Britain plans to fly its cultural flag around the world

Dancers of the famed Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet Company are preparing for their first-ever leap across the Atlantic to the United States. Opening in Boston tomorrow, the British dancers will tour New York, Cleveland, Miami, Sarasota, and Clear-water, Fla., then move south to Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil.

The tour is symbolic of something more: a concerted effort by Britain to have a bigger impact worldwide this year with one of its most successful exports -- culture.

Britain needs to earn more money abroad these days. In recent years its manufactured exports have been hard hit by competition from the US, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Yet it remains in the forefront of dance, theater, film, painting, and sculpture.

This year the cultural-export arm of the government, the British Council, is mounting a 3 million ($4.2 million) program to fly the British cultural flag around the world and to boost the increasingly important tourist industry which now earns 6 billion a year.

About 300 music and drama tours will go to more than 70 countries. At least 50 fine arts exhibitions will be seen in 40 countries, and 300 British films will take part in 30 international festivals.

``We also did a lot last year,'' says a spokesman for the British Council in London, ``but this year we are working harder than ever, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.'' Britain didn't get many tourists from the East bloc, he says, but British efforts there added to the image of British cultural appeal.

Notable ``exports'' to Eastern Europe this year: the London Festival Ballet making the first visit by a British dance company to Moscow in 25 years (``La Sylphid'' and a mixed program to Moscow, Vilnius, and Leningrad starting May 5); the Academy of St. Martins-in-the-Field taking its music to Poland; an exhibition of ceramics planned for the USSR this fall; a retrospective showing of British postwar movies in Moscow in October followed by a tour around Soviet cities; British films in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland.

``There is no doubt,'' says the director-general of the British Council, Sir John Burgh, ``that the arts can be a successful advertisement for Britain. . . Arts are a powerful ambassador, transcending political barriers and often exerting influence more easily than traditional diplomacy.''

While in Mexico, the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet will allow ``Coppelia'' to be televised March 9 and will donate its fee to the relief effort for last September's earthquake.

The British are also bringing in royalty. Princess Margaret will attend a gala black-tie performance of ``Sleeping Beauty'' by the Sadler's Wells Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Feb. 5. Dinner will follow for 500 guests paying $300-$500 per ticket.

The Duchess of Kent will open the largest-ever exhibit of Henry Moore sculpture on Feb. 1 in Hong Kong. A Royal Air Force helicopter will help maneuver some of the largest pieces into position against the backdrop of Hong Kong's skyline and harbor. A total of 165 sculptures, 60 drawings, and 32 graphics will be displayed in eight separate locations.

Other highlights: The National Theatre and the Ulster Orchestra in Vienna in April; the Royal Ballet in Vancouver in July; jazz in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, and Chile; the ``Cheek By Jowl'' theater company in Islamabad, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and India; films in Egypt, Italy, Peru, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

One obstacle the council faces: British government budget cutbacks has meant a reduction, in real terms, in the council's budget every year for the last eight.

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