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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. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theater, which once had to survive on meager City Hall funding.

While it’s 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 what’s 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 hadn’t 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 Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake,” Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Mermaid” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” — by the time the season is over later this month, thanks largely to Kekhman’s 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 JFC’s 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

Tuesday, Jan. 27


Observe the 71st anniversary of the end of the Siege of Leningrad on Palace Square with a free concert at 7 p.m. Listen to WWII-era songs and the poetry of Olga Bergholz while you peruse outdoor exhibitions dedicated to life during wartime. The event is capped off by a fireworks display at 9 p.m.



Stop by the Lexica School of Foreign Languages at 73 Ligovsky Prospekt from now until Friday for a free English lesson. The classes start at 7 p.m. and cover all levels, from Beginner to Advanced. Registration by telephone on 7641692 and a desire to improve your skills are the only prerequisites.



Wednesday, Jan. 28



Feel like becoming a publishing mogul? Stop by the Freedom anti-cafe at 7 Ulitsa Kazanskaya today at 8 p.m. where Simferopol, Crimea-based founder and chief editor of the Holst online magazine will talk about creating an internet magaine, including what stories to cover, how find an audience and build a team, where to find inspiration and how to stand out from the crowd. Admission is the normal price of the anti-café — 2 rubles per minute, which includes tea and snacks.



Learn everything you always wanted to know about wine, and perhaps a bit more, at the Le Nez du Vin seminar for wine lovers. Held at the WineJet Sommelier School, 100 Bolshoy Prospekt Petrograd Side, at 7:30 p.m., the event will cover wine production, the basics of wine tasting, the concept of terroir and the various countries where wine is produced. Tickets are 750 rubles and include a wine tasting. Register by calling +7 921 744 6264.



Thursday, Jan. 29



Attend a master class on how to deal with complicated business negotiations today at the International Banking Institute, 6 Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. Running from 3 to 6 p.m., Vadim Sokolov, an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, will introduce aspects of managing the negotiation process and increasing its effectiveness. Attendance is free with pre-registration by telephone on 909 3056 or online at www.ibispb.ru



Celebrate what would be writer Anton Chekov's 155th birthday at the Bokvoed bookshop at 46 Nevsky Prospekt. Starting at 5 p.m., the legendary author will be feted with readings of his stories and short performances based on his plays by various St. Petersburg actors. Chekov's book will also be offered at a 15% discount during the event.





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