(Venice, Italy) With Russian aggression in the news, it was exhilarating to see that country's dynamic energy channeled joyfully by the dancers of the Omsk State Russian Folk Choir in Siberia during this year's Carnival.
After living in Venice for nearly sixteen years, I have learned that many of the greatest opportunities for entertainment during Carnevale are not found in Piazza San Marco or at the fabulous balls in Venetian palaces -- though those adventures can certainly be exciting depending on the company you keep -- but in some of Venice's other venues. Last night at the Goldoni Theater, the Russian dancers put on a vibrant show entitled from Siberia with... that had the audience clapping along to the folk songs, and received a standing ovation.
Dancing to the recorded voices of the folk choir and a live accordionist, the male dancers leaped through the air at astonishing heights, and the females spun so quickly, for such a long time, that it made me dizzy -- their skirts flared as they spun, revealing frilly bloomers and legs toned to perfection. The costumes were bold blasts of primary colors.
It was fascinating to watch the interaction between the brazen male dancers zapped on testosterone with the coquettish-but-firm female dancers. The men did that Russian squat thing and kicked up their boots, leaping over each other with movement timed to the second -- one false move would have knocked someone out. The women were at times demure and then sassy, provocative and then restraining. The acrobatics performed by both sexes were impressive.
The closest I can describe it so Americans can relate would be: it was as if a hip-hop Olympic gymnastic team who had studied ballet choreographed an old-fashioned square dance -- some of the music and the do-si-do moves were very similar to a square dance -- wearing clothing from Jamaica, if Jamaica had winter.
One thing was abundantly clear: the Russian folk culture is strong and unique, with both sexes playing differentiated roles that are yet equal and complimentary.
(A long time ago, I was in the Russian Vodka Room in New York City where I met three Russian men who claimed to have been former comrades patrolling in a nuclear sub off the East Coast of the U.S. back in the 1970s. They were having a reunion and invited me to join them. I don't think I've ever drank so much vodka in my life, but they gulped it down like it was water with no visible effect. It was astonishing. In the early morning hours we found ourselves in the apartment of one of their friends, who claimed to be the nephew of Salvador Dali...)
One of the most delightful scenes was between the male and female principal dancers. They tweeted at each other with bird whistles, communicating without words in a language that everyone could understand. Their romance was like an owl ritual, primitive and sexy, flirtatious, yet withholding -- but with a wonderful sense of humor. I laughed out loud. They were both physically beautiful individuals --- in fact, everyone in the company seemed to be beautiful, and perfectly in sync.
The local Venetians and intelligent tourists who comprised the audience, whistled and whooped after nearly every scenario. There were plenty of children in the audience who seemed riveted by the performance, and I thought about what a profound impression the show was making on their impressionable minds.
I am certainly no expert on foreign policy, but in my completely uneducated opinion, when world leaders boycotted the Winter Olympics, whose roots are grounded in culture like this, because of the Russian stance on homosexuality -- which, by the way, I am strongly against, as is the City of Venice -- and sought to impose its will on Russia, Putin had to react in some way. You can't jam change down someone's throat; you are bound to meet with resistance. Hopefully, he is just demanding a little respect and expressing his dissatisfaction by invading Crimea [click link for Russian POV], and things will soon quiet down. Russia might remember that it lost one of its most precious national treasures when Rudolf Nureyev, one of the greatest dancers the world has ever known -- who was openly gay -- defected to the West.
Thomas Bach himself, the President of the International Olympic Committee, blasted world leaders over the Sochi boycott. From The Telegraph:
"Three days before the opening of Russia's first Winter Games, Mr Bach used a hard-hitting speech to call out politicians for using the Olympics to make an "ostentatious gesture" serving their own agendas.
Without naming any individuals, Bach's comments appeared directed at David Cameron, US President Barack Obama and other European politicians who have taken stands against Russia's law banning gay "propaganda" among minors.
The Olympics, Mr Bach said, should not be "used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests."
"Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes," he said at a ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin. "People have a very good understanding of what it really means to single out the Olympic Games to make an ostentatious gesture which allegedly costs nothing but produces international headlines.
"In the extreme, we had to see a few politicians whose contributions to the fight for a good cause consisted of publicly declining invitations they had not even received.""
The Siberians have a repertoire that includes both Russian folk songs and works by contemporary composers, and have been applauded in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Australia, USA, China, Israel, Mozambique and other places around the world.
The symbol of the Omsk State Russian Folk Choir is a large, dancing teddy bear who strums a balalaika, a characteristic Russian folk instrument with a triangular body and three strings. And he can do that Russian squat thing.
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog