Bolshoi Dancer Confesses To Masterminding Attack

In Russia, a prominent dancer with the fabled Bolshoi Ballet has confessed to ordering an attack on the company's director. The director suffered third degree burns after acid was thrown onto his face. For more on the scandals at the Bolshoi, Renee Montagne talks to writer Christina Ezrahi, author of Swans of the Kremlin: Ballet and Power in Soviet Russia.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And there's plenty of intrigue at an institution many Russians consider sacred: the Bolshoi Ballet. Russian investigators are starting to unravel the case of the shocking acid attack on the Bolshoi's powerful artistic director. A star member of the ballet company has now confessed to being behind the attack. Pavel Dmitrichenko was in court today, where he was denied bail. Moscow police say he admitted paying men to assault the artistic director, Sergei Filin, though he insisted he never told them to throw acid in Filin's face. For some insight into this story, we called Christina Ezrahi, who's written a book about the Bolshoi titled "Swans of the Kremlin." Thank you for joining us.

CHRISTINA EZRAHI: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: And, now, "Swans of the Kremlin" is the name of your book, but this sounds a little bit more like that movie "Black Swan," which is to say you have the artistic director who was once an important dancer in the ballet being attacked by a leading solo dancer. What exactly did this dancer confess to?

EZRAHI: So, I mean, of course, it's still very early in the story, but what he confessed so far is that he ordered an attack on Filin. And he did say, though, that he did not order it to the extent that it took place. And so some news reports said that he simply wanted him beaten up, and that is what he said so far.

MONTAGNE: So we're not absolutely clear on all the details, but is there anything that you know about the relationship that might reveal some sort of motive? I mean, was there a rivalry?

EZRAHI: It's a somewhat difficult question, because the first soloist who confessed to the crime, Pavel Dmitrichenko, his own career has been going actually quite well. However, he has a girlfriend at the theater, a young, upcoming talent from the Russian provinces, might have been disgruntled because she wanted to dance "Swan Lake." Sergei Filin thought it's still too early. She's only 20.

MONTAGNE: Well, in looking at the Bolshoi in your book, what other sorts of incidents have happened over the years that really put a spotlight on these rivalries? For instance, we've heard a story that one rival hid an alarm clock in the audience, set to go off just at the penultimate moment of the dance. What stories do you know?

EZRAHI: There were, of course, I mean, these small stories which have reported, but what I actually find almost more interesting, the type of criminal analysis that was used to find the culprit, it's a very complicated type of telephone and mobile phone connection analysis which they actually tend to use only for the most high-profile crime. So, I mean, that shows, again, that ballet in Russia is taken very seriously, and that this attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi is something which, for the authorities, was really a blow against Russia and something which had to be resolved as quickly as possible.

MONTAGNE: Well, yes. In fact, your book, the subtitle is "Ballet and Power in Soviet Russia." What is the relationship between the Bolshoi and the Kremlin?

EZRAHI: Over the - during the Soviet period, and the Bolshoi was very consciously built up by the authorities to turn into the most important opera and ballet theater in the country. And this is really something - a position which it still holds in the public mind of many Russians. I mean, the Bolshoi, for them, it's more than a ballet theater. It's really an object of national pride, and therefore, of course, also very important to the politicians.

Something which artists throughout the Soviet period did is that they actually tried to use these connections to further their own interests within the theater. And this is something we have seen a lot, both during the Soviet period and afterwards. But this is really a totally different category from this, an acid attack, which is really - I mean, it's a criminal act.

That's something that we know out of movies about the Russian mafia and underworld, but this is not something that has occurred before in the artistic world at all, which is why people have been so shocked about it.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

EZRAHI: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: Christina Ezrahi is the author of "Swans of the Kremlin: Ballet and Power in Soviet Russia."

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