Blackmail And Acid Attacks Are Making The World Of Russian Ballet Sound Like A Terrifying Place

Svetlana Lunkina, renowned Russian ballerina with the famed Bolshoi Theatre, this week told a Russian newspaper that she is afraid to return home to Moscow due to threats on her life.

33-year-old Lunkina, currently in Canada, told daily newspaper Izvestia that she had been facing threats and blackmail, though she did not elaborate on them. “These people have no right to interfere in our [ family’s] private lives or my professional work,” she said. According to the Toronto Star, she plans to start a dance studio in Canada rather than return home.

This scandal may sound extreme for the world of ballet, but for the Bolshoi Theatre, one of the world’s premier ballet theatres, it seems to be par for the course.

Earlier this month Sergei Filin, the 42-year-old former dancer who now serves as the theatre’s artistic director, was attacked by a masked man on the streets of Moscow.

The Guardian reports that a man walked up to Filin near his home late on 17th of January, asked for him by name, and threw acid into his face, covering him with third degree burns and severely damaging his eyesight.

Following the incident, Filin’s mother told the Russian press that her son had been receiving threatening phone calls for a weeks, and a Bolshoi spokesperson said his tires had been slashed a number of times. Bolshoi staff members believe that the attack was the result of professional jealousy.

This video shows a BBC interview with Filin after the attack. He says he forgives his attacker:

On the surface at least, there appears to be no clear link between the two incidents. Ellen Barry at the New York Times writes:

Six months ago [Lunkina] left Russia for Canada, amid a deepening conflict between her husband, Vladislav Moskalev, and a partner in a film that would have told the story of the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, who was the lover of the future Nicholas II, Russia’s last czar.  She said that letters damaging her reputation had been sent to the world’s leading ballet companies and that her personal e-mail had been hacked.

However, both incidents appear to be part of a history of animosity of at the theatre and Russia’s ballet world. Gennady Yanin, the artistic director who preceded Filin, resigned less than two years ago after sexually explicit images of a man who resembled him were sent to hundreds of e-mail addresses around Russia — an apparent smear attempt.

The New York Times points out that there have long been stories about foul play in the theatre’s history. “There are whispers of needles inserted in costumes, to be discovered in midpirouette, or — the worst — broken glass nestled in the tip of a toeshoe,” Ellen Barry wrote after the attack on Filin.

In Filin’s case, some appear to be pointing towards a rivalry with Nikolai Tsiskaridze, star principal dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet. Tsiskardize has been questioned as a witness to the crime, but denies any involvement.

Anatoly Iksanov, general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, certainly doesn’t seem to be sympathetic of Filin. Though he just stops short of accusing him of involvement in the attack on Filin with the Daily Telegraph, he does tell the reporter, “Tsiskaridze is like an abscess.”

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