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Bolshoi Czar in Stormy Seas

Amid glasnost-era turmoil, Grigorovich draws inspiration from young. DANCE INTERVIEW

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LEADING the charge was Yuri Grigoriev, secretary of the Bolshoi Theater's Communist Party committee and a recently dismissed singer at the Bolshoi Opera. He is highly opposed to a consortium agreement between the Bolshoi, Goskoncert (the Soviet State Artists Agency), and the Entertainment Corporation Group (ECG), an international performing-arts presenter.

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The agreement, which effectively began a year-and-a-half ago, gives ECG non-performing rights outside the USSR and power to license the Bolshoi name, develop corporate sponsors, and market products on behalf of the ballet.

``Grigoriev and his acolytes have always been against everything new,'' says Grigorovich. ``As long as the party committee has been at the Bolshoi, its dearest wish is actually to rule over the artistic leadership.'' With the power of the party waning, says Grigorovich, Grigoriev is struggling to stay in the limelight.

``I believe the consortium is a very important initiative,'' he says, ``because it might give us a chance to get hard currency for ourselves and to meet the most vital needs of the theater.

``[The ECG] does not in any way interfere with our artistic policies. ... Money that we can get from the consortium would be used to raise artists salaries - a number one priority - and we could use it to make new sets, new costumes, and to buy materials abroad that we can't buy inside the country.'' Grigorovich says the ECG has already fought and won court cases to protect the name ``Bolshoi'' from groups like ``Bolshoi on Ice,'' who used it illegitimately. ``No one had been protecting the Bolshoi's rights before,'' he says.

Party member Grigoriev, however, is casting a nervous eye over the breakdown of profits from the deal. The Bolshoi receives about 45 percent, Goskoncert 15 percent, and ECG about 40 percent.

``All the Russians are doing is catching up with the rest of the world,'' says Victoria Charlton, co-chairman of the London-based ECG, which has specialized in cultural exchanges with the USSR since 1982. ``Forty percent is five percent below the basic amount charged by major American licensing companies,'' she says.

Artistic leaders at the Bolshoi say putting on new productions is nearly impossible under the old Soviet system. ``It is getting hard to provide workers with material incentive,'' said Valery Zakharov, first deputy general director of the theater, during a party meeting of the Bolshoi Opera, excerpts of which appeared in Sovietskaya Kultura. Dancers leave because ``they don't like the existing system, and we cannot suggest anything else.''

Grigorovich's greatest strength may be his role as administrator rather than choreographer, since he has not produced an original work since ``The Golden Age'' in 1982 - a fact former Bolshoi principals have fumed about in recent years. Despite the criticism, ``Grigorovich has held on with both feet and both arms,'' says Holmes. His main challenge ``is to keep coming up with works that will work for his company and to hold on to the Bolshoi.''

``Ballet is always run by autocrats - it has to be,'' says Robert Greskovic, a New York-based dance writer and observer of the Bolshoi. ``Ballet, because of the youthfulness of the performers, demands a really strong parent.''

Despite the artistic and political question marks facing his company, the iron-willed Grigorovich carries on. ``In art, there are always ups and downs,'' he says.

Next year, Grigorovich plans to renew Balanchine's ``The Prodigal Son.'' He says he may also do a ballet with the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.

As for the Bolshoi Ballet's future, ``I don't really like making forecasts. The ways of art, like the ways of God, are unfathomable.''

After performances end here on July 22, the troupe heads to Vienna, Va. (July 24-29); Chicago (Aug. 1-5); Los Angeles (Aug. 7-9); San Diego (Aug. 21-24); Honolulu (Aug. 29-Sept.2); and Boston (Sept. 6-9).