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Funding crisis for Bolshoi

The Russian government has started a row with the Bolshoi Theatre by announcing that it cannot pay for the planned renovation of the famous ballet and opera venue.

The Russian government has started a row with the Bolshoi Theatre by announcing that it cannot pay for the planned renovation of the famous ballet and opera venue.

The world-famous theatre and Moscow tourist destination closed its doors last month for a long-awaited and substantial upgrade project, scheduled to last until early 2008 and cost about $880 million US.

Russian Finance Minister German Gref said last week that the theatre needs to substantially slash its budget – to the equivalent of about $317 million – for the renovations to proceed.

The massive project includes:

  • A major fortification of the 19th century building's foundation and walls.
  • An extensive revamp of the stage and an extension of the backstage and storage areas.
  • Repairing of the main auditorium and of the façade.
  • The installation of escalators and elevators.
  • Safety and security measures, including the introduction of a fire-escape plan.

The theatre could only reopen and function properly after a full reconstruction effort, the project's chief architect Nikita Shangin told Russian radio Wednesday.

Shangin has vowed to leave the project if the theatre does not get the money approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself in March.

Built in 1825 and located near the Kremlin, the Bolshoi had its interior revamped after a fire in 1856. Little renovation has been done at the ballet and opera house since. Though first proposed in the late 1980s, upgrade plans were often shelved because of lack of funding and disputes over maintaining the historical elements of the building.

The theatre, which many Russians consider a part of the country's cultural heritage, is crumbling and officials say that it urgently needs the major repair work.

"The Bolshoi building does not conform to any modern standards," theatre director Anatoly Iksanov told Britain's Independent newspaper.

One example Iksanov gave was the current facility's lack of a fire safety network: there are no strategies in place for exiting the building in case of fire.

"The building is simply in a hazardous condition. That's why we closed the theatre. To be inside there is simply dangerous," he said, adding that the new money the government has offered is only enough for a cosmetic facelift.

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