Moscow, July 5 (AP/UNB) — Makhar Vaziev's workday begins before he sets foot inside his office in Moscow's famed Bolshoi Theater.
As he makes his way past the vast columns of the main building, the ballet director pauses to chide a dancer late to class, and then one of his senior coaches, Piotr Nardelli, catches up to him.
The two discuss last-minute details for the Bolshoi's production of Maurice Bejart's "Gaieté Parisienne." The show is in its final rehearsals ahead of its premiere, and there is much to be done.
Vaziev has held the Bolshoi's top creative job since March 2016, when he took over a company reeling from scandal and infighting that tarnished the legacy of his predecessor, Sergei Filin. More than three years later, Vaziev has restored a sense of calm and order to the Bolshoi. As he walks the theater's corridors, he greets dancers, choreographers and other staff on a familiar, first-name basis.
It is clear Vaziev is liked and respected. And he runs a tight ship, keeping tabs on the ballet company and its repertoire.
From his elegantly furnished office, Vaziev can monitor every stage and studio in the Bolshoi with the flick of a remote. A big TV sits in the corner, linked to cameras watching over every space in a kind of ballet master's CCTV. When he's out of the office, he can check the video feeds with a special app on his smartphone.
It is a management style that Vaziev says is vital to maintaining the Bolshoi's stringent standards and ensuring results.
"It's not that I want to control for its own sake," Vaziev told The Associated Press during an exclusive trip backstage at the Bolshoi. Instead, he says, he needs to do it for the performances. "That's why I do this, why I give my time, my experience and my strength. So that we get results onstage."
Vaziev, 58, began his ballet career in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) at the Vaganova Academy, one of the most important schools in the history of ballet. From there, he danced a classical repertoire with the Kirov Ballet at St. Petersburg's famed Mariinsky Theatre, serving as its director from 1995-2008.
He left Russia in 2008 to become ballet director at Italy's La Scala, and over the next eight years worked to revive ballet classics. It was a mission that was well suited for his return to Russia when he joined the Bolshoi. Vaziev believes Russian ballet must stay firmly rooted in what it does best - performing the classics.
But Vaziev insists it's not just about dancing the steps French choreographer Marius Petipa devised for the Bolshoi in the late 19th century. He wants modern dancers, musicians and choreographers to breathe new life into the classics.
"We have a huge global reputation for classical ballet. We don't want to reject that. We'll draw on it, excel at it and grow new generations," Vaziev said. "We need to preserve what's valuable, but we're not a museum. This is a living art form. We need to revive it as we pass it on to new generations."
Outside Vaziev's office, the halls of the Bolshoi buzz with activity. This is the corridor of power, says dancer-turned-teacher Olesya Gradova, where dancers check rigorous rehearsal schedules, find out their parts and see if they get to go on tour.
It's an intense existence, says Gradova, calculating she has spent 80% of her life in the Bolshoi.
"You get very attached to the place, and when people leave, they miss these walls and the people inside them," she said.
Vaziev doesn't sit long at his desk. Most of the day is spent watching his company at work. He drops into a studio where corps de ballet dancers are being put through their paces. Then it's on to a final rehearsal of "Symphony in C," a ballet by George Balanchine.
Backstage, the dancers are warming up, chalking their ballet shoes. Some sit checking Instagram, street sportswear over their tutus. Once onstage, Vaziev comes alive — transformed into an exacting ballet master who scrutinizes technique closely and spares no one's feelings if he sees a mistake.
The young dancers seem to take the criticism in their stride.
"Of course, we get tired. We sometimes cry and yell at each other but it's still a joy to be at the Bolshoi," said 24-year-old Ksenia Zhiganshina. "I believe only a tough approach gets results. This is the Russian way."
Most of the Bolshoi troupe comes from Russian ballet schools, which produce dancers renowned for classical discipline and physical strength.
U.S. ballet mistress Elyse Borne rehearses Balanchine's steps with the Bolshoi cast, but it's proving hard for dancers used to the Russian training.
