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CRITIC AT LARGE

Soviet Pop Music Scene Flowers in Gorky Park

Last in a series.

February 08, 1988|CHARLES CHAMPLIN | Times Arts Editor

MOSCOW — After the working sessions on co-production, distribution and further cultural exchanges, ranged as they were between rhetoric and nuts and bolts, the Soviet hosts offered the visiting American delegation a variety of free-time options, including visits to the Bolshoi, the circus, the theater and, late one evening, to the Green Room in Gorky Park.

"Alias the Hard Rock Cafe," one of the delegates said later. It is reached by a cab ride, and then what seemed a cross-country hike and a prowl through deserted premises. The club is then discovered to be built under the tiered seating of a large stadium, so that the ceiling is stepped and slanted, as in a giant garret.

The feeling is nicely clandestine, although the club has been officially approved since the first of January. As Times Moscow Correspondent Bill Eaton indicates in the adjoining article, the government has allowed rock to come out of hiding although, like much else about glasnost, there continues to be mixed feelings at high levels, especially about music that has previously been heard as a prime symbol of Western capitalist decadence.

But rock as an export also looks to be a source of hard currency and, like the possibilities of expanded co-production in film and television, hard currency is the fundamental motivator.

In the Green Room, the hardier delegates (still jet-lagged from the eastbound trip and glazed by a morning-to-midnight schedule that began as soon as they arrived from the airport), listened to groups called Blues Leak, Brigade C (whose lead singer reminded aficionados of Tom Waits), guitarist Nicholas Kopernick and singer Sascha Malinin ("Raspberry") who is already a television favorite, tall, long-haired, palely handsome.

For an evening, the sounds familiar if the language wasn't, it was as if you'd never left home. And, hard currency aside, you have the feeling the government has bowed, not without misgivings, to an overwhelming appetite in the young population.

The Moscow circus performs in a glass-walled modern building that suggests a cross between the Sports Arena and the Pavilion at the Music Center. Its steeply raked, single-ring amphitheater is sold out nightly.

Its aerialists and acrobats, trained from an early age at a special circus school, are properly astonishing, although by government fiat the lives of the aerialists may not be risked and they perform attached to guy wires, like Peter Pan.

There are no wildlife acts, but there are a dozen trained domestic cats whose antics must awe anyone who has trouble making tabby come in from outdoors. There are also trained cows (jumping through hoops), dogs, geese, goats, a rooster, a very large pig and a crow in the act.

At Tbilisi, the delegation watched a performance of the spectacular Georgian National Dance Company, which will be touring the United States, including Los Angeles, this summer. Its precision dancing, a particularly muscular kind of folk ballet, is quite beautiful. The dagger dances (sparks flying from the clashing blades) and the leaping gyrations of the solo males seem to defy both belief and gravity.

What will emerge from these cross-cultural encounters, Summit I last March and this Summit II, is not clear. Lindsay Smith, the programming vice president of the American-Soviet Film Initiative, is producing a documentary called "The Superpower Mirror," a joint project with the Soviets, about the summits and the attack on negative stereotyping in the media of both countries.

Barbara Coffman, executive director of ASFI and a former associate dean at Cal State Long Beach, is negotiating further visitations, possibly including a delegation of studio executives later this year.

Several co-productions are in development and at least one of them, Larry Schiller's miniseries called "Chernobyl" for CBS, is well-advanced toward shooting.

There are certain to be more visitations in both directions and, almost as certainly, a wider distribution of films and television between the countries. Arrangements are under way for TV's "Eye on L.A." to drop in for a visit.

Independent of ASFI, another Hollywood delegation, with films to show, will visit Moscow later this month. In March, a California theater delegation arrives for a look at the Soviet stage. An American-directed production of Eugene O'Neill's "Desire Under the Elms" opens later this spring.

The larger anxieties of world politics remain in place, but glasnost does lift the chill a little.

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