MOSCOW – A masked assailant threw acid at the artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet in an attack that colleagues said Friday could be in reprisal for his selection of dancers in starring roles at the famed Russian company.
Sergei Filin, a 42-year-old former Bolshoi star, said a man threw the acid into his face late Thursday near the gate of his apartment building in central Moscow. The attacker wore a hood and either a mask or a scarf, so only his eyes were visible, he said.
"I got scared and I thought he was going to shoot me," Filin, his face covered with white bandages, told REN TV. "I turned around to run, but he raced ahead of me."
Colleagues said Filin could be left partially blind.
The Bolshoi's general director, Anatoly Iksanov, said he believes the attack was linked to Filin's work.
"He is a man of principle and never compromised," Iksanov said on Channel One state television. "If he believed that this or that dancer was not ready or was unable to perform this or that part, he would turn them down."
Filin knew that someone was threatening him or trying to undermine his position, Iksanov said. He said Filin's car tires had been slashed earlier in the week and that he was targeted this month by hackers who posted his professional correspondence online.
"He said, `I have a feeling that I am on the front lines,"' Iksanov quoted Filin as telling him Thursday before the attack.
Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova, who visited Filin in the hospital Thursday night, told The Associated Press that his condition was stable but he could lose some of his sight. She also appeared to confirm that a disagreement over roles may have played a part in the attack.
"We never imagined that a war for roles -- not for real estate or for oil -- could reach this level of crime," Novikova said on Channel One.
Bolshoi principal dancer Svetlana Zakharova teared up when speaking about Filin.
"We've just realized that the job of a Bolshoi Theater director is very dangerous one," she said.
Iksanov later backed away from the suggestion that the attack was linked to Filin's casting decisions.
"The goal (of the attack) was to create a split and disagreement in the theater's management," Iksanov told journalists gathered at the theater. Channel One deleted his statement from its reports later in the day.
Filin, who danced for the Bolshoi from 1989 until 2007, was appointed artistic director of the Bolshoi's ballet company in March 2011. Before returning to the Bolshoi, he served as artistic director at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater, Moscow's second ballet company.
Several stars at the Bolshoi, including celebrated dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, have complained about what they called Filin's unfair treatment of dancers at the theater.
Alexei Ratmansky, who was the Bolshoi ballet's artistic director from 2004 until 2008, described an atmosphere of intrigue.
"What happened with Sergei Filin was not accidental," Ratmansky, now an artist-in-residence at the American Ballet Theater, posted on his Facebook page. "The Bolshoi has many ills. It's a disgusting cesspool, of those developing friendships with the artists, the speculators and scalpers, the half-crazy fans ready to bite the throats of the rivals of their favorites, the cynical hackers, the lies in the press and the scandalous interviews of staff.
"This is all one snowball caused by the lack of any ethics at the theater."
Dancers Zakharova and Yan Godovsky played down talk of tensions at the company, saying there were disagreements but not "on this scale."
Filin is the sixth artistic director at the Bolshoi since Yuri Grigorovich, who led the dance company for three decades, resigned in 1995 after losing a protracted dispute with theater management. Successive artistic directors have been unable to overcome resistance from dancers and teachers still loyal to Grigorovich as they tried to inject new life into the company.
Filin, the Bolshoi veteran who later brought modern ballets to Moscow's second ballet company, was seen as capable of bridging that gap.
Filin was being flown to Brussels Friday for treatment at a military hospital specializing in burns, Bolshoi spokeswoman Novikova said.