As if the attack on Sergei Filin were not enough, in the past couple of months there has been a concerted campaign both on the internet and the press to vilify Nikolai Tsiskaridze at every opportunity. If he didn't actually throw the acid himself, so the theory goes, then he was almost certainly the motivator for the attack. There is actually no evidence for this at all.
For many years his has been the lone voice unafraid to expose the corruption and malpractice that has begun to sully the image of the Bolshoi and sadly his bravery has been rewarded only with desperate slurs on his character. "Don't rock the boat" and "Don't wash our dirty linen in public" has been the usual response to just about everything he says. For a long time I had wondered at the hostility towards a dancer I know to be kind, highly intelligent and generous to a fault. Surely there must be an explanation for all this hatred? The answer was provided by a Russian ballet insider who told me a remarkable but rather sinister story:
One of the downsides of fame is that it can attract the wrong type of admirers and they come in many forms; stalkers for example have been harassing dancers longer than one might imagine and for some strange reason the victims are generally male dancers.
To give a few case histories, Rudolf Nureyev was plagued by sinister phone calls at all times of day and night from a deranged Irish woman. Anthony Dowell had a female stalker for most of his career and his contemporary, Piers Beaumont, had his female stalker actually throw herself into the Thames when he angrily confronted her. This case actually went to court with a restraining order being issued by the judge. Even Robert Helpmann had a fan who claimed he had made her pregnant, except he had never met the woman and her pregnancy was of the phantom variety.
Today things are different and mad fans have a new tool for their harassment: the internet.
At an early stage of his career Nikolai Tsiskaridze had the misfortune to attract the attention of someone who, according to a friend who has met him, has an unusually intense interest in the dancers of the Bolshoi ballet. To begin with he was just an enthusiastic fan who was enchanted by this exceptionally talented young dancer but he wanted to go further than being just a fan – he wanted to be the mentor of the young dancer shaping up to become one of the greatest in the Bolshoi’s history and thereby to bask in his reflected glory. Tsiskaridze however didn’t want or need a mentor and certainly not this one, so the stage was set for years of an on line campaign of virulent persecution. In the beginning Tsiskaridze probably couldn’t have cared less about someone so obviously unhinged but over the years this man’s poison has spread so much that attitudes to the dancer, especially on the internet but in other forms of the media outside of Russia, have become more and more negative. In his native Russia I am told his views cut very little ice as Tsiskaridze is a major star there with legions of fans but elsewhere (particularly in the UK) it is clear this dancer doesn’t have the automatic respect that his talent deserves.
So who is this lousy specimen of humanity who has sought to make the slandering of a great dancer his life’s work? How I would love to name him but unfortunately the rules that pertain here forbid me from doing so, so I will just provide the first letter of his surname: S. but not a plain Mr S. but a Professor S., as someone whose work brings me into contact with academia, indeed I’ve even rubbed shoulders with Nobel laureates, I’ve met the odd professor who can be a accurately described as eccentric but I’ve never yet encountered such a ****ed-up piece of work as this outwardly respectable Moscow professor. He infects the internet like a virus and one of the most remarkable things about him is that he has persuaded his family to become his willing accomplices with his wife and son spewing out similar bile at every opportunity. A remarkable family indeed that supports someone with a warped obsession with a dancer, for whereas most of us with a family member with an unhealthy fixation would urge them to seek psychiatric help, these oddballs devote much of their leisure time attacking Nikolai Tsiskaridze on line under a plethora of aliases. And right now they are having a field day springing up all over the internet as the unhappy events at the Bolshoi are played out in the world’s media, they attack and insinuate, without the inconvenience of the truth getting in their way.
Mercifully the malign professor and his family have yet to make an appearance here as I think our superior moderators are ever quick to spot a troll, but when you read negative things about Nikolai Tsiskaridze on the ballet fora, or indeed in the general press, for the professor’s toxic influence extends even there, remember, especially any dancers reading this, that hell hath no fury like a ballet fan scorned.