By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A scandal involving allegations of blackmail and threats against a top ballerina at the Bolshoi is unfolding just days after the artistic director of ballet at Russia's most prestigious theatre was attacked, a Russian newspaper reported this week.
Dancer Svetlana Lunkina has extended a leave of absence because she is afraid to return home from Canada as a result of threats targeting her and her film producer husband, Russian daily Izvestia reported in stories it ran on Monday and Tuesday.
The alleged threats stem not from Lunkina's career at the Bolshoi, now on hold for several months at least, but from a dispute between her husband and his former partner in a project for a film about late Russian ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya'.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with me, but they sent letters disparaging me ... to all the theatres," Izvestia quoted Lunkina as saying in an interview. She said her Facebook page was hacked into as part of a campaign of "provocations".
The reports come after an unknown assailant splashed acid in the face of Bolshoi Ballet artistic director Sergei Filin on January 17 - an attack he has said followed repeated threats and may have been motivated by rivalry or resentment.
Lunkina's husband, Vladislav Moskalyov, was sued for $3.7 million by a foundation linked to his former partner in the film, prominent Russian comic Vladimir Vinokur, shortly after Moskalyov left the film project, Izvestia reported.
It said letters had been sent to theatres alleging Moskalyov had laundered some of the money with help from Lunkina.
Russian police have opened an investigation based on allegations of theft from Vinokur's foundation, but have not named any suspects, Izvestia reported.
Vinokur could not be reached for comment. Izvestia quoted him as saying that "nobody threatened" the 33-year-old Lunkina but that she was "simply the wife of a man who has committed a crime and is hiding in Canada."
BALLERINA AND BOSS
According to Izvestia, Lunkina said she had sent letters to Filin telling him about her predicament, informing him she planned to extend her leave of absence and asking for his support - but had heard he did not want her back.
"I very much wanted to return (to the Bolshoi) and still want to, but I found out recently that my artistic director Sergei Filin does not want this," Izvestia quoted her as saying. "He told the dancers: 'Lunkina won't be back.'"
Izvestia quoted Bolshoi spokeswoman Ekaterina Novikova as saying that the theatre did not have the resources to guarantee Lunkina's security, but that Filin had nothing against her.
"Sergei has always had great respect and love for Svetlana and has insisted on her participation in performances."
Bolshoi spokesman Mikhail Yarush told Reuters that Lunkina has been on leave for several months "because of a family situation" and that the leave would likely last through the season, which ends in June or July.
"I was supposed to have had very interesting work (this season) - several premieres," Izvestia quoted Lunkina as saying.
The Bolshoi Ballet has pressed ahead with performances after the attack on Filin.
Russia's chief ophthalmologist has said that Filin, 42, would retain at least some sight in both eyes after several operations, and that he would go to Germany next week to begin what doctors say will be a long recovery.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Paul Casciato)