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Bolshoi Dancer Sentenced To Russian Penal Colony For Acid Attack


A former star dancer with Russia's Bolshoi ballet was sentenced today to six years in a penal colony for ordering an attack on the ballet's artistic director Sergei Filin, an attack that left him nearly blind. Also sentenced were the man who admitted he threw sulfuric acid on Filin and the accused driver of the getaway car. It's a story that's exposed a deeply troubling side of the legendary ballet company. Andrew Roth is following the story for the New York Times. He joins me now from Moscow. Andrew, welcome to the program.

ANDREW ROTH: Hi, Melissa.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the former Bolshoi soloist, Pavel Dmitrichenko, who testified at his trial and he admitted ordering some sort of attack on Sergei Filin. He also, though, pleaded not guilty. How can you explain that?

ROTH: Well, I think that Pavel Dmitrichenko was trying to say during trial was that he had expressed to his friend, Yuri Zarutsky, that he was very angry about the way that the Bolshoi was being run under Sergei Filin and that he had, at one point, asked Zarutsky to rough up, was the term used during the trial, Sergei Filin.

What exactly happened at that point, the way that the defense tried to present it, is that Zarutsky took that as a green light to attack Filin and to use acid during it as well. And Dmitrichenko tried to present this as sort of a miscommunication during the trial and say that he hadn't specifically asked for an acid attack in any way.

Zarutsky, for his part, actually admitted to having thought up the idea for the acid attack himself.

BLOCK: Well, in the end, all three defendants were found guilty and sentenced today. What was the alleged motive for the attack? You said that Dmitrichenko expressed anger. What was that all about?

ROTH: You know, the motive was really the entire part of the trial. We saw a lot of people speaking at the trial from the Bolshoi really airing out the dirty laundry of a cultural symbol of Russia that's known around the world. Dmitrichenko was angry about Sergei Filin passing over Dmitrichenko for certain roles. There were questions about roles he had been taken out of.

There were questions about his common-law wife, who might also have been passed over for roles. And the goal of the defense in this trial was really to portray Sergei Filin as a kind of dictator who ruled by fiat and argued quite often with people who were in the troupe. So it was question about rules.

You know, about what drives what we see on the stage at the Bolshoi theater, is it talent or is it payments or curing favor or anything else along those lines. These are the things that the defense really tried to show during the trial.

BLOCK: You know, Andrew, the Bolshoi is such a national treasure in Russia, has been for hundreds of years. What do you think the long term effect of this crime in the story will be on the institution?

ROTH: I think that the Bolshoi, right now, is in tumult to a certain degree. It's not just this single case. The scandal in the last couple of days, we've seen the music director leave unexpectedly, although that may be an unrelated case. A top aide to Filin will have to leave when her contract is not renewed, which raises questions about what Filin's long term position is going to be at the Bolshoi as well.

And also, there was the case of Joy Womack, who is an American ballerina, who, I think, was portrayed somewhat as a trailblazer for American ballerinas there who also came out last month and said that she had faced extortion, people asking for bribes for her to get a solo role. And so the question right now is how can they get past this, sort of put down this concept that the Bolshoi is not just a place where we see amazing dancing, but a place that is rife with this competition and these rivalries that in the last year have really come into the spotlight and have taken over from the dancing.

BLOCK: Andrew Roth is a reporter with the New York Times in Moscow. Thanks so much.

ROTH: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.