Sunday, September 30, 2012

Musical Theatre in Moscow

  Within this past year, February 21st to be exact, Russia has opened its first musical theatre house.  Opening in Moscow, the show was titled You Can't Choose The Time You Live In.  It was about a forbidden love relationship that was being torn apart between an American jazz singer and a Soviet musician during last century's 20's and 30's era.  
  Ironically, this musical first premiered in America.  The scriptwriter and producer of You Can't Choose... commented that this was very appropriate, given that it was about the political and social relations between the two counties. The scriptwriter,  Mikhail Shvydkoi, is also a high government official and the Russian-President's point man for the culture and the arts. The goal is to influence the  Russian culture with other popular arts of other countries. However, he does not want to change the Russian culture just improve it.  “We do not want to compete with the Broadway theatres,” Mikhail Shvydkoi continued. “This would be silly. We want to create a theatre for the Russian audience. And we hope that our theatre will be able to stage what poses great interest for the Russian audience in our theatre. I think that people need more positive emotions today. They have a happiness deficit. And I believe that if we add some happiness to their life, our task will be achieved.” (The voice of Russia: Natalya Victorova) 
Not to mention, as an extra perk, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson is interested in participating in musicals.  More so, You Can't Choose... might be his first stop! With that combination, the Russian Musical might be a hit (or it'd at least be some kind of entertaining)!! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Second-Year Poetry...

Но я предупреждаю Вас...
But I am warning you...

Но я предупреждаю вас,
Что я живу в последний раз.
Ни ласточкой, ни кленом,
Ни тростником и ни звездой,
Ни родниковою водой,
Ни колокольным звоном -
Не буду я людей смущать
И сны чужие навещать
Неутоленным стоном. 

But listen, I am warning you
I'm living for the very last time.
Not as a swallow, nor a maple,
Not as a reed, nor as a star,
Not as spring water,
Nor as the toll of bells...
Will I return to trouble men
Nor will I vex their dreams again
With my insatiable moans.


Listen to Akhmatova read the poem...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

First 2 weeks in Irkutsk, Russia (Siberia)

First of all, it was a very long flight and lay over from Orlando, FL to New York to Moscow and finally to Irkutsk. 18 hours in total for the flight, not counting the layovers. There was one delayed flight, but I still got here when I was supposed to; 5 am landed, got to the dorm by 6 am. Got maybe a couple hours of sleep before getting up to take a shower, I couldn't sleep. There was no toliet paper provided, so I went without toliet paper for a couple of days...I'm finally used to the bathrooms here and the shower isn't too bad either. I met Iraida and the rest of the SRAS group at 3 pm the same day. We filled out some paperwork, had a tour around the school, and then went home. Except for me, that meant getting lost and going to another city near Irkutsk. I hadn't figured out the bus system yet and I have a horrible sense of direction. I walked for miles and spent many rubles trying to get back to the dorm. I finally called Iraida and she gave me directions back. I am never (I hope) going to get lost here ever again. Let's see... we went to Lake (or Sea, as they call it here) Baikal last Saturday, including Lisviyanka (Idk how to spell it) and that was a lot of fun. Lake Baikal is the main reason I chose Irkutsk. We're going to the local History Museum next Saturday, should be interesting. I love history. I've been skyping with my bf, Christian everyday, at least once. And now I have WiFi in my dorm so now I don't have to get up as early most days to skype! Oh. and they have Saturday classes here. I'm taking one this Saturday. Hopefully it'll be good. It's a 3rd year course, but it has some English in it, it's a translation class. I think it'll be helpful. I'm also taking a Russian Speech Etiquette class, Practical Grammar of Russian, Russian Language (of course!), and Russian Applied Art. That's just for IGLU (Irkutsk State Linguistic University), the Siberian Studies program for SRAS starts next week I believe. We're meeting with the teachers tomorrow morning and evening to discuss schedules. It'll be a history class and an ecology class on Siberia.

