At Bolshoi, show goes on, month after acid horror

Thu Feb 14, 2013 2:25pm EST
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By Timothy Heritage

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Principal dancer Artem Ovcharenko seems to defy gravity as he glides through the air, then lands silently with a flourish of his arm during a rehearsal at Russia's revered Bolshoi Theater.

Other dancers spin through the air behind him, a few warm up at the side and two ballerinas walk on their toes while Viktor Barykin, the repetiteur or dance coach, barks instructions.

"One, two, three. One, two, three - up! That's not bad," Barykin shouts into a microphone from a seat perched on the front of the stage, taking a male dancer through his steps.

On the surface, it is business as usual at one of the world's great theaters as the dancers prepare for a performance of Yuri Possokhov's contemporary ballet "Classical Symphony".

But dance has also, for some, become a way to escape a drama behind the scenes that has had more twists than many an on-stage plot in the month since a masked attacker threw acid in the face of Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director.

Intrigue and misfortune are nothing new to an institution whose name translates at The Grand Theatre: it has burnt down three times since being built in 1776 under Catherine the Great and was also bombed in World War Two.

But the dancers are now struggling to come to terms with the brutality of the January 17 attack, which has left Filin fighting for his sight and the Bolshoi battling to mend a reputation tarnished by rumors of rivalries, resentments and intrigues.

"It affects some people more, the ones who are more emotional, but on stage you forget everything, you cut yourself off. That's what I do because I can't let it affect me," Ovcharenko, 26, said during a break in the rehearsal.   Continued...

Sergei Filin, artistic director of Russia's Bolshoi Ballet, speaks to journalists as he leaves a hospital in Moscow February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Vselovod Kutznestov