Crime Story: The Dark World of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater

By Susanne Beyer, , Wladimir Pyljow and Matthias Schepp

Photo Gallery: The Attack on the Bolshoi's Director Photos
REUTERS

Part 2: Three Theories Surrounding the Attack

In Moscow, Filin's greatest enemy in the company is Nikolai Tsiskaridze. The celebrated 39-year-old dancer was a contender for the job of artistic director. Tsiskaridze has reportedly accused Filin of being corrupt, and he once allegedly spoke about "having all colleagues shot to death with a machine gun."

But Tsiskaridze also has allies. In November, a group of actors and artists published an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging him to issue an order making Tsiskaridze the artistic director of the Bolshoi. Not surprisingly, there is widespread public speculation that Tsiskaridze could be behind the assault, but he denies any involvement.

Three theories about the attack are currently making the rounds in Russia. One is that it has to do with internal power struggles and the competition for top performing roles. Another is that it has to do with sex and love. Sources at the Bolshoi say that Filin is not gay, but so good looking that both men and women have become infatuated with him. Perhaps it was an act of jealousy.

A third theory is supplied by Andrei, the insider who says he told the police that the attack must have something to do with the murky business deals surrounding the Bolshoi. Andrei told investigators how members of the company bribe theater managers to bring them along to lucrative guest performances abroad. He says that he has given the authorities detailed descriptions -- including names -- of how a large proportion of the tickets earmarked to be sold online are quietly sold off to ticket scalpers at profit margins of over 100 percent.

Andrei contends that it is virtually impossible to purchase ballet or opera tickets on the Bolshoi website three months before a performance, or shortly after online ticket sales have begun. Andrei also says that tickets are secretly passed on to other online platforms, such as www.zriteli.ru, where they are sold for two to three times the standard price. The performance of the ballet classic "Spartacus" on April 26 was sold out at the end of last week on the Bolshoi website, but other online sales outlets were still offering large numbers of tickets.

"That's the mafia at work," says Andrei, "and no one dares to stop them." Every morning, the same individuals line up at the Bolshoi's three ticket counters. They are scalpers who purchase all the tickets left at the box office -- for the equivalent of between €2.50 for standing-room tickets and €224 for the best seats -- and circulate them on the black market. Before evening performances, they scalp these tickets for several times the original purchase price.

Andrei can't say whether Filin also plays a role in the ticket deals -- whether he is part of this racket or whether he wanted to crack down on it. But Andrei contends that he can't imagine the attack had nothing to do with these deals.

Sex and Stars

All pure speculation? Perhaps. But everyone in Moscow who speaks off the record about the acid attack admits that there could be a connection with these scams. Everything sounds murky and dangerous when artists, critics and officials talk about the Bolshoi.

Sex is also sold at the Bolshoi -- or at least that's what Andrei claims. What's more, these allegations have been confirmed by Anastasia Volochkova, 37, a former Bolshoi prima ballerina, who recently made waves in the media by posting revealing photos of herself online. Volochkova says she now sees her former theater "as a big brothel." She contends that every dancer, both male and female, knows that an invitation to dinner from a patron of the arts or an oligarch often includes physical exertions not limited to the realm of the arts. "Anyone who refuses to play along can kiss their career goodbye," she says. "That's what my girlfriends at the Bolshoi tell me."

Volochkova has leveled serious allegations against general director Anatoly Iksanov, who fired her in 2003. While the two were on opposite sides of a lawsuit in Moscow's courts, Iksanov allegedly sent two men to her dressing room with a bouquet of flowers. "One of them pulled a knife out of the bouquet," she says, "and impressed upon me that I would be better off withdrawing my lawsuit against Iksanov."

Volochkova says she told SPIEGEL this story because her critical comments about Bolshoi Theater managers have been censored on Russian talk shows. Instead of commenting directly on Volochkova's account, Iksanov had a spokeswoman deny the allegations.

However, Volochkova says: "I'm no longer afraid of him. If something happens to me, everyone will know who's behind it, so it would be best if Iksanov sent me some bodyguards."

Injured vanity, rumors and insinuations. Anyone who looks behind the scenes at the Bolshoi discovers a dark world of murmurs and whispers. And no one has any hope that the case of the acid attack will ever be solved.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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