At the Bolshoi, ballet becomes a bloodsport

(CBS News) MOSCOW -- It's a tale of star-crossed lovers, murderous vengeance and betrayal -- and that's just on stage.

Behind the scenes, a real-life drama unfolded -- of poisonous rivalries and cut-throat competition -- among Russia's top dancers.

Sergei Filin is seen with his face covered in bandages following the acid attack.
Sergei Filin is seen with his face covered in bandages following the acid attack.

Last week, it spilled out into the open, when a masked man threw a jar of acid in the face of Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director.

Suspicion immediately fell on dancers in the company.

In the ballet-mad city of Moscow, where people are as devoted as die-hard sports fans, the attack cut like a dagger.

"This is an outrage, this is corruption and this is criminal," says Anastasia Volochkova, who was a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi in 2003 before she was fired for being overweight.

Anastasia Volochkova, who was a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi in 2003 before she was fired for being overweight, says jealousy was rampant among dancers.
Anastasia Volochkova, who was a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi in 2003 before she was fired for being overweight, says jealousy was rampant among dancers.
CBS News

She told CBS News about the jealousies among the dancers, saying some would cut the ribbons on other performers' pointe shoes.

"It breaks when you dance," she says. "This is sabotage."

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The walls of the Bolshoi Theater echo with legendary stories of vengeance that go back for more than a century: needles that were found in costumes, broken glass in a ballet shoe. But there's never been anything this savage.

In the weeks before the attack, Filin's tires were slashed, his email account was hacked and he said he'd received death threats.

Filin took over the Bolshoi in 2011. One of his first big decisions created waves: he hired American David Hallberg as a principal dancer, a role that's usually gone to a Russian.

"Every time he takes any artistic decision, it means that somebody is happy and somebody is unhappy," says Katerina Novikova, who works in the Bolshoi's front office. "You cannot please everybody."

Amidst the swirl of the investigation, some dancers have taken lie detector tests, but police have made no arrests. And while they continue to question the dancers, sell-out crowds applaud the tales of mystery and intrigue.

  • Charlie D'Agata

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