Till next time!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Unit One

Ivan Aivazovsky (1517- 1900)

     Most famous for seascapes and coastal scenes, Ivan Aivazovsky was a Russian painter from Feodosiya. Since he was of Armenian decent, Aivazovsky was incredibly influenced by the Hamidian massacres  of Armenians in Asia Minor in 1895. His most famous paintings from this time period were The Armenian Massacres at Trevizond and The Expulsion of the Turkish Ship. Aivazovsky completed about 6,000 works by his death in 1900. He easily is widely known as one of the most important Russian artists of all time, though he didn't do much past seascapes and what have you. Interestingly enough, he was terrible at painting people or any kind of landscape. Some of his other popular works are The Black Sea, The Rainbow, and Shipwreck.

Russian Nationalism: The Mighty Fistful

Before the 1830's Russia didn't have a defined music style. The main things performed in their opera houses and symphony halls were imported from Italy, Germany, and France. With the Russian Nationalist movement underway one man put russian music on the map. Mikhail Glinka is considered the father of Russian Classical Music. He is most famous for his first opera "A life for the Tzar". In his lifetime he formed the Russian Nationalist School along with four other composers, Cesar Cui, Aleksander Borodin, Mily Balakirev, Modest Mussorgsky,and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. They were The Mighty Fistful, also know as The Russian Five. Their main objective was to use russian folk tunes and church chants to represent and portray the russian people as a nation. Glinka, although not a composer of vast works, brought russian music up to the level of european music so that it was just as enjoyable to listen to, if not more, for the russian people. It gave them a sense of national pride that other parts of the Nationalist Movement couldn't do.

Grigory Rasputin: The Man Who Would Not Die*

If you have ever seen “Anastasia”, the historically inaccurate yet highly entertaining movie you should have an image of Rasputin. His death in the movie (he attempts to get Anastasia as she makes her escape and ends up falling into the river and melting away when she stomps on his magic crystal thingy) may be rather strange for a children's movie, but his real life death was even worse... and way more creepy. 

Rasputin was a Siberian peasant who was considered a healer and a holy man. The royal family adored him, their friends loved or tolerated him, and he was hated by the extended family, government, and religious leaders. Rumors about him ran wild throughout the country. He allegedly dabbled in prophecy, healed the Tsar's son's hemophilia, influenced policy, dictated governmental decisions, and there were even rumors of him having an affair with the Tsarina. 
The extended royal hated Rasputin so much that the decided that something must be done to get rid of him. On December 17th, 1916, the Great Duke Dmitri Romanov, Prince Felix Yussupov, Vladimir Purishkevich (a member of the Russian Parliament), and Dr. Lazaret invited Rasputin to the Yussupov palace under the pretence of meeting to heal Felix’s wife Irina to use his healing powers on her. When he arrived, Rasputin was taken to a dining room in the basement and was told that Irina had some guests and he was to stay there until they had left.
Rasputin was offered poisoned pastries and wine which he initially refused, but eventually began to eat. He continued to eat the poisoned food for two hours while his would-be murderers watched in astonishment. Had they made a mistake? Why was he still alive?
Tired of waiting for the poison that didn't seem to be working,Felix decided to take matters into his won hands. He took a revolver and while Rasputin was looking at a fancy cross, shot him in the back, hoping that would finally be the end of him.
While the others were going to destroy any evidence of Rasputin being in the house,Felix went to check on the body, only to find that it was still warm and there was blood still coming out of the wound. As he examined the body, Rasputin's eye suddenly opened and he attacked Felix, who the ran to get his gun. 
When Felix returned, Rasputin had crawled up the stairs, out of the house, and had begun to run through the snow to escape. Trying to finally finish him off, Purishkevich shot at him. He missed twice with and then shot Rasputin in the back. Then again in the head. (For anyone that is counting, that is 3 bullets in Rasputin's body now)
After Rasputin fell to the ground, Felix began to beat him with a rubber truncheon until he was pulled off by the others.They took the body back into the house only to discover that Rasputin was still alive.He was still wheezing and looking at them through one of his eyes. Finally, Rasputin was killed when he was wrapped in a rug, stuffed in a car, and shoved off a bridge into the Nina river. Thus ended Grigory Rasputin.
Just kidding. When his body was finally pulled from the river days later, it appeared that he had tried to claw his way out from under the ice. After being poisoned, shot three times, and beaten. 
He even has his own disco song

