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Culture news, 30.08.2004 12:52

No Venue for 'Nord-Ost' in St. Petersburg

nord_ost St Petersburg Times

By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

As Russia recovers from two plane crashes that are seen as likely caused by terrorists, St. Petersburg is facing a scandal centered upon a musical that became the center of world attention when Chechen terrorists captured the theater where it was being performed two years ago.

"Nord-Ost," based on a 20th-century classic novel "The Two Captains" by Veniamin Kaverin, is a moving story about love, rivalry, justice and polar explorers. The musical, which features a plane settling on the stage, was scheduled to be performed at the St. Petersburg Music Hall starting Sept. 24.

But with less than a month before the curtain was due to go up, the performances were canceled Thursday.

Last week the hall's director Anzhela Khachaturyan protested against the show and refused to allow performers on the stage. She suggested the weighty sets of "Nord-Ost" would damage, if not destroy, the venue's modest stage.

The musical's producers criticized her actions as farcical and said the administration of the Music Hall was looking for excuses to force the show out of town.

"Nord-Ost," was first staged in Moscow's Dubrovka Theater. Chechen militants seized the theater in October 2002, taking more than 700 people hostage for three days.

After federal forces stormed the theater all the militants were killed and 129 hostages died from the effects of a gas released in the theater. The theater was renovated and the musical resumed, but flagging audiences meant performances ceased.

But the performers and producers didn't want the show to go for good. The plan was to create a renewed version of the production, tailored to travel, starting its tour in St. Petersburg in September and visiting 17 Russian towns.

But the Music Hall refused to let that happen.

"Our stage is far from being in its best condition," Khachaturyan said. "The highly complicated sets simply can't be mounted here."

City Hall assigned a special commission to review the staging of the musical, and released its verdict Thursday. The official conclusion was that the Music Hall's stage was not strong enough to support the production.

Irina Shcherba, spokeswoman for Vice-Governor Sergei Tarasov, said the Music Hall will be closed for renovation soon.

A spokeswoman for the theater troupe, Darya Morgunova, said the production company was not represented on the commission, which was mostly made up of city government officials.

Yelena Dubina, head of the capital renovations department of the St. Petersburg Culture Committee, was the commission's president.

The musical's commercial director Kirill Larin questioned the commission's verdict.

"We disagree with their decision," Interfax reported him saying. "The stage has been examined by our technical specialists, the stars in their business. If they felt the stage wouldn't suffice, they would have asked for the production to move to another venue."

After Khachaturyan publicly declined to continue with "Nord-Ost," City Hall intervened, arranging a meeting between Tarasov, who oversees cultural issues, and the musical's representatives.

The company's actors have been unnerved by the doubts about the staging of the show as the conflict dragged on, the show's managers say.

"Every day of uncertainty ... was corroding our preparations and feelings, like rust," the musical's producer Georgy Vasilyev said.

Audiences were confused and stopped buying tickets, but 3,500 tickets had already been sold, Vasilyev said Wednesday in anticipation of the refusal to stage "Nord-Ost."

"People heard all these contradictory statements and speculation about the possible cancellation of the show, and naturally they thought it would be unwise to get their tickets at this point," Vasilyev said.

Earlier this month, the show's producers and the Music Hall's managers gave a joint news conference, where they stated the venue was ready to host the production and happy to do so. But just two weeks later, the Music Hall's managers announced their venue was in a state of disrepair. Vasilyev said he is convinced that the Music Hall and City Hall didn't want to have the ill-fated production in town from the start.

"They just couldn't dare say it directly," he said. "Instead, the Music Hall started by requesting huge numbers of various papers and documents, equipment certificates and so forth. It was absolutely unnecessary, and the hall's further actions only confirmed our suspicions."

"I don't see any logic behind it at all," Vasilyev said. "I just hope that the Governor Valentina Matviyenko introduces a note of common sense and settles the problem."

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(c) 2000