Cultural experience in the former Soviet Union boosts hope now destroyed by war [Unscripted column] | Entertainment

When I watched the grand finale of the Eurovision Song Contest on May 14, where the emotional victory of the popular vote “Stephanie” – an ode to the mother of Ukraine from the Kaluga Orchestra of this country, I was very impressed by what was missing. from the competitions I was, thanks to brilliant, folk, and sometimes bad performances brought to the competition from countries all over Europe.

This is the first time I’ve watched the entire day of the competition – Quarville native Johnny Weir, as the host of the American broadcast on Peacock, was a draw this year – in the past he’s mostly watched individual performances on YouTube. But I still haven’t seen a statement from Russia that has performed well in the competition over the past three decades, but was banned this year because of its government’s prolonged brutal invasion of Ukraine.

It made me think about a sunny day in Moscow 30 years ago this month. During the last of my four trips to Eastern Europe, all of which included a visit to the Russian capital, I stood shoulder to shoulder with Muscovites and travelers from Friendship Force International, an Atlanta-based organization in Moscow Park. , at a rally for “peace and friendship” as relations between the two rivals during the Cold War continued to thaw.

We were so full of hope – naive hope, I understand now – that the collapse of the Soviet Union into independent countries and the previous few years of “openness” (openness) under Mikhail Gorbachev would lead to more peaceful coexistence between Russia and Russia. West.

I hoped so quickly because of the experience I gained during those four visits to Moscow, between 1978 and 1992 – both in meeting many warm, wonderful, philosophical people and in a generous attempt at the art, entertainment and culture of this part of the world.

I wanted more of that experience, and wanted other Americans to have them. And I believed that this would contribute to the warming of relations between the Russian government and the West.

Music, dance, art

My first trip to Moscow took place during a tour of five Eastern European countries, which I made in 1978 with my parents when my father was attending a scientific conference at Moscow University. I vividly remember my first glimpse of Red Square architecture from our tour bus – including the gleaming multicolored domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral and the red Savior’s Tower with stars towering over the Kremlin walls – and feel like I’m on set. During this trip, our tour group attended a ballet performance at the Kremlin Theater, and from the many standing ovations of the audience, I realized that the ballet dancers were real cultural heroes for the local crowd.

During that trip we also heard a gypsy band in a restaurant in Budapest, watched a folk music show in Warsaw and wandered around the magnificent architecture of Prague in the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style in the homeland of my grandparents – now the Czech Republic. I felt grateful and privileged to feel every castle and cathedral and hear every note of music at that unique time behind the Iron Curtain.

I remember how hungry at that time people were at that time for a culture from outside their borders; in a Romanian department store, the same two ABBA songs were played over and over again in an endless cycle – obviously sides “A” and “B” of the only 45-rpm disc that managers could get their hands on.

Two police officers patrol the almost empty Red Square with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the center and the Savior Tower in Moscow, Russia, Monday, April 20, 2020.

Traveling in 1988 and 1990 with the Lancaster Friendship Force in Moscow, St. Petersburg and the then Soviet Republic of Moldova (now Moldova is a predominantly Romanian-speaking country that shelters refugees from neighboring Ukraine and considered a possible future target for Vladimir Putin’s army). was an even more diverse cultural experience.

I sat in the front row at a show at a Moldovan fashion house and visited a Russian circus, where artists alternated demonstrations of feats

skills of taming air and animals and invading that 1980s dance hobby, lambada. I went to the opera at the National Palace in the Moldovan capital Chisinau – not knowing the plot because of the language barrier – and met her local star tenor Mikhail Muntianu. I saw a modern ballet based on the story of Adam and Eve, which had legions of angels on pointe shoes and Lucifer twirling his tail.

I watched as talented high school students demonstrated ballroom dancing at school, and watched as guys in Michael Jackson-style military jackets sang America’s top 40 tunes in the living room. There were also many concerts of folk music and dances, including on the occasion of the harvest performed by the national Moldovan folk group “Zhok”, which since the mid-1940s performs traditional songs, dances and customs.

I visited the Pushkin Art Museum in Moscow and got two precious hours to view a tiny percentage of the stunning art collection of the St. Petersburg Hermitage in the spectacular green and white Winter Palace.

I stood looking down at the Black Sea, on the steep steps of Odessa in Ukraine – another city in Putin’s sight – where in 1925 Sergei Eisenstein in his silent film “Battleship Potemkin” shot the famous scene from a baby carriage.

While attending host families and visiting their friends in Moldova and Ukraine, I watched as valuable, home-recorded tapes of Beatles music were passed from person to person, and listened to albums by the wildly popular Russian rock band Aquarium on home stereo. .

All these culturally close encounters have made such an impression on me that they remain the same vivid, almost photographic images even after more than 30-40 years.

When I hear about the recently planned performances of Russian dancers and others, which are now being canceled around the world due to the military actions of their government, I am filled with sadness for these artists – and for those who miss them.

Among my brushes with Russian art is one of the brightest of all: the final scene of Sergei Prokofiev’s stunning performance of the Great Ballet Romeo and Juliet, for which I paid $ 22 to see it in the ornate dance troupe theater in 1988.

When the ballet was over and the stage was flooded with indigo light interrupted by a “flame” of artificial torches, several dancers raised funeral lodges, carrying the bodies of unfortunate young lovers whose dances had been so hot only a few scenes before.

I remember tears streaming down my face through my applause as I examined Capuletti and Montecchi and how their stupid family animosity cost two young lives.

I cry now when I watch on TV the scenes of massacre and destruction from Ukraine. The hope I once had for peace and friendship with Russia, and the feeling that evoked the shared cultural experience and philosophical toasts with vodka uttered by the warm and hospitable hosts, now lie among the constipation.

But I also feel even more fortunate to have had that experience while I still had a chance.

“Without a Script” is a weekly entertainment column prepared by a group of writers.

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