x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Machiavellian ballet

An attack on the director of the Bolshoi Theatre has highlighted the rivalry behind the elegance of ballet

It could - and possibly will - be the plot of a noir thriller. The ballet director of Russia's famed Bolshoi Theatre, Sergei Filin, was maimed last week when an as-yet-unknown assailant threw sulphuric acid at his face. Yesterday, it emerged that police investigating the case had questioned, but not charged, one of the company's leading dancers, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who had been one of Filin's rivals for the top job.

A popular judge on the Russian version of the television reality programme Dancing with the Stars, Tsiskaridze has denied any involvement in the attack, which has thrown a focus on the murky world behind the impressive facade of the globally famous Bolshoi.

Ballet is a tough business. The dancers are athletes and artists of the highest calibre, but their working lives are short and they are under extraordinary pressure - to keep their places in the company, to keep their waif-like figures and to keep their sanity. That something so ugly could lurk behind such a beautiful art form is a potent reminder that things are not always as they seem.

Filin, who is lucky to have kept his eyesight, says he has received several threats since taking up the job and regrets not taking them more seriously. In the rarefied world of ballet, passion for the art can be a dangerous thing.