility based on a conflict at work.

Before flying to Germany for treatment last month to save his sight, Filin, 42, said he believed he knew who was behind the attack and that he thought it was connected with his work. He is recovering and is expected back at work this summer.

IVAN THE TERRIBLE

The management of the Bolshoi, which declined to make any comment on Wednesday, had been hoping none of the ballet company was involved in the attack. The theatre is now in turmoil.

Dmitrichenko, born in Moscow to a family of dancers, had been at the Bolshoi since 2002 and was to dance in "Sleeping Beauty" this month.

He could face years in prison if convicted. The three suspects have not yet been charged and are due to appear in court on Thursday.

LifeNews, a Russian website with close ties to police, said suspected attacker Yury Zarutsky and suspected driver Andrei Lipatov had been found by tracking phone calls made from the crime scene.

Police said the suspects had used phones registered under other names to organize the attack, and that Dmitrichenko had called his accomplices to report Filin was on his way home.

The suspected attacker bought the acid at a car parts store and concentrated it by steaming away water, they said.

Newspapers published photographs on Wednesday of a scowling Dmitrichenko in costume as Ivan the Terrible, the mad tsar who killed his son and heir.

An aide to Filin suggested Dmitrichenko had identified with the characters he played.

"That Dmitrichenko constantly threatened everyone as though he really were Ivan the Terrible or (Swan Lake's) evil genius - roles he played with depth and clear pleasure ... is without doubt," said Dilyara Timergazina.

In a recent interview with Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper, Dmitrichenko praised Ivan, under whom Russia's empire expanded.

"Ivan the Terrible is a strong personality ... at that time there was much war and we are still benefiting from (his) harsh measures," he was quoted as saying.

In a 2011 interview, Dmitrichenko said "a theatre falls apart without dictatorship, especially ballet", but described himself as an unruly student in ballet school.

"I threw firecrackers at teachers - and ballet requires discipline," he told the news website Chastny Korrespondent in February 2011. "I didn't get serious until I was 16."

Dmitrichenko said his father had wanted him to play ice hockey, but his mother coaxed him into taking a ballet school entrance exam when he was seven by promising him a candy bar.

"I'm not a careerist or even a ballet fanatic, really. It's just that, at the moment, dancing makes me feel good," he was quoted as saying. "And I think you should do what you like in life, if it does not bother others."

HISTORY OF INTRIGUE

As artistic director, Filin had the power to make or break careers. Tales of his uncompromising grip on the troupe and disagreements with dancers have been widely reported.

A lawyer for Filin, Tatyana Stukalova, said her client was not surprised when he heard that Dmitrichenko was suspected, Interfax reported, but she also suggested the atmosphere of danger at the Boslhoi ran deeper than a missed role or two.

"Threats against people who worked and still work at the Bolshoi Theatre began long ago, two years ago ... One should not speak now of only one motive, that it all occurred because of Ms. Vorontsova," Stukalova said on state-run Rossiya 24 TV.

"We believe the investigators still have a great deal of work to do in order to establish everything," she said.

The theatre has been no stranger to intrigue since it was founded in 1776, and has had five artistic directors since 1995.

General Manager Anatoly Iksanov came under fire over scandals in the past decade and for what critics say are falling standards at the theatre. He argued publicly with veteran dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who challenged him for his job.

In 2003 bosses were criticized for trying to fire ballerina Anastasia Volochkova for being too heavy. In 2011, deputy ballet director Gennady Yanin, candidate for the artistic director post, quit after pornographic images of him appeared on the Internet.

The theatre reopened to great fanfare in 2011 after a six-year, $700-million renovation that restored its tsarist opulence but was criticized for going far over budget.

(Additional reporting by Sonia Elks, Alissa De Carbonnel and Steve Gutterman; Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Andrew Roche)

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