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Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Sunday Sacrilidge, Part I: Putin Says Russia isn't Savage . . . The Moscow Times Begs to Differ

I don't believe these are misconceptions. I think this is a purposeful attempt by some to create an image of Russia based on which one could influence our internal and foreign policies. This is the reason why everybody is made to believe [that Russians] are a little bit savage still or they just climbed down from the trees, you know, and probably need to have the dirt washed out of their beards and hair.
-- Vladimir Putin speaking to Time magazine and responding to an invitation to put right any misconceptions foreigners might have about his country

The Moscow Times reports:

When the guest arrived at a construction company's corporate party last year at an unfinished skyscraper at the Moskva-City complex, he was greeted by the sight of 25 beautiful women seated in 25 bathtubs. A party organizer sidled up to him: "Four or five hundred euros and you can do anything you want."

The season of corporate holiday parties is in full swing, and companies flush with cash are spending up to $2 million on holiday bashes and reaching for newer technology, increasingly outlandish ideas and bigger imported stars each year. "The days of Ivan falling face first into the salad olivye are long gone," said Svetlana Churilova, head of Alef Trading, which organizes New Year's parties for many of the country's best-known companies. There is, after all, much more to a corporate party these days than naked flesh -- even if certain construction companies might disagree. If you're lucky, you may be sitting next to George Clooney or Bruce Willis at your company party. "Budgets have increased greatly," said Sergei Knyazev, whose company, Knyazev Productions, arranges corporate parties.

The average cost of corporate parties ranges from $200,000 to $2 million, said Churilova, who has organized events for MegaFon, TNK-BP and Aeroflot. "Companies skimp on health benefits, toilet paper and coffee creamer for an entire year for the ultimate holiday blow-out," nightlife blogger Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears, or MDBIT, said in an e-mail interview. She declined to give her real name because she said a corporation owns her and could easily withhold her lunchtime blogging privileges.

Companies start organizing parties up to seven months before the event, Churilova said. "A few years ago it was a mixed program of entertainment, and then we would finish with striptease," Churilova said, adding that theme parties were the current rage. One company had its entire staff dress up as characters from the Luc Besson film "The Fifth Element" in a club decorated with aliens. Clubs with brutally strict face control, such as Diaghilev, Rai and Opera, are some of the most sought-after venues for corporate parties, but each year companies hunt for novelty to sate their world-weary employees. One popular new venue is that same unfinished skyscraper -- the Federation Tower at the Moskva-City complex -- where the construction company party featured women in bathtubs.

Health and safety regulations will go out the window when one large corporation holds a party on the unfinished building's top three stories, with the film Sin City as a theme. Another corporate party there will see a Ded Moroz parachute from the top of one of the nearby towers onto the Federation Tower

"Initially the idea was for him to jump from a helicopter," Knyazev said. Minutes after the Ded Moroz landing, the beautiful snow maiden Snegurochka will abseil down the side of the building and knock on the window asking to be let in. The stunt artists will then be stealthily replaced by the real -- as in actors -- Ded Moroz and Snegurochka.

Innovations aside, naked women aren't going away any time soon, Knyazev said. A couple of years ago, bankers, of all people, looked down on strip shows, he said. Now they ask for naked women -- but with a twist. "They want a special artistic level," Knyazev said, adding that a new wave of strippers has appeared. [LR: Sure, it's savagery, but at least it's artistic savagery!] "If striptease before was for a girl who did not have an education, now it is female athletes, gymnasts and circus artists who go into stripping," said Knyazev, who once ran a strip club on Prospekt Mira. But strip shows can have serious consequences at corporate parties. When a male strip show at one party was interrupted by a young woman who climbed on stage and began artfully removing her clothes, most in attendance thought it was part of the act. Alas, the young woman was actually an employee and subsequently sacked, Churilova said. [LR: Sure she was fired, but at least she was artistically fired!]

The entertainment at parties depends much on the whims of the management, which explains the popularity of 1980s Western groups, such as Boney M, that will be playing at parties throughout the city. Most senior executives are in their 40s and their 50s, and this is the music from their formative years, Churilova said. Companies are also willing to pay top dollar to bring a famous face to a party. George Clooney, despite resisting for a long time, eventually succumbed to the lure of the ruble and made an appearance at one party, said one celebrity booker, who declined to give his name. All Clooney did was sit at the main table with the CEO, he said. "They don't do much more besides smile confusedly and pose for photo ops," the nightlife blogger, MDBIT, said in e-mailed comments. [LR: But it was artistic confusion!]

Cameron Diaz hosted a company awards ceremony earlier this year, and if negotiations go well, Bruce Willis will be doing a lot of nothing at a company event this year too. "Remember Gwyneth Paltrow? Academy Award-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow? Martini paid to have her in a cage at one of its parties" MDBIT wrote. "If Moscow history has taught us anything, it's that anyone can be bought."
[LR: Savagery, smavagery! Russia is the world center of cultured erudition, as anyone can see!]

Technically Paltrow stood in a box, according to Sunday Times writer A.A. Gill, who went to the party last January. Paltrow and British television presenter Jeremy Clarkson met at the Martini party "blinking in the continuous flash like a pair of giant pandas brought together in a distant foreign zoo," Gill wrote.

It is a different story at the New Year's parties of the country's ultra rich, who are willing to pay millions to have international celebrities play for them, according to celebrity bookers who said they are not allowed to speak on the record. The stars try to keep their arrival and departure secret, but tabloids have captured the arrival of Robbie Williams, Shakira and Christina Aguilera, among others, for private parties in recent years. Williams is set to come soon, said one party organizer, and there are rumors that Robert De Niro may make a trip. Last year, George Michael played at oligarch Vladimir Potanin's New Year's bash for a reported $3.3 million, British media reported. Britney Spears is said to be the desired star for this year's party, Knyazev said. "The presence of a celebrity validates the affair under the principle that if you throw enough money at something, it becomes truth," MDBIT wrote. "Also, it's a middle finger to the rest of civilization: 'We OWN you, bitches!'" [LR: Not savage? Who's not savage?]

But merely thrown cash at a party doesn't mean you know how to throw one. It's not uncommon for bosses to make 20-minute speeches one after the other while the staff waits painfully for the food and drinks, Churilova said. One French company deeply underestimated the determination of its employees to get drunk, she recalled. Determined to keep things civilized, the company served only nonalcoholic drinks at the holiday party. But unbeknownst to the management, gossip had already spread that the event would be dry, and the company's 500 stevedores managed to sneak in some booze. Less than an hour after the party started, the stevedores began throwing office equipment down the stairwell.

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