MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian police searched the home of one of the Bolshoi Ballet's top dancers on Tuesday over an acid attack that nearly blinded the troupe's artistic director, and detained a man suspected of carrying it out.
The coordinated police action was the first sign of progress towards solving a crime that left Sergei Filin, 42, with severe burns after a masked attacker threw a jar of sulfuric acid in his face outside his apartment on January 17.
The attack has shocked a country used to violent settling of scores and put the spotlight on infighting at one its top cultural institutions. The involvement of any of the artistes would deepen the sense of crisis at the Bolshoi.
Police said the Moscow home of Pavel Dmitrichenko, a Bolshoi soloist who has been performing the lead role in Sergei Prokofiev's Ivan The Terrible, had been searched but did not say whether the search indicated he was being treated as a suspect.
It also said an unnamed suspect had been detained in the suburbs of the capital early on Monday and taken in for questioning. Police sources told Russian media that the man was suspected of throwing the acid at Filin.
"This is good news for us," Katerina Novikova, the Bolshoi Theatre's spokeswoman, said of the suspect's detention.
"The Bolshoi Theatre hopes that this detention today shows that this crime will be solved because it is very important for us all and we are really hopeful that the mastermind as well as the perpetrator of this crime will be identified."
But she looked irritated and became defensive when addressing the possibility of divisions in the troupe, saying: "I think the Bolshoi Theatre troupe is waiting for Sergei's return, and loves him and wishes him a speedy recovery."
She said she did not know the reason for the search of Dmitrichenko's apartment and did not know of any dispute between him and Filin.
HISTORY OF INTRIGUE
Filin was left writhing in agony in the snow for about 20 minutes after the attack. As artistic director of the theatre's ballet company, he had the power to make or break careers in the fiercely competitive world of ballet.
He said before heading to Germany last month for treatment that is expected to save his sight that he believed he knew who was behind the attack and hinted it might be connected to his work, but refused to give a name.
Dmitrichenko could not immediately be reached for comment. He has been with the troupe since 2002.
The theatre has been no stranger to intrigue since it was built under Empress Catherine the Great in 1776 and the ballet troupe has gone through five artistic directors since 1995.
In 2003, Bolshoi bosses were heavily criticized for trying to fire ballerina Anastasia Volochkova for being too heavy. In 2011, deputy ballet director Gennady Yanin, then seen as a candidate for the artistic director post, quit after pornographic images of him appeared on the Internet.
The theatre, near Moscow's Red Square, reopened to great fanfare in 2011 after a six-year, $700-million renovation that restored its tsarist opulence but was criticized for going far over budget.
It has frequently been under fire over its artistic program since then.
Leading Russian cultural figures wrote to President Vladimir Putin last November calling for the dismissal of the Bolshoi's general manager, Anatoly Iksanov. Among his critics are veteran dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who challenged him for his job.
The Bolshoi dismissed the criticism, saying it failed to take into account the troupe's latest performances.
A prominent current affairs television show, Post Scriptum, blamed the management last month for failing to prevent scandals.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)