MOSCOW (Reuters) - The confession of a top dancer to plotting an attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi Theatre’s ballet company may not be the final twist in a scandal that has shocked Russia.
The arrest of Pavel Dmitrichenko and two suspected accomplices over the January 17 attack on Sergei Filin has failed to put a lid on simmering tension and rivalries at the theatre, where there is talk of a wider conspiracy behind the scenes.
Dmitrichenko has a reputation for having a sharp tongue and some of his best performances have been as villains, but some of his colleagues in the ballet troupe have expressed doubt that he could have been the mastermind, sources at the Bolshoi say.
Police investigators say Dmitrichenko, 29, paid two men 50,000 roubles ($1,600) to attack Filin, 42, who had the power to assign roles and had a hand on some of the Bolshoi’s purse strings.
Filin, who was nearly blinded when his assailant splashed a jar of acid in his face, is being treated in Germany.
Hours before he was charged with a crime punishable by up to 12 years in prison, Dmitrichenko told a judge from a courtroom cage last Thursday that he had given consent for a beating but not for an acid attack.
According to the sources at the Bolshoi, dancers turned the tables and questioned investigators about their evidence in a tense and heavily attended meeting at the theatre near the Kremlin on the same day that Dmitrichenko appeared in court.
“The investigator who said the crime had been solved was asked whether there were clues, and he was asked other questions for which he also had no answer,” a Bolshoi performer who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity.
“The whole troupe said that we know Dmitrichenko as an honest person,” the performer said.
Administrators at the theatre, whose reputation has been tarnished by the scandal, have suggested Dmitrichenko was a pawn and that somebody else was the mastermind of the attack.
“Nobody doubts Dmitrichenko’s guilt, he is involved in this terrible crime and must bear responsibility. But it seems that he is not alone - that there was someone else standing behind him,” state-run RIA news agency quoted Bolshoi Theatre spokeswoman Katerina Novikova as saying.
The Bolshoi is no stranger to scandal - it has been repeatedly dogged by intrigue since the theatre company was founded under Empress Catherine the Great in 1776, and the ballet troupe has had five artistic directors since 1995.
Anatoly Iksanov, the longtime Bolshoi general manager, has depicted the acid attack as an effort to blacken the reputation of the theatre’s leadership and said he doubts that Dmitrichenko alone was behind it.
“He was prompted to do this, the whole collective is convinced of that. So it seems that in reality he was not the person who ordered the attack,” Iksanov said of Dmitrichenko, according to a report on state-run television on Sunday.
“He was also a performer. There was a puppeteer, and investigators must find out the identity of this person,” Iksanov was quoted as saying.
Neither administrators nor police have named anyone else as a possible suspect, but such remarks may cause tension between members of the theatre’s leadership, including both Iksanov and Filin, and some of its artists.
Many crimes in Russia go unsolved for years, but Moscow police said they figured this one out quickly.
The Bolshoi performer who attended the meeting on Thursday said investigators acted rudely and warned the dancers: “Don’t forget that there are still organizers (of the acid attack) remaining in this collective.”
“This could be construed as a threat,” the performer said.
Some Bolshoi artistes have hinted that they believe Dmitrichenko’s confession, captured on a videotape distributed by police, was the result of long and tough interrogation. He looked haggard and unkempt and had dark rings under his eyes.
There is also lively debate over the potential motive, which police have so far given only as personal hostility based on a conflict at work - broad language that could refer to anger over love, money, fame or many other things.
Sources close to the Bolshoi and Russia media reports have said Dmitrichenko was angry that his partner, Bolshoi ballerina Anzhelina Vorontsova, had missed out on top roles including the lead in the ballet classic Swan Lake.
But some at the theatre - both dancers and administrators - have expressed doubt this could have been the motive.
“Threats against people who worked and still work at the Bolshoi Theatre began long ago ... One should not speak now of only one motive, that it all occurred because of Ms. Vorontsova,” Filin’s lawyer, Tatyana Stukalova, said.
Dmitrichenko made no mention of Vorontsova in his court appearance but accused Filin of playing favorites in the distribution of financial grants.
Filin’s aide at the Bolshoi, Dilyara Timergazina, said that Dmitrichenko and ballet troupe manager Ruslan Pronin had demanded the redistribution of grants at a tense meeting last year but suggested the dancer’s accusations were unfounded.
In court last week, Dmitrichenko and his alleged accomplices were ordered to remain in custody for six more weeks while the investigation continues.
Filin, in an interview published in the Russian news magazine Itogi on Monday but conducted before Dmitrichenko’s arrest, said he hoped “those who ordered and carried out the attack will be punished harshly for what they did”.
“If you look at the big picture, this is not acid in Sergei Filin’s face. It is a challenge - an insolent and unceremonious challenge - to our entire society,” he said.
($1 = 30.8145 Russian roubles)
Additional reporting by Sonia Elks; Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood