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Cultural experiences in former Soviet Union spurred hope now dashed by struggle [Unscripted column] | Leisure


As I watched the grand finale of the Eurovision Song Contest on May 14, that includes the emotional, popular-vote win of “Stefania,” an ode to the moms of Ukraine by that nation’s Kalush Orchestra, I used to be struck as a lot by what was lacking from the competitors as I used to be by the glitzy, folksy and generally tacky performances dropped at the competition from nations round Europe.

It’s the primary time I’ve watched an entire afternoon of the competition — Quarryville native Johnny Weir, as host of the U.S. broadcast on Peacock, was a draw this 12 months — having primarily seen particular person performances on YouTube up to now. But I nonetheless missed seeing an entry from Russia, which has finished nicely within the contest over the previous three many years, however which was banned this 12 months due to its authorities’s ongoing brutal invasion of Ukraine.

It made me take into consideration a sunny afternoon in Moscow 30 years in the past this month. During the final of my 4 journeys to Eastern Europe, all of which included visits to the Russian capital, I stood shoulder to shoulder with Muscovites and fellow vacationers from the Atlanta-based people-to-people trade group Friendship Force International in a Moscow park, at a rally for “peace and friendship” as relations continued to thaw between two Cold War rivals.

We have been so crammed with hope — naive hope, I now understand — that the breakup of the Soviet Union into unbiased nations and the previous few years of “glasnost” (openness) below Mikhail Gorbachev would result in a extra peaceable coexistence between Russia and the West.

I used to be so fast to hope due to experiences I’d had throughout these 4 Moscow visits, between 1978 and 1992 — each in assembly many heat, great, philosophical folks and in liberally sampling the humanities, leisure and tradition of that a part of the world.

I needed extra of these experiences, and needed different Americans to have them. And I figured the warming of relations between the Russian authorities and the West would facilitate that.

Music, dance, artwork

My first journey to Moscow got here throughout a tour of 5 Eastern European nations I took in 1978 with my mother and father, as my father attended a science convention at Moscow University. I clearly keep in mind my first glimpse of the structure of Red Square from our tour bus — together with the glittering, multicolored domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral and the crimson, star-topped Spasskaya Tower rising above the Kremlin partitions — and feeling like I used to be on a film set. Our tour group attended a ballet efficiency in a theater contained in the Kremlin throughout that journey, and I might inform by the viewers’s a number of roaring ovations that ballet dancers have been true cultural heroes to the native crowd.

On that journey, we additionally heard a Roma band in a restaurant in Budapest, watched a folk-music present in Warsaw and wandered by means of the beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque structure of Prague in my grandparents’ homeland — what’s now the Czech Republic. I felt grateful and privileged to expertise each fortress and cathedral, and listen to each word of music, in that distinctive time behind the Iron Curtain.

I keep in mind how hungry folks in that area have been at the moment for tradition from past their borders; in a Romanian division retailer, the identical two ABBA songs have been performed time and again on an countless loop — clearly the “A” and “B” sides of the one 45 rpm report the managers might get their fingers on.







Red Square

Two cops patrol an virtually empty Red Square, with St. Basil’s Cathedral, middle, and Spasskaya Tower in Moscow, Russia, Monday, April 20, 2020. 




Traveling in 1988 and 1990 with a Lancaster County Friendship Force group to Moscow, St. Petersburg and the then-Soviet Republic of Moldavia (now Moldova — a largely Romanian-speaking nation sheltering refugees from neighboring Ukraine, and considered a potential future goal of invasion by Vladimir Putin’s military), I had an excellent wider number of cultural experiences.

I had a front-row seat for a present at a Moldovan style home, and attended a Russian circus the place the performers alternated between demonstrating feats

of aerial and animal-taming talent and breaking into that Eighties dance craze, the lambada. I took in an opera on the National Palace within the Moldovan capital of Chisinau — clueless in regards to the plot as a result of language barrier — and obtained to fulfill its native star tenor Mikhail Muntyanu. I noticed a contemporary ballet based mostly on the story of Adam and Eve, which included legions of angels on pointe and a tail-twirling Lucifer.

I watched proficient secondary college students demonstrating ballroom dance in a college recital, and watched guys in Michael Jackson-style army jackets sing American Top 40 tunes in a resort lounge. And there have been loads of people music and dance concert events, together with one celebrating the harvest, carried out by Zhok, a nationwide Moldovan people group that has been presenting performances of conventional songs, dances and customs for the reason that mid-Forties.

I toured the Pushkin artwork museum in Moscow, and obtained two valuable hours to view a tiny share of the mind-blowing artwork assortment of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage museum within the spectacular green-and-white Winter Palace.

I stood, wanting right down to the Black Sea, on the steep steps in Odessa, Ukraine — one other metropolis in Putin’s crosshairs — the place in 1925 Sergei Eisenstein set the well-known runaway child carriage scene in his silent movie “Battleship Potemkin.”

In staying with host households and visiting their pals in Moldova and Ukraine, I watched as valuable, home-recorded cassettes crammed with Beatles music have been handed from individual to individual, and I listened to albums by the wildly widespread Russian rock band Aquarium on residence stereos.

All of those cultural shut encounters made such an impression on me that they continue to be as vivid, virtually photographic, photographs in my thoughts even after greater than 30 or 40 years.

Hearing about just lately scheduled performances by Russian dancers and others now being canceled world wide due to the army actions of their authorities fills me with disappointment for these artists — and for individuals who’ll miss out on seeing them.

Among my brushes with the Russian arts, one is probably the most vivid of all: the ultimate scene of a surprising Bolshoi Ballet efficiency of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” I paid $22 to see within the dance firm’s ornate theater in 1988.

As the ballet ended, with the stage bathed in indigo gentle punctuated with the “flames” of fake torches, a funeral bier was hoisted by a number of dancers, bearing the our bodies of the ill-fated younger lovers whose dancing had been so passionate only a few scenes earlier than.

I keep in mind the tears streaming down my face by means of my applause, as I thought of the Capulets and Montagues and the way their silly household feud had price two younger lives.

I cry now as I watch the scenes of carnage and destruction from Ukraine, nightly on my tv. The hope I as soon as had for peace and friendship with Russia, and the sort of fellow-feeling engendered by shared cultural experiences and philosophical vodka toasts delivered by heat and welcoming hosts, now lies amid the rubble.

But I additionally really feel even luckier that I had these experiences whereas I nonetheless had the prospect.

 “Unscripted” is a weekly leisure column produced by a rotating crew of writers.



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