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 The Cold War struggle for victory between democratic capitalism and Soviet socialism took place on several battlefields. In the nuclear age, as the consequences of military action became unfathomable, the ideological battlefield assumed increasing importance. With the onset of the Cold War, artists metamorphosed into frontline soldiers in the ideological showdown between East and West. Slipping across the Iron Curtain, they were sent by their regimes, overtly to foster understanding between the enemy nations and covertly to win over the hearts and minds of the enemy’s civilian population with the potent weapon of cultural mastery. The Cold War added an international dimension to ideological constraints imposed on every art form’s ability to define its identity within the Soviet cultural project: art produced under the Soviet system had to be clearly differentiable from—and superior to—art produced under democratic capitalism. The culture of each camp turned into a metaphor for the different systems themselves, and victory on the cultural front became equated with overall victory in the showdown between the conflicting world views of the two superpowers. As David Caute has argued in his study of the struggle for cultural supremacy during the Cold War, “never before had empires felt so compelling a need to prove their virtue, to demonstrate their spiritual superiority, to claim the high ground of ‘progress,’ to 5å Beyond the Iron Curtain The Bolshoi Ballet in London in 1956 I’ve never seen any magic like that in my entire life. It was the sort of miracle that it is to have a baby. . . . This was exactly the same, theatrically, to me. We couldn’t believe it. —Antoinette Sibley’s memories of Galina Ulanova as Juliet, 1956  z Beyond the Iron Curtain win public support and admiration by gaining ascendancy in each and every event of what might be styled the Cultural Olympics.”1 Many studies analyze how culture was used as instrument of Cold War propaganda.2 While providing fascinating insights into the politics of Cold War culture, some of them risk reducing art produced during the Cold War era into political tools. As exemplified by the debate surrounding CIA involvement in the rise to supremacy of American abstract expressionist painting , any discussion of culture within the Cold War context has to strike a careful balance between putting art in its political and cultural context without socially overdetermining the sources of artistic inspiration and success. Similarly, the Soviet artists sent across the Iron Curtain were not just pawns of the Kremlin. The messenger should never be confused with his master. During the tours of the Kirov and Bolshoi Ballet companies, the regime sought safety in numbers. Dancers were herded together in groups supervised by KGB watchdogs, supposedly to prevent any dangerous thoughts that might come to the artists’ minds if left to confront the corrupting influences of the West on their own. But no matter how hard the regime tried to manage the impressions gained by its artists abroad, it could never exercise complete control over the minds of its cultural ambassadors and the evolution of artistic thinking. For the first time in decades, the inauguration of cultural exchange programs in the late 1950s enabled Soviet dancers to directly compare the artistic outlook of Soviet ballet with ballet in the West. Was direct contact with the Other a constraining or an enabling factor in the evolution of Soviet ballet’s self-understanding?3 The Politics of Cultural Exchange The internationalization of the Soviet cultural project reflected an increased internationalization of Soviet politics as a whole. Unlike Stalin, who had only ventured abroad twice during his long rule to attend the conferences of the war-time allies at Tehran and Potsdam, Khrushchev soon began to appear on the world stage in an effort to revitalize Soviet foreign policy. Following an invitation by Prime Minister Anthony Eden, Khrushchev and Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin visited Great Britain in April 1956, barely two months after Khrushchev’s secret speech to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) marked the beginning of de-Stalinization. Although the state visit led to hardly any substantive results ,4 the Bolshoi Ballet’s visit to London in October 1956 could be counted as one of them. Sir David Webster, the general administrator of Covent Garden , had issued an invitation to the Bolshoi Ballet in 1946, the year Covent Garden reopened after the war. Ten years had passed since then, leading to nothing but a recurring nightmare haunting...


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MARC Record
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