News: Arraignment proceedings for Bolshoi Star – today in Moscow

Thursday 7 March 2013

Pavel Dmitrichenko in court today

Report: Graham Watts

The Bolshoi Lead Soloist, 29 year-old Pavel Dmitrichenko appeared in court earlier today, alongside two other men, accused of arranging the acid attack on the company’s ballet director, Sergei Filin, on 17 January.

Dmitrichenko appeared tired but relaxed as he made his way to a metal cage inside the packed Moscow courtroom, which included at least two dozen cameramen and a host of journalists. The accused dancer appeared unperturbed by the press in court and chatted and smiled to those around him. At one point during the proceedings, Dmitrichenko turned to a journalist he seemed to know well and said pointedly, twice, “Are you sure that I did this”? When the journalist replied that he had confessed to the crime, Dmitrichenko responded that he had not. In complete contrast, another defendant, Yuri Zarutsky, appeared sullen, was largely silent and attempted to hide his face from the cameras. The essence of the prosecution case is that Dmitrichenko is alleged to have paid Zarutsky a sum reported to be 50,000 roubles (just over £1,000) to “beat him (Filin) up”. A third man, Andrei Lipatov is alleged to have been the get-away driver after the attack although he has told police that he was unaware of the purpose of the car journey.

In court, Dmitrichenko agreed that he held grievances against Filin, notably he alleged that Filin was asking for a percentage of the fees paid to Bolshoi dancers for their performances as guests with other companies in return for the company’s agreement that they could perform elsewhere. These additional fees are a key factor in the earnings of leading dancers in the Bolshoi and at other companies. The dancer had been a member of the Bolshoi’s Grants Commission, which looks at matters of remuneration within the company, and claims to have been sacked from the commission by Filin after he challenged him about corruption in December, last year. It is understood that Dmitrichenko does not deny that he hacked into various email accounts but claims that he did so to gain evidence in support of his allegations.

Dmitrichenko told the court that he complained to Zarutsky about Filin’s behaviour and Zarutsky replied, “Well, let me knock him around for you – you know, I can hit him on the head”. The dancer said that he had no idea that the assailant would contemplate throwing acid at his director and he was horrified when he heard that Zarutsky had chosen to attack Filin in this way. Prosecutors allege that Zarutsky purchased the sulphuric acid at a garage (or “auto shop”) and they believe that he then heated it up to make the acid more concentrated. Quick thinking by Filin, who was wearing a hoodie at the time of the attack, meant that he washed his face in snow immediately after the assault, which is thought to have eased the severity of the acid burns on his skin. His eyesight has however been severely compromised and he has recently undergone the tenth operation (this latest at a clinic in Germany) to attempt to repair his eyes. The current prognosis for his restored eyesight appears to be good.

There is much conjecture about the relationship between Dmitrichenko and the ballerina, Angelina Vorontsova, variously described as his girlfriend and common-law wife. The 21 year-old Vorontsova was a protégé of Filin during his time as Director of the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet but she left to join the Bolshoi before Filin was appointed Director at Moscow’s more famous ballet company. Since his appointment, Vorontsova’s supporters have complained that she has not received advancement within the company and has been denied the opportunity to dance major roles. However, Filin’s wife, Maria Prorvich (also a dancer at the Bolshoi) has told reporters that the motives for the crime run much deeper than vengeance for her husband overlooking the claims of one ballerina. It seems clear that Filin believes a “much wider circle” of people at – and around – the Bolshoi to be involved. Noticeably, in court today, Dmitrichenko did not mention Vorontsova and declined to name her even when asked directly about her.

A further complication is that Vorontsova is coached by Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who has made no secret of his desire to run the company and has been a major critic of the Bolshoi’s management; and another significant twist is that Dmitrichenko was a major interpreter of star roles in the ballets of former Bolshoi Director, Yuri Grigorovich and he has remained fiercely loyal to the man who was ousted from the directorship – after 30 years’ leadership – in 1995. Both Tsiskaridze and Grigorovich are committed to preserving the company’s classical and soviet neoclassical repertory and were opposed to modernisation.

The prosecution case revolves around a detailed analysis of cell phone records and email data but the defence team (which numbered three lawyers in court today) led by Alexander Barkhanov said that Dmitrichenko “never had any intention of causing such harm to his (Filin’s) health and certainly not in such a disgusting manner as to disfigure his face and destroy his sight”. Prosecutors are seeking a term of 12 years for Dmitrichenko, if found guilty, but the accused is laying the blame on Zarutsky. “I did not ask for this to be done”, he told the court today.

Many expert observers in Moscow are suggesting that there is still much more to be revealed about this case. Even the confession of Dmitrichenko – shown on Moscow TV with the accused looking ashen and bleary-eyed – is now being doubted. Questions remain about motive – was this a crime of passion by a man acting for a girl he loves against the man he believed to blocking her progress? Was it an exaggerated misunderstanding of Henry II/Thomas Becket proportions? Are others involved – as is being suggested in Russia – but being protected by those who have been arrested and made confessions? What is for sure is that this case is likely to have many more twists and turns before it runs its course. Ironically, it has all the ingredients (love, jealousy, revenge, double-crossing, intrigue etc) for a very real ballet narrative.

Graham Watts writes for, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK.

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