An Attack on Ballet Heard Around The World

Posted by 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.

Sergei Filin

Sergei Filin

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.

Filin has a long history with the Bolshoi.

Filin has a long history with the Bolshoi.

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.



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  1. In previous post meant to name Serge Danielan as head of Ardani Artists. Also forgot to add that there are reports that Bolshoi prima Svetlana Lunkina (with her family) is currently in exile in Canada because of receiving serious threats.

  2. I read the NYT article and believe that quote came from Anastasia Volochkova, who the Bolshoi fired in 2003 for being “too fat”. But even Alexei Ratmansky has now posted ( on his Facebook page) a lengthy indictment of the Bolshoi, calling the situation a “disgusting cesspool” (tho post was in Cyrillic). He also now acknowledges that part of the reason he left the Bolshoi AD position in 2008 was because of threats to himself and his family.

    Not all situations in ballet may be as bad as in Russia but over the last week many have spoken out about how bad things have been in Russian ballet companies for awhile. Former Mariinsky AD Oleg Vinogradov fled Russia in 1995 after being brutally attacked on the street. He had been Mariinsky AD since about 1977 and before that was AD of the Mikhailovsky. The Bolshoi has been troubled since Grigorovich was fired (1997 I think). As the Russian impresario said this week (he runs Ardani Artists which represents most international Russian stars) in Arussia ballet is about politics not art.

  3. This is just a reflection of the world we live in. We see violence every day in life these days. Just read the paper. What is the solution? Nobody has an answer, and so it goes on.

  4. This incident has certainly been the most tragic in real-life ballet that I have ever seen. (Watch a ballet film, though, and you’d think think it happened every day.) I must say, though, that I do not feel this is a matter of a mentally deranged individual. This attack definitely stems from a more systemic problem. Ballet is so important in Russia that what happens has political implications and repercussions. This was planned. This was thuggish. This was a power struggle. And I think it illustrates not what the ballet is, but what Russia has become post-communism, where crime thrives and violent acts–such as the killing of a journalist–happen regularly and don’t ever get solved.

    I do know that it breaks my heart, and I wish Sergei Filin as full as recovery as possible, so he can go back to work for the company he loves.

    • Karenatasha-

      Thank you for your response. I certainly understand what you mean. There is seems to be a cultural undercurrent to this story, that is something we cannot identify with here in the states.

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