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City Theater Thrives Thanks to Banana Mogul

Published: July 9, 2010 (Issue # 1590)



  • Vladimir Kekhman took over the running of the Mikhailovsky Theater in 2007.
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

Want to support Russian ballet and opera? Have a banana.

The Joint Fruit Company, or JFC, imports every third banana that comes into Russia, and its principal owner, Vladimir Kekhman, doubles as director and major benefactor of St. Petersburgs Mikhailovsky Theater, which once had to survive on meager City Hall funding.

While its not unusual for major businesses to support the arts, company executives who take the reins of a cultural establishment are few and far between.

Kekhman left his job as chief at JFC, which is responsible for 36 percent of banana imports to the Russian market, in favor of running the theater in 2007.

There is such a notion as being 40 years old, Kekhman, 42, said in a recent interview at the theater. Many people, including myself, begin to think about whats next. When I learned about the theater and saw it, I realized that I belong here.

I liked the address No. 1, Arts Square, he said in a stage voice, which blended well with his suit and bow tie, adding that he hadnt been inside until he received the appointment.

Mikhailovsky receives enough money from City Hall to stage one premiere a season. Even so, it is on track to stage six such performances including Peter Tchaikovskys ballet Swan Lake, Antonin Dvoraks opera Mermaid and Giuseppe Verdis A Masked Ball by the time the season is over later this month, thanks largely to Kekhmans personal contributions and money from other donors, channeled through a support fund.

The theater had been in the doldrums before Kekhman took over and has improved since then, especially in ballet production, said theater critic Raymond Stults. It remains in an inferior class though, if compared with Mariinsky or Bolshoi theaters, he said.

The ballet is OK. Their Swan Lake has been considerable success, Stults said, adding that he based his assessment on opinions in the community of critics.

Kekhman valued JFCs sales last year at $680 million, saying the company controls 5 percent of the global banana-growing market. While it is the biggest Russian banana trader, it ranks below global leaders Dole, Chiquita and Fresh Del Monte in terms of sales.

JFC also sells bananas under the brand named Bonanza in European countries such as Italy and Austria, as well as in the Middle East, including Iran and Iraq, and former Soviet republics.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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