A masked attacker threw acid in the face of the artistic director of Russia’s prestigious Bolshoi Ballet, endangering his eyesight, in what colleagues said on Friday was the culmination of a two-week campaign of intimidation.
Sergei Filin, a former leading dancer at the Bolshoi who has been in the high-pressure job at the heart of Russian culture for nearly two years, was attacked outside his Moscow apartment building as he returned home on Thursday night.
Such is the prestige of Mr. Filin’s post in Russian life that stunned current and former colleagues suggested the motive could have been envy, rivalry or even competition for roles.
Mr. Filin, his face covered in bandages with holes for the mouth and eyes, sounded relieved to have survived the attack.
“I was scared. I thought he was going to shoot me, honestly … and I turned to run but he chased me down,” Mr. Filin told Russia’s REN TV.
“He turned and his face was completely covered, either a scarf or some bandage like a mask, only eyes [to be seen].”
The theatre’s director, Anatoly Iksanov, had no doubt the attack was aimed at sowing discord in an institution that has rarely been at peace in a history stretching back to the era of Catherine the Great.
Mr. Filin, 42, had reported having his car tires slashed and his e-mails hacked in recent weeks, as well as receiving repeated nuisance calls from someone who stayed silent when he answered.
Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova had been out with Mr. Filin at another theatre on Thursday evening and parted with him shortly before the attack.
“We just never thought that the war for roles – not for real estate, not for oil – could reach such a criminal level,” she said.
Relatives, dancers and theatre administrators flocked overnight to the hospital where Mr. Filin was being treated, and later gathered at the theatre.
Some suggested that making enemies, or at least generating resentment, was a hazard that came with the post.
Russian media said Mr. Filin had suffered third-degree burns and that doctors believed it would take him at least six months to recover.
Channel One television said doctors were “trying to save his eyesight”, but Interfax news agency quoted the theatre’s press office as saying late on Friday he had undergone successful surgery and that a complete loss of eyesight was not expected.
The Bolshoi, which has both ballet and opera troupes, reopened last February after a six-year renovation to its landmark colonnaded building, close to Red Square in the very centre of Moscow.
As a near-mythical icon of Russian culture, the Bolshoi is a magnet for both locals and foreign tourists, and has seen power struggles among both dancers and directors throughout its more than 200 years of history.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of those conflicts, whether driven by egos or artistic convictions, have been played out in public.
In 2003, Mr. Iksanov dismissed ballerina Anastasia Volochkova after reportedly saying she was too heavy for male dancers to lift, and in 2011, a senior ballet manager resigned after a scandal over sexually explicit photographs.
After the tightly controlled three-decade tenure of Yuri Grigorovich ended in 1995, the Bolshoi Ballet went through five artistic directors before the appointment in March, 2011, of Mr. Filin, who joined the Bolshoi’s ballet troupe in 1988.
Mr. Filin’s predecessor Alexei Ratmansky, who is now an artist in residence at the American Ballet Theater, said the attack was “no coincidence.”
In a Facebook posting, he called the Bolshoi a “revolting sewer” plagued by hangers-on, ticket scalpers and “half-crazed fans ready to chew through the throats of their idols’ rivals.”