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Russia's Bolshoi ballet chief left nearly blind by acid attack

Sergei Filin, artistic director of Russia's Bolshoi Ballet, attends a news conference in the university hospital in the western German city
Sergei Filin, artistic director of Russia's Bolshoi Ballet, attends a news conference in the university hospital in the western German city

By Thomas Grove

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The artistic director of Russia's Bolshoi Ballet, burned in an acid attack allegedly masterminded by a dancer, is nearly blind despite 18 operations to save his sight, a theatre spokeswoman said on Thursday.

The attack on Sergei Filin, which exposed poisonous rivalries over roles, power and pay at the theatre, has cast a long shadow over Russia's premier cultural symbol, from which it is still struggling to escape.

At a news conference dedicated to the theatre's 2013-2014 season program, Filin's absence was palpable as he prepared to undergo what Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova said would be his 19th operation at a clinic in Germany to save his eyesight.

"I spoke with Sergei three days ago, and Sergei said the situation is such that he cannot see out of one eye at all, and he can see 10 percent out of the other eye," Novikova said. She would not comment on the chances his eyesight will be restored.

Filin, 42, has vowed to come back to the Bolshoi.

"We spoke to him recently over Skype and we all talked about issues (at the ballet)," said Filin's stand-in Galina Stepanenko, former principal dancer.

"I hope the next time we see him, it will not be as a patient in Germany but after he has already returned," she said.

Bolshoi dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko, who made his name playing villains in Swan Lake and Ivan the Terrible, confessed in a police video to organizing the attack that left Filin writhing in pain in the snow outside his Moscow apartment building, but later said he had not intended acid to be used.

In court, Dmitrichenko has said Filin had saved the best roles and salary-boosting grants for his own favorites, pushing into the wings those opposed to the artistic director's attempts to modernize traditional Russian ballet.

The theatre's management refused to talk about the ouster of top ballet dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, once a fierce critic of Filin, whose contract is not being renewed at the end of this month for reasons the Bolshoi has not yet explained.

He says he is being hounded out of the theatre following suggestions from its director, Anatoly Iksanov, that he might have played a role in inciting the attack.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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