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Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 06:08 GMT
Theatre honours hostage victims
The Nord-Ost musical cast perform during the concert
The concert is raising funds for the musical to continue
Singers and actors from the Russian musical Nord-Ost have performed for the first time since Chechen gunmen burst into their theatre, taking the cast and audience hostage and leaving over 160 people dead.

Tears and applause greeted the actors as they came on stage for the memorial performance on Saturday evening.

Nord-Ost will return, that is certain, and tonight's concert is the first sign of that

Yekaterina Guseva, cast member
Alexander Tsekalo, the musical's producer, told the packed audience: "We want to show with today's performance that we've been hurt but we are still alive. Nord-Ost might be wounded and limping but it survived and it will go on."

On 23 October, more than 40 armed Chechen guerrillas seized the theatre mid-performance, threatening kill everyone inside if their demand to end the Russian military occupation in Chechnya was not met.

Russian forces surrounded the theatre in a three-day siege that ended when they pumped nerve gas into the theatre and stormed the building, killing all 40 of the guerrillas but also leaving 120 hostages dead.

'Nord-Ost will return'

The memorial concert, based in the concert hall of Moscow's huge Rossia Hotel, was scheduled weeks ago to mark the first anniversary of the successful musical.

But after last month's siege at the Dubrovka theatre, the concert was retitled "Nord-Ost, we're with you".

Audience memebrs
The packed hall was filled with emotion
"Our concert is in honour of those who died, were injured or are in hospital," said Yekaterina Guseva, who plays the lead female role.

"Nord-Ost will return, that is certain, and tonight's concert is the first sign of that," she said.

The musical is based on "Two Captains", a popular Russian novel about two heroes of polar exploration.

But instead of a full performance, the audience heard a selection of the show's songs, together with numbers from other famous musicals such as Cats, Les Miserables and The Lion King.

During the show, writer-producer Georgy Vasilyev asked for a minute's silence as a mark of respect.

But he also then urged the audience to continue in their theatre-going ways, "as we must not let evil conquer".

Eight places in the orchestra were left empty during the performance to mark the absence of the eight musicians who died during the attack.

Donations needed

The takings from the concerts - and a second show on Sunday - will go towards helping the musical get back on its feet.

Nord-Ost has been virtually bankrupted by the material losses suffered in the siege.

Yekaterina Guseva
Yekaterina Guseva vowed that Nord-Ost would return
"If we are able to gather some donations for restoring the musical, then that would be a blessing," said Eorgia Vasilev, Nord-Ost's theatre director.

The performers are now preparing to take Nord-Ost on a tour of Russia, and negotiations are even under way to take the show to Israel.

Eventually, however, the Russian Government would like to see it return to its original venue as a symbol of victory over terrorism.

The Dubrovka theatre is expected to reopen in mid-January, following repairs mostly financed by the government, but many of the organisers and cast are still reluctant to return to the scene of the attack.

Chechen conference

Meanwhile, Russian human rights groups discussed a peace plan for the war-torn republic of Chechnya at a conference on Saturday.

Sergei Kovalyov, a State Duma deputy, put forward a plan envisaging international involvement in the negotiating process.

"We are at a dead end in Chechnya. The situation may degenerate into ethnic cleansing, Stalin-style deportations and genocide," Mr Kovalyov warned the conference.

The Kremlin, however, is angry that the conference is taking place at all.

The presidential human rights envoy for Chechnya, Abdul Khakim Sultygov, said it was intended to "form an image of international terrorism with a human face" and was in fact aimed at fulfilling the terrorists' demands..

The Russian authorities maintain that since last month's hostage crisis, they have no valid interlocutor for negotiations on Chechnya, accusing Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov of being involved in the siege.

Mr Maskhadov, however, has denied involvement in the incident.

Siege reports

Key stories

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30 Oct 02 | Entertainment
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