"They make them very strong physically, very strong. It's very strict in style and musicality," Borne said. "It's different to Balanchine and they're struggling with that. It's hard to drill in something different to what they are used to doing."
The dancers are proud to have made it to the Bolshoi, and patriotism plays into their loyalty.
Klim Efimov's parents were Bolshoi dancers. As a child, he remembers watching his mother from the wings. "If you love what you do, then you want to get better, so you work hard," he said.
With a repertoire of 42 productions, two complete corps de ballet and about 220 dancers, the Bolshoi is Russia's premier ballet company. As such, the Kremlin takes a close interest and Russia's political leaders prize conservative values in culture.
Vaziev spends the afternoon at a final run-through of the Bejart ballet "Gaieté Parisienne," whose combination of opera, drama and ballet is groundbreaking for the Bolshoi.
"The only criteria we have is to choose outstanding, talented people who can stage interesting shows. Sometimes it works, sometimes not," he said. "In the theater, it's the way it goes."
Tehran, Jul 5 (AP/UNB) — Aficionados of Western classical music have carved out a niche for themselves in Iran, where cultural expression remains tightly controlled by strict rules imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
And perhaps surprisingly, musicians in their 20s and 30s perform for overwhelmingly young audiences.
This week, the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, including female musicians in burgundy headscarves on cello, horn and harp, played works by 19th-century Russian composers for an enraptured crowd in the capital's main concert venue, Vahdat Hall.
A major draw is Shahrdad Rohani, 65, the orchestra's charismatic music director. The Iranian-American composer, musician and conductor who has led orchestras in the United States and Europe, said he is proud of his homegrown crop of young musicians.
Classical music may not have mass appeal, but Rohani said in a backstage interview that there's potential for growth, citing a large turnout during a stadium concert last year in Abadan, a provincial city in southwestern Iran.
"Classical music is growing, and as you see, the audience, they are really supporting the arts and classical music," he told The Associated Press during the intermission of Wednesday's sold-out concert.
In four decades of conservative Islamic rule, the space for artistic expression in Iran has expanded or contracted, depending on whether political hard-liners or moderates prevail.
In the first decade after the Islamic Revolution, including the eight-year war with Iraq, pop music disappeared from the public sphere, said Nima Mina of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
The Tehran Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1933, continued its work after 1979, he said. Live performances were initially rare, but have increased in number since the 1990s.
Even during periods of eased controls, red lines are enforced.
This includes a ban on female singers performing for mixed audiences, considered "haram," or religiously forbidden. In February, female guitarist Negin Parsa sang a solo during a concert by pop singer Hamid Askari. The authorities cut her microphone, and Askari's permission to perform was briefly suspended.
A music cafe in downtown Tehran complies with the ban on female singers during live shows, but not when playing records. On a recent afternoon, a blues recording featuring a soulful female vocalist played in the background, as customers sipped coffee and smoked cigarettes.
"Authorities rarely challenge the playing of recorded music in the cafe, and mainly argue about the hijab issue," said waitress Nillofar Dailami, 29, referring to the headscarf all Iranian women are required to wear. Dailami also professed a love for classical music as a result of her study of guitar.
These days, the influence of hard-liners appears on the upswing again as moderates find themselves on the defensive because of the seeming collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal they negotiated with world powers.
The U.S. walked away from the deal a year ago, instead embarking on a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, including unprecedented economic sanctions.
The sanctions have hurt ordinary Iranians, sending prices for staples and consumer goods soaring and weakening the local currency, while raising the specter of war with the U.S.
For Tehran music lovers, events like Wednesday's concert on the main national stage next to the Russian Embassy offers a momentary escape from reality.
"It is little moments that build up your life in the end," said Shafa Sabeti, a 36-year-old architect whose business has suffered as the result of the economic downturn linked to the U.S. sanctions. "Public spaces have gotten more crowded recently. People are just living the moment — maybe it's some coping mechanism."
Yet tensions and fear of escalation are a "major big black cloud hovering over the country," he said.
Wednesday's concert featured works by Russian composers Alexander Borodin, Sergey Rachmaninov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
The audience was entranced.
