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Moscow - Ousted Bolshoi ballet star Nikolai Tsiskaridze said in graphic court testimony Monday that deep personal rivalries were behind the vicious acid attack against the troupe's venerable artistic director.
One of Russia's most cherished cultural institutions has been riven by controversy ever since an assailant splashed a mixture of urine and acid in the face of Sergei Filin outside his Moscow apartment block on January 17.
The assault nearly blinded the 43-year-old former dancer while fuelling a string of public scandals that led to the ouster of Bolshoi director Anatoly Iksanov and the dismissal of Tsiskaridze - one of the ballet company's most recognised soloists and a prominent presence on Russian TV.
Tsiskaridze told a packed Moscow courtroom that Filin had created an unhealthy atmosphere at the historic establishment by picking favourites and demoting others out of personal spite.
He accused Filin of being known as “a poser and a hysteric”.
“He always insulted people and yelled at everyone. He was a provocateur,” Tsiskaridze said of Filin.
Three defendants are on trial in Moscow's Meshchansky District Court hearings that are expected to stretch out for several more weeks.
Former Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko faces up to 12 years in prison for allegedly plotting the attack in reprisal for Filin's failure to assign big roles to both himself and his then girlfriend Anzhelina Vorontsova.
Dmitrichenko is being held in detention along with Yury Zarutsky - accused of being the man who doused Filin with the acid - and a driver named Andrei Lipatov who drove the assailant to the scene.
Tsiskaridze himself faces no charges and is only a witness for the prosecution.
But Bolshoi's former director Iksanov said Filin had told him during a hospital visit that he suspected both Tsiskaridze and Dmitrichenko of being behind the attack.
“In the hospital, Filin said that he suspects Dmitrichenko and Tsiskaridze of complicity in the attack,” Iksanov testified in court last week.
“From the moment of his appointment, Filin had strained ties with Tsiskaridze,” Iksanov said.
Tsiskaridze told the court on Monday that he had no idea “what grounds Sergei (Filin) had to suspect me” of plotting his assault.
The unusual trial has been covered in breathless detail by Russian media because of its seemingly endless flow of sensational disclosures about some of the country's most treasured stars.
Tsiskaridze on Monday accused Filin of being jealous of Dmitrichenko because of his relationship with Vorontsova Ä a promising ballerina who never made it big at the Bolshoi and is now pursuing her career in Saint Petersburg.
Filin “had been interested in Vorontsova for many years and said as much in front of me on repeated occasions,” said Tsiskaridze.
He further cited Filin once saying: “She will not dance until I marry her just once.”
Filin himself was receiving additional treatment in Germany on Monday after a further deterioration of his sight.
“He has had a flareup of the infection ... and his right eye is effectively blind,” his lawyer Tatyana Stukalova told reporters.
Filin has undergone more than 20 surgeries on his eyes in Germany and still wears dark eyeglasses to protect himself from sunlight.
Dmitrichenko has pleaded not guilty to plotting the acid attack while admitting that he had once asked Zarutsky to “rough up” Filin in order to send him a message.
He told the court on Monday that he was “ready to bear full moral responsibility” for what happened.
“If I never told Zarutsky about the goings on at the theatre, everything would have turned out differently,” Dmitrichenko said.