Curtain falls for last time on Bolshoi's hammer and sickle

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The Independent Online

The façade of the Bolshoi Theatre is to be stripped of its striking Communist-era hammer and sickle emblem as part of a systematic campaign to give Russia a more progressive image.

Its famous velvet curtain which came down on thousands of star-studded operas and ballets during the Cold War will also become a museum piece. Inlaid with hundreds of tiny hammer and sickles, it is considered "inappropriate for modern Russia" and will be placed with other Communist-era regalia in a small exhibition in the theatre. A Soviet hammer and sickle emblem above what used to be the tsar's personal box will also be removed.

Kremlin officials say they have decided to replace the outdated emblems with Russia's tsarist-era symbol, the double-headed eagle, to reflect the theatre's prerevolutionary history that dates from 1776.

The crumbling theatre is closed for a three-year renovation to be completed in 2008 and the new tsarist emblems will be in place for its reopening. Although many buildings throughout Russia retain their Soviet emblems through inertia, the Bolshoi is regarded as one of post-Soviet Russia's most precious cultural institutions and its location in central Moscow means it is particularly prominent.

Mikhail Shvydkoi, a senior official responsible for culture, said: "The decision to change the emblem strikes me as being historically fair and natural. It symbolises that we don't live in the Soviet Union but in Russia, a new, democratic and free country which respects its traditions."

The theatre has been struggling financially and sometimes artistically for 15 years.