Art and Good Will From Across the World : Cultural festival springs from an international sports competition

When members of the Seattle Organizing Committee sat down to plan the 1990 Goodwill Games here, they felt swimming, figure skating and gymnastics were just a start. They wanted Ted Turner's huge international sporting event to have a cultural side too.

The result? The Goodwill Games themselves don't start until July 20, but beginning Monday is the Goodwill Arts Festival, four weeks of world-class productions and mini-festivals. Budgeted at $12.4 million, the festival includes performances by the Bolshoi Ballet and the Grand Kabuki Theatre, exhibitions of Soviet constructivist and conceptual art, Arab films and a National Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival.

"The arts are a strong component of everyday living in Seattle," explains Norman Langill, festival executive producer. "If you're planning a large-scale event here, sports or otherwise, it's very natural to include a cultural element. Nobody here said, 'Let's talk about it.' It was as normal as figuring out whether or not there was sufficient hotel space."

Langill, who has been producing the huge, annual Bumbershoot arts festival at Seattle Center for years, apparently knew his audience. The Bolshoi and Kabuki sold out on mail order alone, says Langill, adding that Montreal's Cirque du Soleil reported "one of the hottest starts they've ever had on a first-time visit to any city." And when organizers added an extra performance of the Bolshoi a few weeks ago, all 3,000 tickets were sold in less than two hours.

It's a massive undertaking. There are 33 programs on the official roster, involving at least 26 local arts organizations and more than 200 performances. Besides total attendance of about 500,000 people, festival organizers expect more than 1,300 artists from two dozen countries (although special attention is being given to the arts of the Soviet Union). Also planned is an exchange program that will involve 250 Soviet educators, scientists, lawyers and writers and an equal number of their American counterparts.

Already open is "Moscow: Treasures & Traditions," a sprawling exhibition of paintings, religious objects, costumes and other items spanning five centuries and generally not seen before in the United States, a show of modern Pacific Northwest art at the Seattle Art Museum, and Soviet conceptual art at the Tacoma Art Museum. Set to open this week is an exhibition of Soviet constructivism at the University of Washington's Henry Art Gallery.

The Seattle Opera is presenting Prokofiev's "War and Peace"--at $2 million the most expensive production in the opera's history--with 200 Soviet and other artists.

Seattle's Intiman Theatre Company is presenting "Into the Whirlwind," the Sovremennick Theatre of Moscow's new adaptation of Eugenia Ginzburg's long-suppressed memoir of life in a Stalinist prison camp.

Things changed during the four-year course of festival planning. Consider, for instance, the Eastern Europe political climate then and now. "When we started this, the Department of Defense was appalled at the notion we'd be inviting all these people to Seattle," says attorney Paul Schell, festival co-chair and a member of the Seattle Organizing Committee. "We were still in the Cold War era, and for a long time, people organizing the Games had better access than the State Department did."

Pacific Northwest Ballet co-artistic director Francia Russell staged Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" for the Kirov two years ago, leading to a continuing relationship between the two organizations, and Schell says he hopes similar links will develop for Intiman and other groups after the festival.

"There is a consistent feeling now of our destiny as an economic and cultural crossroads between Europe and Asia, " says Schell. "London is five minutes closer to us than Tokyo, and the vision of our being a crossroads city like Venice was in the Mediterranean era is increasingly shared by Seattle's economic and cultural communities. That's where we're going in the '90s, and the Goodwill Games and Arts Festival are our calling cards."

Ticket information at press time: The Bolshoi Ballet and Grand Kabuki are sold out, and seats are getting scarce for "War and Peace," "Into the Whirlwind" and Cirque du Soleil. Tickets are still available for all other events; contact Ticketmaster in Seattle at (206) 292-1990 or (206) 628-0888.

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