One of the most admirable things about Russian Culture is their commitment to the arts. The Bolshoi Theater re-opened this weekend in Moscow after 6 years of renovations with about as much pomp as a Post-Soviet culture will allow. Below are the highlights.
Go here if you'd like to watch the whole thing, including a pretty incredible Swan Lake.
What really amazes me about Russian culture is that in the audience, you can see all the major pop stars, movie stars, government officials and (presumably) powerful business people. In my MBA classes, we study Russia as a so-called "emerging market" along with Brazil, India and China (the "BRIC" countries of current major emerging markets). However, when you consider that Russia has one of the highest literacy rates and one of the highest rates of advanced degrees per capita (not to mention the USSR was a super power that beat the US to space), it's difficult to think about it on the same level as China and India, who (at least in my mind) more aptly fall within the definition of "Emerging".
Could you see something like this happening in the US? This is the equivalent of Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, John McCain, and Bill Gates sitting down to watch a two hour ballet/opera/nationalism extravaganza in an opera house as old as the US itself. I could never imagine a situation that would match this actually happening in America. Not only because we don't have any opera houses that have been steeped in as much national pride as the Bolshoi, but also because Americans in general just don't care about the arts. The closest thing we've had to celebrity endorsement of the arts was Gwyneth Paltrow showing up on Glee in a Marie Antoinette outfit singing Cee-Lo. God, how I hate her.
But besides this, if you watch the highlights, you get a sense of WHY this would never happen in the states. The government spent $700 million dollars restoring the building with hand crafted wooden wall adornments, a 6-meter chandelier, and a stage large enough to handle the entire Russian proletariat class all at once. Obama can't spent $0.50 without the tea party shitting their proverbial pants, let alone $700 million on something the majority of tea party members will never see or can even remotely appreciate. They'd likely rather see a Blue Angels Superbowl flyby. Probably costs the same, too.
It's strange, though, that from an American perspective the performance seemed so self-congratulatory. The Bolshoi troupe spent about five minutes of the entire performance filling up a massive stair-set reminiscent of the Battleship Potemkin's Odessa Steps sequence for the sole purpose, it seemed, of showing just how massive the stage was. All of this was in front of a scaled down version of the entire opera house, as if to say - "Hey, don't forget that we just spent more than half a decade and close to a Billion Dollars renovating this place!!" Medvedev gave a long, boring speech before retiring to the Tsar's balcony, and an intricate light show played upon the outside of the building while fireworks erupted above.
Not that I don't agree with the renovation, or think that they should be lauded for supporting the arts. I just don't think if we were to do something like this, we would be so "hey, look how awesome WE are". We already know how awesome we are, I guess. Flaunting it would just be overkill and rude.
Another thing to note: Russians start to applaud in a sea of applause similar to the way Americans applaud, but then, if they really liked something, they typically will all end up clapping in unison. I've been to a couple Russian performances (violin virtuosos and stringed quartets straight from Russia to NE Philly) where the entire audience all started clapping together. It made me incredibly uncomfortable. At first, I thought they were mocking the performers, until my wife explained it to me.