Bolshoi Dancer Admits To Organizing, But Not Executing, Acid Attack

Three men confessed Wednesday to carrying out an attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet. Sulfuric acid was thrown in the face of Sergei Filin back in January, disfiguring and nearly blinding him. Police detained three men, including a lead soloist in the company. The dancer admitted to organizing the attack. Melissa Block talks with New York Times Moscow reporter Ellen Barry about the story.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's been nearly two months since a masked man in Moscow threw sulfuric acid in the face of the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director, Sergei Filin. He suffered burns, and his sight was damaged. Well, today, Moscow police announced they've arrested three men who have confessed to the crime, and that includes a lead soloist with the Bolshoi. The police released footage of the dancer after his arrest. He is 29-year-old Pavel Dmitrichenko.

PAVEL DMITRICHENKO: (Speaking foreign language)

BLOCK: He says, I was the one who organized this attack, but not the way it happened.

For more on this story, which is the talk of Moscow, I'm joined by New York Times Moscow correspondent Ellen Barry. And Ellen, why don't you tell us more about the dancer who's been arrested for this crime. Who is he?

ELLEN BARRY: Pavel Dmitrichenko has been dancing with the Bolshoi since 2002. He comes from a sort of revered ballet family, but he's a bit of a nonconformist. He has a bunch of tattoos, and he dyed his hair platinum blond. He is a really theatrical and very dramatic dancer in the style of Yuri Grigorovich, who was the 30-year titan of the Bolshoi Ballet in the Soviet era.

BLOCK: And actually, as I understand it, danced the role of Ivan the Terrible, a villain in the ballet.

BARRY: Yes. He has had a couple promotions in recent years under Mr. Filin's direction, and he generally impresses people with his acting. One reviewer called him persuasively evil. Another American reviewer described his demented facial expression. So he's really a bit of a scenery-chewer onstage.

BLOCK: And what are authorities there in Moscow saying about a possible motive for this acid attack?

BARRY: Mr. Dmitrichenko or his legal representatives have said nothing about the charges yet. It's not clear what the motive is, in this case. The police have suggested that it was based on a feeling of enmity towards Mr. Filin over professional issues. Mr. Dmitrichenko's career is not going badly. In fact, it seems to be on an upswing.

But there's also a woman involved. His girlfriend is also a dancer, Angelina Vorontsova. And Ms. Vorontsova's supporters have long argued that Mr. Filin has denied her leading roles. In particular, in the months leading up to the attack, people had been pressing for her to dance the lead role in "Swan Lake." I'm told that Mr. Dmitrichenko also approached Mr. Filin with this request, and that his relationship with Mr. Filin had basically become tense around that question.

Starting in December, Mr. Filin had a series of incidents. His phones were barraged with hang-up calls, and his email attacked; and his tires were slashed. And then, of course, on the 17th of January, he was the victim of this acid attack.

BLOCK: What can you tell us about the two other men who've been arrested for this?

BARRY: So the two other men who were arrested don't have any connection to the ballet world. Their names are Andrei Lipatov and Yuri Zarutsky. Lipatov was the driver. He reportedly has said that he didn't know what he was driving to, so he claims ignorance of a planned attack with acid or anything else. Yuri Zarutsky is alleged to have used acid from an auto shop. As far as I know, both have signed confessions, but it's not clear what charges they're both - individually - going to face. They will be arraigned, as will Mr. Dmitrichenko, tomorrow morning.

BLOCK: Ellen, this whole story has exposed a really seamy underbelly of this legendary institution, the Bolshoi, which is a source of great national pride. How are Russians reacting to all this?

BARRY: Well, interestingly, if you talk to people who are sort of professional ballet fans, I think they find the international fascination with this case kind of unseemly, in the way that I suppose if you had some kind of family scandal, you would prefer that The New York Times didn't write about it.

We spoke to people in the audience today during an intermission, and we got different reaction. Some people were sort of quite judgmental over the ambitions of young dancers like Ms. Vorontsova and Mr. Dmitrichenko's; and other people are sort of doubtful about the videotaped confession itself. They wonder whether he was perhaps forced to confess and, you know, I think people sometimes find it difficult to know what to think, in a case like this.

BLOCK: Ellen Barry is Moscow correspondent for The New York Times. Ellen, thanks for talking with us.

BARRY: It's a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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