Posted by Rebecca King on 01.24.2013
On Friday, January 18, 2013, word of a vicious attack on the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director made headlines around the world. After multiple threats were made on his life, a masked man who hurled acid at him, causing third-degree burns on his face and damaging his eyes, confronted Sergei Filin. Filin, 42, signed a 5-year contract with the Bolshoi in 2011 and is said by many to have been working to restore the institution to it’s former glory with a goal to move forward. Police say that they suspect the attack could be a result of a dispute over money, but people close to the ballet presume professional jealousy is involved.
It is known that throughout it’s history the Bolshoi has maintained a very competitive atmosphere in a country that is deeply invested in it’s ballet’s, though it is clear that this time things have gone too far. What kind of distress over the company’s inner workings could lead someone to do something so vicious?
In a New York Times article penned by Ellen Barry on January 18th, Ms. Barry quoted a famous Bolshoi ballerina who said, “The cruelty of the ballet world has become pathological.” Interestingly enough, when I returned to the New York Times website to re-read the article before writing this post, I found that these remarks had been removed from the article, perhaps because of the statement’s inflammatory nature.
Has the so-called “cruelty” of the ballet world, in fact lead someone to fling acid at an artistic director? Did a dancer not get the part they wanted? Did a dancer not get a promotion they felt they were deserving of? Did Filin make artistic decisions that did not please an audience member? I do not believe one disgusting incident illustrates that the rest of the ballet world will follow suit.
Unfortunately, this episode is not the only work-place case to have made headlines. It is not uncommon, though it is rare, for employees to take their workplace frustrations out in a violent way. In all these situations, the aggressors find themselves in unique mental states. These individuals can be found in any field of work, not limited just to ballet.
This is not the first time the ballet world has been referred to as “cruel” or “harsh,” but this horrible attack does not point towards a generalization of the mental state of the ballet community as a whole. This terrible situation is suspected to have been caused by a disgruntled member of the company’s community, which is a large enough group to encompass people of all temperaments and states of mind.
It is my sincere hope that this is the last such attack the world of ballet ever sees. And for now, our hopes and prayers are with Mr. Filin and his family as he recovers. In the meantime, we offer our support to the interim artistic director, Galina Stepanenko, a former Bolshoi prima ballerina and the first woman in the institution’s history to take the helm.