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Bolshoi dancer known for playing villains confesses to acid attack

A November 2012 file photo shows Russian dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko as Ivan the Terrible in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

A dancer at Russia's Bolshoi ballet who made his name playing villains has confessed to ordering the acid attack that nearly blinded its director, angry that his lover was being kept out of leading roles.

Pavel Dmitrichenko, who has danced the crazed monarch in Ivan the Terrible and the villain in Swan Lake, was detained on Tuesday over a crime that shocked Russia and blackened the reputation of the world-famous theatre.

Haggard and unkempt, Dmitrichenko was shown in a police video confessing to plotting the attack, in which a masked man threw a jar of sulphuric acid in the face of artistic director Sergei Filin late on Jan. 17.

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"I organized this attack, but not to the extent that it happened," he said, apparently meaning he did not intend the attack go so far.

Two other men who had no known connection to the Bolshoi also confessed in the video released by police. One said he had thrown the acid at Filin and the other that he had driven the getaway car.

Dmitrichenko, who is in his late 20s, said he had given the reasons for the attack in a written statement to police but did not say what they were on camera.

A source at the Bolshoi confirmed media reports that the outspoken dancer was angry that his partner, ballerina Anzhelika Vorontsova, had missed out on top roles including the lead in Swan Lake.

"Filin certainly squeezed out Vorontsova, but that is not a reason to throw acid in someone's face," the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Before flying to Germany for treatment last month to save his sight, Filin, 42, said he believed he knew who was behind the attack and that he thought it was connected with his work. He is recovering and is expected back at work this summer.

The attack has shocked people even in a country where the violent settling of scores has been common since the Soviet Union collapsed in chaos more than two decades ago, and has damaged the prestige of an enduring symbol of Russian culture built under Empress Catherine the Great.

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The management of the Bolshoi, which declined to make any comment on Wednesday, had been hoping none of the ballet company was involved in the attack as this might limit damage to its reputation and morale. The theatre is now in turmoil.

Dmitrichenko, born in Moscow to a family of dancers, had been at the Bolshoi since 2002 and was to dance in "Sleeping Beauty" this month. He could face jail and the end of his dance career.

Newspapers published photographs on Wednesday of a scowling Dmitrichenko in costume as the Ivan the Terrible, the mad tsar demonized in Russian tradition for killing his son and the heir to the throne.

In a recent interview with the Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper, Dmitrichenko praised Ivan's rule, which saw the Russian Empire expand across Asia.

"Ivan the Terrible is a strong personality ... at that time there was much war and we are still benefiting thanks to (his) harsh measures," he was reported as saying.

As artistic director of the Bolshoi's ballet company, Filin had the power to make or break careers in the fiercely competitive world of ballet. Tales of his uncompromising grip on the troupe and his disagreements with dancers have been widely reported in the Russian press.

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Russian ballet prides itself on rigorous classicism and Dmitrichenko was a conservative at odds with artistic modernisers.

LifeNews, a Russian website with close ties to the police, said the suspected attacker Yury Zarutsky and his driver Andrei Lipatov were found by tracking cellphone calls made from the crime scene.

The theatre has been no stranger to intrigue since it was founded in 1776 and the ballet troupe has gone through five artistic directors since 1995.

General Manager Anatoly Iksanov came under fire over a series of scandals in the past decade, and for what critics say are falling standards at the theatre. He argued publicly with veteran dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who challenged him for his job.

In 2003, Bolshoi bosses were heavily criticised for trying to fire ballerina Anastasia Volochkova for being too heavy. In 2011, deputy ballet director Gennady Yanin, then seen as a candidate for the artistic director post, quit after pornographic images of him appeared on the Internet.

The theatre reopened to great fanfare in 2011 after a six-year, $700-million renovation that restored its tsarist opulence but was criticized for going far over budget.

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