The Bolshoi ballet's artistic director describes the acid attack which left him with third-degree burns and threatens to render him blind.

A Bolshoi spokesman said Mr Filin, 42, had suffered months of threats (pic: Reuters)

Sergei Filin, a former leading dancer at the Bolshoi who has been in the high-pressure job at the heart of Russian culture for nearly two years, was attacked outside his Moscow apartment building as he returned home on Thursday night.

Such is the prestige of Filin's post in Russian life, and its power inside the theatre, that stunned current and former colleagues suggested the motive could have been envy, rivalry or even competition for roles.

Filin, his face covered in bandages with holes for the mouth and eyes, sounded relieved to have survived the attack.

"I was scared. I thought he was going to shoot me, honestly ... and I turned to run but he chased me down," Filin told Russia's REN TV.

He turned and his face was completely covered, either a scarf or some bandage like a mask, only eyes (to be seen)."

Attack 'aimed at creating discord'

The theatre's director, Anatoly Iksanov, had no doubt the attack was aimed at sowing discord in an institution that has rarely been at peace in a history stretching back to the era of Catherine the Great.

Filin, 42, had reported having his car tyres slashed and his emails hacked in recent weeks, as well as receiving repeated nuisance calls from someone who stayed silent when he answered.

"This two-week campaign has ended tragically and despicably," Iksanov said, adding that the culprit "should be sought among those for whom it was beneficial to compromise the theatre leadership".

Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova had been out with Filin at another theatre on Thursday evening and parted with him shortly before the attack.

"We just never thought that the war for roles - not for real estate, not for oil - could reach such a criminal level," she said.

Filin became Bolshoi artistic director in March 2011 (pic: Reuters)

Wellwishers flock to hospital

Relatives, dancers and theatre administrators flocked overnight to the hospital where Filin was being treated, and later gathered at the theatre.

"This person was doing his job," Bolshoi soloist Anastasia Meskova said, choking back tears. "Of course, it's clear that there may have been people who were dissatisfied, but I can't even imagine what would have been the reason (for the attack)."

Russian media said Filin had suffered third-degree burns and that doctors believed it would take him at least six months to recover.

Filin told Iksanov he believed he had been followed home, and that the attacker had called his name before throwing acid on his face.

"There are very serious burns on his face, in his ears, on his forehead, his mouth, and of course there are serious concerns about his eyesight," Iksanov said.