Wednesday, September 28

Charity that supported St Petersburg ballet and opera closes its doors | Russia

A UK charity set up to support one of Russia’s oldest theaters has closed. The Anglo-Russian Opera and Ballet Trust, founded in 1992, raised millions for Russian arts organizations and boasted the Prince of Wales as its patron.

The charity was set up by conductor Valery Gergiev, a high-profile friend of Vladimir Putin, with the main goal of supporting St Petersburg’s Mariinsky theater – one of the best-known cultural institutions in Russia – and promoting its work in the UK.

It raised money for Mariinsky artists including Xander Parish, an East Yorkshire-born ballet star who joined the Mariinsky in 2010 and later became one of its principal dancers. Now, weeks shy of its 30-year milestone in April, the trust has been disbanded. References to it have been removed from the list of Prince Charles’s affiliations on official royal websites, and the charity’s website now carries the message: “The Mariinsky Theater Trust [its working name] you have closed down.”

The charity – whose trustees include BP’s former vice-president for Russia, Peter Charow, Labor MP Nick Brown and Elizabeth Smith, the life peer and widow of the former Labor leader – has not released a statement explaining the closure, but the move came days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A day earlier, Gergiev, the Mariinsky’s director and one of Russia’s biggest classical music stars, was dropped by La Scala opera house in Milan after he failed to denounce the invasion. He has since resigned as honorary president of the Edinburgh international festival and been fired by the Munich Philharmonic.

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The 68-year-old composer has been described as “fiercely loyal” to Putin, whom he reportedly meets five or six times a year, and expressed support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Putin, who has called Gergiev “one of the outstanding musicians of our time”, pumped an estimated $700m into a new opera and ballet house, the Mariinsky II, which opened in 2013.

According to its website, the Anglo-Russian Opera and Ballet Trust was created by Gergiev and combined “practical assistance for the Mariinsky theatre’s work in Russia with active promotion of its most innovative programming in the UK”.

Prince Charles became his patron in 1999, and went on to be photographed alongside Gergiev in 2001. Musicians from the Mariinsky performed at his wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales said that it had not yet been asked to remove the trust from its register, but last week the charity’s number had been disconnected and emails went unanswered. Trustees were contacted for comment. A spokesperson for the Prince of Wales declined to comment, but confirmed that the trust had closed. This is the latest instance of the UK cutting ties to Russian cultural institutions after the invasion of Ukraine. Opera and ballet performances have been canceled throughout the UK, including a planned residency by Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London.

In St Petersburg, the show at the Mariinsky goes on, with performances of swan lake and operas by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Rossini among those scheduled for this month. But last week, Parish, the ballet company’s star and first British dancer, announced her departure from her. The 35-year-old, who was awarded an OBE in 2017 for his services to dance and UK-Russia relations, said in a social media post on Monday that due to the “awful crisis” he had decided to leave Russia, “at least until peace comes”.

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He added that he was “so grateful to the Mariinsky”, which had given him “a career in classical ballet I could only have dreamed about”, and paid tribute to “wonderful ordinary Russian people, the majority of whom have treated me with such kindness.

“I pray that peace will come and the wounds will be healed by God’s grace. My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine.”

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