- Associated Press - Saturday, January 19, 2013

MOSCOW — An acid attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet has shone the spotlight on the fierce “Black Swan”-like competition for starring roles at the famed Russian dance company.

The attack on Sergei Filin could be in retaliation for his selection of certain dancers over others for the prized roles, his colleagues said Friday. They expressed fears that Mr. Filin, a 42-year-old former Bolshoi star, could be left partially blind after a masked assailant threw acid in his face as he returned home in Moscow late Thursday.

Mr. Filin suffered third-degree burns on his face and underwent eye surgery Friday evening to try to save his sight, Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova said. Doctors said his right eye was badly burned and it would not be clear for days whether the operation was a success.

The Bolshoi Theater is one of Russia’s premier cultural institutions, best known for “Swan Lake” and the other grand classical ballets that grace its Moscow stage. But backstage, the ballet company has been troubled by deep intrigue and infighting that have led to the departure of several artistic directors over the last few years.

The Bolshoi’s general director, Anatoly Iksanov, said he believes the attack was linked to Mr. Filin’s work.

“He is a man of principle and never compromised,” Mr. Iksanov said on Channel One state television. “If he believed that this or that dancer was not ready or was unable to perform this or that part, he would turn them down.”

The fierce competition for roles in classical ballet was highlighted in the 2010 Oscar-winning film “Black Swan.” In the psychological thriller, dancers played by Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis vie to prove to the artistic director that only they should be chosen to perform as the sensual Black Swan.

Anastasia Volochkova, a former Bolshoi ballerina who danced with Mr. Filin, described a “terrible, wild fight” for roles at the Bolshoi.

“The cruelty of the ballet world is astoundingly pathological,” Miss Volochkova said in an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio.

She said Mr. Filin had done nothing to deserve such an attack. “Of course, this position is sweet,” the former ballerina said. “The director of the ballet decides everything: the amount of grants given to every artist, or perhaps not given, who will dance which roles and who will not dance them.”

Ms. Novikova, the Bolshoi spokeswoman, also appeared to confirm that a disagreement over dancing roles may have played a part in the attack.

“We never imagined that a war for roles — not for real estate or for oil — could reach this level of crime,” Ms. Novikova said on Channel One.

Mr. Filin knew that someone was threatening him or trying to undermine his position, Mr. Iksanov said, explaining that Mr. Filin’s car tires had been slashed last week and he was targeted earlier this month by hackers who had posted his professional correspondence online.

“He said, ‘I have a feeling that I am on the front lines,’” Mr. Iksanov quoted Mr. Filin as telling him Thursday before the attack.

Mr. Filin, speaking from a hospital bed, said he was unable to recognize his attacker, who wore a hood and either a mask or a scarf so that only his eyes were visible.

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