British choreographer turns down invite to Russia

Choreographer Ben Wright has declined an offer to launch an arts programme in Russia in light of the government’s stance on gay rights.

In an open letter to the country’s Ministry of Culture, Wright claims that ‘Putin has essentially decreed the lethal legitimisation of prejudice and has allowed discriminatory treatment by his law enforcement to flourish.’

He continued: ‘Unless things change unequivocally, the situation is set to escalate with an unprecedented rise of neo-Nazi groups with anti-gay sentiments.’

Wright was invited by the Russian Ministry of Culture to help establish a programme aimed at widening participation in some of the country’s smaller cities.

‘Of course I appreciate the potential social and artistic benefits of developing contemporary culture in smaller cities such as Vladivostok, but my concept of a progressive contemporary society is one that is based on inclusivity,’ he explains in the letter.

Wright also states that his own sexuality had informed his decision: ‘My ‘queerness’ is an innate part of who I am, a quality that is not only profoundly reflected in the work I make, but has also impacted my entire outlook on life.’

‘It would be foolhardy for me to attend these workshops for my own personal safety’, he writes, since ‘foreigners can now be detained for up to 15 days and deported – as well as fined up to 100,000 rubles for ‘promoting’ a homosexual lifestyle’.

The British dancemaker is the latest high profile cultural figure to speak out against Russia’s controversial ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law, which was passed in June this year.

The UK actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry recently called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Opera continue to face pressure from gay rights activists over the political sympathies of two of its key creative artists, conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko.

An online petition calling for the Met to dedicate the opening night of Eugene Onegin to the LGBT community continues to gain momentum, and is nearing 8,000 signatures.

Wright, an independent choreographer and performer, founded the company bgroup in 2008, and has since produced work for contemporary dance, theatre and opera.