Suspect arrested in acid attack against ballet director

Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 1:00am

Ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko, often cast as the villain in Bolshoi Ballet productions, is now the lead defendant in a plot worthy of a Tchaikovsky score.

The 29-year-old allegedly choreographed an attack intended to blind Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin, the man who put him in the roles of Ivan the Terrible and Swan Lake's evil genius.

The mystery of who threw sulfuric acid into Filin's face in January has captivated Russians and kept Moscow detectives busy probing rivalries within Russia's renowned 240-year-old ballet company.

It might well send Hollywood literary agents and producers scrambling for story details as described by police reports and local media accounts.

Police declared their case was solved this week with a confession by Dmitrichenko.

"I organized this attack but not to the extent that it happened," he is heard saying in a video released by police.

The characters in this drama include Dmitrichenko's girlfriend, Anzhelina Vorontsova. She has not been charged, but local newspapers quote ballet members as saying Dmitrichenko was angry because he thought Filin was stifling her career.

Two alleged co-conspirators have been detained: Alleged hit man Yuri Zarutsky -- a burly, bearded Russian who was previously convicted of beating someone to death -- and Andrey Lipatov, who allegedly drove the getaway car after Zarutksy's battery acid attack on Filin.

While the final act must still play out in a Russian courtroom, the story opens in the nearly two-century-old Bolshoi Theatre.

Act 1 - The Bolshoi Theatre

Ballet is a world where competition is fierce, and where the artistic director wields considerable influence in making or breaking careers.

Filin, 42, was promoted to the Bolshoi Theatre's coveted post in March 2011, shortly after the deputy ballet director, Gennady Yanin, who was widely seen as a favorite for the artistic director post, resigned when pornographic pictures of him surfaced online.

There was "fierce rivalry" for the Bolshoi position at the time, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

That year, two dancers quit, unhappy with the direction the ballet had taken.

Another dancer, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, loudly criticized Filin for going over budget in the ballet's multimllion-dollar renovation.

Tsiskaridze, incidentally, was also a contender for the artistic director job that Filin got.

But beyond professional disagreements, sinister factors were also at play.

Act 2 - The Streets of Moscow

RIA Novosti reported that before the attack, Filin suffered months of intimidation, including threatening phone calls.

Someone slashed his car tires. Somebody also attempted to hack his Facebook page.

The trio of conspirators obtained battery acid at a car parts store, and made the acid stronger by evaporating the water from it, police said.

Dmitrichenko, who studied Filin's schedule, called Lipatov and Zarutsky when he saw Filin leave the theater on the cold night of January 17, police said.

As Filin entered the security code at the door of his Moscow apartment, authorities say, Zarutsky confronted him and tossed the sulfuric acid into his face. It caused third-degree burns and left him blinded.

Act 3 - Moscow Police Headquarters

Detectives pored over interviews with those who knew Filin and had suspicions about who would harm him. Other clues led them to several cell phones that Dmitrichenko had registered in other people's names, according to a police statement.

Calls from those phones led investigators to Lipatov, the alleged driver.

"I didn't see what happened there," Lipatov told them in a video released by police. "I just took Yuri there, waited for him and gave him a lift back."

When an interrogator asked Zarutsky about the crime, he allegedly said, "I don't want to talk about it."

Police concluded a "hostile relationship" stemming from Dmitrichenko's professional interaction with Filin was his motive.

Act 4 - A Moscow Court

Dmitrichenko, Zarutsky and Lipatov will face a judge Thursday on charges of attacking Filin. They would face several years in prison if convicted.

It may take at least six months for Filin to recover from the burns.

In the meantime, Galina Stepanenko, a former principal dancer, will run the company.

She says she's going to follow Filin's plans and she believes the dancers will now be united by greater respect and care for each other.

Doctors performed a skin graft on Filin and, after a second eye surgery, they were able to save his sight.

His colleagues are now working to ensure his artistic vision isn't lost. 

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