MOSCOW (Reuters) - The artistic director of Russia’s Bolshoi ballet told a Moscow court on Wednesday that a dancer accused of plotting an acid attack that nearly blinded him had spread false accusations that he had love affairs with ballerinas.
The poisonous backstage rivalries that may have led to the January 17 attack flared up again in court as Sergei Filin, his damaged eyes shielded by dark glasses, made an emotional first appearance at the trial of Bolshoi dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko and two co-defendants.
“I don’t forgive anybody for what happened to me. That is very important,” Filin told the court, after describing the late-night assault in which a masked attacker threw acid from a jar in his face as he was returning home from the Bolshoi.
“I immediately felt very strong pain. My eyes dimmed. I have never felt such pain in my life. I wouldn’t like to speak of how I was falling, crawling in the dirt...,” he said, a purple scar still visible under his right cheek.
Filin, who was left writhing in agony in the snow before he managed to get help, demanded damages for emotional suffering of 3 million roubles ($92,200) and 508,000 roubles to compensate for material losses.
“The life of all the people around me changed. I lost my eyes, I cannot see my children,” he said, his voice breaking, when the judge asked him to describe the impact of the attack.
He did not look at the courtroom cage where Dmitrichenko and the other defendants were sitting and said he had done nothing to deserve the attack.
The hearing in a cramped Moscow courtroom turned into a dramatic confrontation between Filin, 43, and Dmitrichenko, 29, who responded to the accusations by firing off questions at his former boss from a sheet of paper he held in his hands.
Dmitrichenko has accused Filin of favoritism and suggested the artistic director had love affairs with ballerinas.
“This is pure lies,” Filin said.
Under Dmitrichenko’s questioning, Filin said he had conflicts with other ballet staff in the past.
Dmitrichenko, who made his name playing villains on the Bolshoi stage, has denied any role in the attack and the alleged assailant, former convict Yuri Zarutsky, said he acted alone.
Filin, who had the power to make or break careers in his powerful role, said Dmitrichenko was a good dancer and always tried to do well.
But he added: “Pavel did everything possible to compromise me in any possible way”. He went on to dismiss Dmitrichenko’s accusations of unfair distribution of money to staff.
Asked by the judge what he believed was the main reason behind the attack, Filin said: “The main reason was envy. Very, very strong enmity and even hatred. I still cannot believe it.”
Filin said he had undergone 23 operations on his face and eyes, including in Germany, and more were planned. One on his right eye was due later this month. The judge relieved him from further appearances in the trial which continues on Thursday.
It remains unclear how many of his former duties Filin will resume at the Bolshoi after his formal return to the celebrated, colonnaded building in Moscow’s center last September.
The third defendant, Andrei Lipatov, is accused of driving Zarutsky to and from the scene. He also pleaded not guilty.
All three face up to 12 years in jail if convicted. But, under Russian law, the maximum term could be lower if the judge ruled they were not acting as a group.
“I want you to know that I asked nobody for what happened to you and I knew nothing of it,” Dmitrichenko told Filin in court.
The case has tarnished the reputation of a Russian cultural icon and world-renowned theatre which has made management changes to try to turn the spotlight back on the stage.
Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Barry Moody