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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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Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburgs showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the teams website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literatures most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poets birthday. The tragic tenors work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russias greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Centers Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test ones intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only mans best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during todays reenactment titled Winter War: How it Was. More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie Black Cat, White Cat, as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of Takoy Festival, a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonights festival finale is Fathers and Sons, a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenevs classic about familial relations.



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