There was no fidgeting or coughing. A young couple in the balcony held hands. A woman nearby recorded the concert on her iPhone. Rohani, the conductor, was greeted by loud applause and addressed the crowd several times, including announcing details about an upcoming concert.
"I love the work of Rohani," said concert-goer Ali Reza, 26, who was introduced to classical music by learning to play the piano. He said most of his friends prefer other styles of music, including rock and pop.
Some said there's a generational divide, with older people tending to prefer traditional Iranian music.
"There is a lot of interest in Western culture among the young urban middle class population," said Mina, portraying it as pushback against the lifestyle and artistic expression promoted by the authorities.
He said that since the 1940s, Tehran's music conservatory has provided a steady supply of musicians, including those who later join the Tehran Symphony Orchestra.
One of the graduates of the conservatory, violinist Ed Nekoo, spent 10 years in the Los Angeles area but returned home to care for his mother.
He said he misses the exchange with peers abroad and complained of the lack of foreign music teachers.
"We have to learn the music by ourselves," said Nekoo, 44.
Still, he's optimistic.
"Our audience is so young," he said. "That's what I like about classical music."
Copenhagen, Jul 5 (AP/UNB) — A Swedish court has ordered U.S. rapper A$AP Rocky to spend two weeks in pre-trial detention while police investigate a fight in downtown Stockholm.
Prosecutor Fredrik Karlsson said Friday after the hearing at the Stockholm District Court that A$AP Rocky — the stage name of Rakim Mayers — was to be held on a lesser assault charge than he initially had demanded.
Defense lawyer Henrik Olsson Lilja said they would appeal the ruling.
The rapper was involved in the fight Sunday before appearing at a music festival in Sweden. It was not clear who else was involved in the incident. Videos published on social media, show a person being violently thrown onto the ground by A$AP Rocky. He and others punched and kicked the person on the ground.
Bangkok, Jul 5 (AP/UNB) — A South Korean actress has been charged in Thailand with catching endangered giant clams while participating in a reality TV show.
Actress Lee Yeol-eum cheered as she caught the three giant shellfish in a Thai national marine park in March on the survival TV show "The Law of the Jungle." Participants in the show then ate the clams. The episode aired on June 30.
Thai authorities say the actress has been charged with hunting the protected clams, scientifically known as tridacna gigas, and could face up to four years in prison and a fine of up to 40,000 baht ($1,200).
The show places South Korean celebrities into groups that are sent out to test their survival skills in remote locations.
The show's broadcaster has apologized for the incident.
Dhaka, June 5 (UNB) - Actor Hrithik Roshan has been booked on the charge of cheating along with three officials of a health and wellness start-up, for which he was a brand ambassador, following a complaint by its client alleging that “false promises” were made in the company advertisement regarding services of its fitness centre, reports The Indian Express.
The complainant, a city-based man, alleged that he was not given daily workout sessions at Cult.Fit fitness centre though he had paid the fee for “unlimited” classes, but the company claimed he had behaved “inappropriately and violently” with its staff and has “wrongly” dragged Hrithik into the issue.
Bengaluru-based CureFit operates its chain of fitness centres under the brand Cult.Fit.
The man lodged the complaint with police here on June 22 stating that in November 2018 he enrolled at the fitness centre/gym by paying Rs 17,490 as member for 10 month period for unlimited classes, but was “cheated by not getting workout sessions daily.”
“Most of the time the workout session is not available which is denying good health benefits causing mental depression,” he said.
Following the complaint, a case under IPC sections 420 (cheating) and 406 (criminal breach of trust) was registered against the actor, being the firm’s brand ambassador and three senior officials of the company, Inspector S Laxmi Narayana said.
In a statement, Cult.Fit said it was cooperating with authorities “as per due process and evaluating remedial action”.
“The customer in question has behaved inappropriately and violently with our staff against whom we were constrained to take action.
“The current police complaint appears to have been hence filed subsequently against us falsely, while also mischievously dragging our celebrity brand ambassador, Hrithik Roshan, wrongly in it,” it said.
The statement said it is a responsible company conscious of the health and safety requirements of both customers as well as its staff.