wed 24/07/2024

Interview: Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin says, 'I'll be back' | reviews, news & interviews

Interview: Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin says, 'I'll be back'

Interview: Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin says, 'I'll be back'

Victim of acid attack stands firm, as senior ballerina takes over as acting chief

Sergei Filin speaks out from hospital as Galina Stepanenko takes over in interim

Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin has vowed to return from the horror of an acid attack to lead Russia's flagship ballet company - "not handsome, but in full force", in a remarkable interview from his hospital bed. Facing two solid days of surgery on his eyes and head, seriously burned by sulphuric acid thrown over him by a masked man last Thursday night, Filin said he urgently hoped the police would solve the crime, or he would lose faith.

Yesterday his duties were officially handed over to a senior Bolshoi ballerina and coach, Galina Stepanenko, who will act as the company's director during Filin's treatment and convalescence. Aged 46, she is the first woman ever to lead the Bolshoi. The news was given to the entire troupe by Russia's Culture Minister,  Vladimir Medinsky, the Bolshoi's general director Anatoly Iksanov and the chairman of the Bolshoi Theatre board of trustees Alexander Budberg.

It is said that Filin trusts Stepanenko, hence the unexpected nomination; the management appear determined to enable Filin to continue running the company via a deputy he can rely upon to carry out his wishes.

In a confident phone interview, Filin told Komsomolskaya Pravda's Anastasia Pleshakova that he was determined to return to full duties as soon as possible. He said Moscow's best ophthalmologists had to prioritise saving his sight, but that his left eye was not too badly affected.

He said he blamed himself somewhat for not taking the threats he was receiving from late last year too seriously. He had been offered a driver and a bodyguard by the theatre, but he said he could never have believed that such violence could be possible.

This is the transcription of the full interview with Anastasia Pleshakova. For a full report of the event, see theartsdesk report here.

If  a decision to halt these attacks doesn't come, I really wonder what has to happen in our country before our leaders take notice

SERGEI FILIN: Thank you very much for everybody's support and concern, I'd never have expected it. At such a difficult time for me, I need to concentrate and gather all my strength. There are a lot more trials ahead, I'll have to take some important decisions concerning my health. But I'm full of energy, I'm cheerful, I don't feel angry, I'm not in despair. I'll carry on in just the same way as I do leading the Bolshoi Ballet. I'm managing to follow what's going on in the theatre from hospital. My assistants and the performers call me, they send me documents, they visit. The feeling that I'm still in the system gives me the strength to fight to get back to health.

ANASTASIA PLESHAKOVA: The more so because it's the premiere [tomorrow Thursday] of La Bayadère on the stage of the restored theatre, which you are well prepared for.

SF: The guys told me I shouldn't be anxious, not to worry. They will do everything that is possible or even impossible to make the show fantastic. They say they will dance even better than their usual brilliance. It's a remarkable team at the Bolshoi theatre right now. I absolutely trust the troupe, so I'm quite sure that the premiere will be top-level.

AP: Sergei, although you're in hospital, have you any explanation for what happened on 17 January? Who committed the crime?

SF: I'm linking what happened with my work. One thing I do blame myself for is taking it too lightly. Just before New Year, I told the media that I was getting personal threats. There was someone I was obviously antagonising. Sooner or later, this antagonism was likely to result in specific action. But believe me, I could not have imagined that a campaign of threats could end like this. I might have supposed photos would turn up on the internet of me naked on the stage, or something equally absurd, like me in a bath with Cindy Crawford. With modern technology, this sort of thing isn't surprising. But I never suspected that real violence was possible.

That's why I curse myself for thoughtlessness. They did offer me a driver and a personal guard. On 15 December I was in the office of the general director and requested protection and assistance because I was getting these threats to me personally. But the director told me, well, we do have a pretty tough job, he said he himself has been working on the front line, as it were, for 12 years, that you had to take courage and find the inner strength so as not to be affected by these threats…

AP: You remember how last year, after the Bolshoi Theatre reopened after a long refurbishment, there was attack after attack made on the administration? Not only on the general director Anatoly Iksanov, but on the whole theatre...

SF: I think all that was needed was a decision to put a stop to these dirty attacks. And if today, after this attack on me, this decision doesn't follow, I really wonder what has to happen in our country before our national leaders and power structures take notice.

At the theatre reopening we had an astonishing company, awesome atmosphere, the prime minister at the first night. Young artists were sobbing because they couldn't be on stage because they were dancing in the second cast. The entire troupe was fired up with just one aim: to work and work. Today the Bolshoi is the best ballet company in the world. I'm not saying this just from my own interested view, that's what teachers and choreographers think who come to us from all over the world, like world-famous ballet masters John Neumeier and Pierre Lacotte - they say this company is in fantastic form. But still within the theatre we're constantly hearing this or that discontent. It is very important that this kind of talk stops.

AP: If you're saying there are malcontents, maybe it's because of dancers whom you as artistic director have rated highly that others rate less highly?

SF: For a company to work, all the artists must dance and the best dancers must get the best parts, that's normal. But everyone must have their own place, not necessarily somebody else's. For instance, in his time Andrei Uvarov used to be the most brilliant and best in La Bayadère, while I danced La Sylphide a little better than he did. But neither of us had any wish to chuck acid over the other or put broken glass in his ballet shoes. No one would even think of it! You had rivalry, but it was healthy in the 21 years I was dancing.

The investigators have to find the answer. If the crime remains unsolved, I hardly know what I can believe in

AP: Sergei, but if all is well inside the company, what makes you think this crime was triggered inside the theatre?

SF: Sometimes when all is going well, someone else might not like it. But I don't want to continue this line, it's the job of the investigators. They have to find the answer. If the crime remains unsolved, I hardly know what I can believe in.

AP: How is your sight?

SF: The eyes are the main worry. Many people are saying to me, "Come on, Filin, you're still a handsome man!" But I didn't know I was supposed to be handsome - it's quite funny. Still, it's nice to hear. I've lived 42 years, I'll stay the same fellow. Even if there's a big change in how I look, I'm not frightened. The main thing for me is to continue to think and work, my family and my children. I've got three sons. I want to see them grow up, stand on their own two feet. And I'll do everything possible to set them up for life.

As for everything else, I'll help the doctors who are treating me with all my strength. Medicine now is so advanced that doctors can do much more than used to be expected. As the attacker threw the acid on me to my right, my right eye is worse affected and will take longer to treat. They're promising to save the left eye. I'm not losing heart. Sometimes I can manage to see all the fingers on my hand, and this is inspiring me with optimism and hope. I'm forbidden any sharp movements which is why it was decided not to have treatment abroad. Our doctors are trying their utmost to save the living tissue. 

AP:  Sergey, I don't doubt you can survive anything. Your mother has said you once danced Swan Lake with a broken leg.

SF: Yes, it's true! In comparison to dancing with a broken leg, my current hardships aren't so awful - dancing on a broken leg is a lot worse. Yes, I couldn't leave the stage because my mother was sitting in the first row of the stalls. She's an invalid, and I reckoned that if the curtain closed and they announced that something had happened to me, Mum wouldn't survive it. So I had to dance until the interval.

Thank you all for your attention and support. I promise as soon as I'm through this, I will try my best to please all the audience who come to our country's greatest theatre. I can't promise that I'll return handsome, but the fact that I will return in full force, I can guarantee.

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