MOSCOW (AP) - An acid attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet has shone the spotlight on the fierce "Black Swan" -like competition for starring roles at the famed Russian dance company.
The attack on Sergei Filin could be in retaliation for his selection of certain dancers over others for the prized roles, his colleagues said Friday. They expressed fears that Filin, a 42-year-old former Bolshoi star, could be left partially blind after a masked assailant threw acid in his face as he returned home in Moscow late Thursday.
Filin suffered third-degree burns on his face and underwent eye surgery Friday evening to try to save his sight, Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova said. Doctors said his right eye was badly burned and it would not be clear for days whether the operation was a success.
The Bolshoi Theater is one of Russia's premier cultural institutions, best known for "Swan Lake" and the other grand classical ballets that grace its Moscow stage. But backstage, the ballet company has been troubled by deep intrigue and infighting that have led to the departure of several artistic directors over the last few years.
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."
The fierce competition for roles in classical ballet was highlighted in the 2010 Oscar-winning film "Black Swan." In the psychological thriller, dancers played by Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis vie to prove to the artistic director that only they should be chosen to perform as the sensual Black Swan.
Anastasia Volochkova, a former Bolshoi ballerina who danced with Filin, described a "terrible, wild fight" for roles at the Bolshoi.
She said Filin had done nothing to deserve such an attack. "Of course, this position is sweet," the former ballerina said. "The director of the ballet decides everything: the amount of grants given to every artist, or perhaps not given, who will dance which roles and who will not dance them."
Novikova, the Bolshoi spokeswoman, also appeared to confirm that a disagreement over dancing roles may have played a part in the attack.
Filin knew that someone was threatening him or trying to undermine his position, Iksanov said, explaining that Filin's car tires had been slashed this week and he was targeted earlier this month by hackers who had 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.
Filin, speaking from a hospital bed, said he was unable to recognize his attacker, who wore a hood and either a mask or a scarf so that only his eyes were visible.
"I got scared and I thought he was going to shoot me," Filin, his face and head covered with white bandages, told REN TV. "I turned around to run, but he raced ahead of me."
The attacker then fled the scene. Police, who spoke with Filin in the hospital, said they were working to determine the attacker's identity. Blurry video of the attack from a closed-circuit camera was shown on state television.