    Unit 1: The Bird of Happiness (пти́ца сча́стья)

    Russia and its culture has many interesting toys, arts and craft that has been passed down and used for many generation. But one of the most intersting toys and art I found was the Bird of Happiness. The Bird of Happiness is a wood carved shaped bird that was invented by the Pomors (or Russian Settlers of the White Sea Coast). It is said that the bird represents happinesss and well-being--these birds are displayed in the houses of the Russian people, including the churches. There is also some mythology based on the bird, in which, it represents the guide for the human soul once they've died--due to the fact that the bird is sort of like a symbol of a bridge between the Earth and Sky (Earth and Heaven) or to the church, it is a bibical symbol. So, whenever you go to Russia and see this beautiful art, be blessed with happiness and well-being, for the bird purges all evil.

    Note: Looking at this bird, sort of reminds me like the Japanese Oragami Cranes (a 1,000 cranes is a equivalent of well-being and happiness).

    Food in Russia, Unit 1

    Food in Russia is much unlike anything we would expect to eat in the United States, but many dishes are similar to other Eastern European cuisines, such as Poland.  The two most popular foods are borsch and pirozhki.  Borsch is a soup based on beets, and is usually full of vegetables and topped (or mixed with) some sour cream.  While this seems to be a very unusual dish in the US, it is very often cooked in Poland and by Polish families as well.  Pirozhki can be encountered all over the world, the most common kind being filled with meat.  The ones less popular in America, such as pirozhki filled with cabbage, potatoes, or cheese, are staples in the Eastern European diet.  One difference that was interesting was that ikra (caviar) is a popular meal served on bread or blini, while caviar isn't nearly as popular in Poland, and in the US is mostly popular only among upper class families.

    Visarrion: Jesus of Siberia

    While the predominant religion in Russia is Russian Orthodox Christianity, with 75% of the population identifying as Orthodox and 150,000,000 adherents worldwide, a unique religious movement emerged 21 years ago that has attracted over 5000 followers and has piqued the interest of religious seekers worldwide.  The fall of the Soviet Union, according to the movement's founder, provided the necessary ripe conditions for his religious movement--as well as other religions--to develop and flourish in Russia.  

    Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop--who has come to be known as Vissarion, the Teacher, and the Messiah by his followers--established the Church of the Last Testament after a revelation in which he claims that he discovered that he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.  Around 4000 of Vissarion's followers live together in a community in the town of Petropavlovka in the Siberian taiga, where they lead simple lives purified of alcohol, tobacco, meat, and swearing.  The Vissarionites embrace a very patriarchal family dynamic in which wives are expected to serve as their husbands' "assistants"; during the teenage years, boys typically join the monastery to prepare for their careers in the community, and girls attend school to learn how to be good wives.

    The community has developed its own rituals and liturgy, inspired in part by Russian Orthodoxy, but also incorporating beliefs and practices from other faiths and philosophies. The Holiday of Good Fruits, reports Rocco Castoro, is essentially the Church of the Last Testament's equivalent to Christianity's Easter, as it commemorates Vissarion's revelation of messiahship.  It is during this holiday that the Teacher delivers a brief annual sermon to thousands of pilgrims, affirmed followers and curious seekers alike.

    As Castoro notes in his documentary on Vissarion and his Church, the cult-like vibe of the community scares many away from the community and Vissarionites in general.  However, Castoro and the religious seekers who curiously stumble into the village also affirm that there is something intriguing, even alluring, about this community of people who have withdrawn from the luxuries and hassles of society.  While the Church of the Last Testament diverges from traditional Russian society, it is fascinating to see how the fall of the Soviet Union opened up the room for such a unique community to establish itself and find its niche in the remote Siberian taiga.

    If you have 30 minutes to spare, I recommend that you check out Castoro's documentary here.

    Monday, September 10, 2012

    Здесь хорошо...

    Sergi Vasil'yevich Rachmaninoff (1872-1943), possibly one of the most well-known Russian 
    composers, was inspired by the text of poet Glafira Adol'fovna Galina (1873-1942) and composed 
    'Здесь хорошо' for his wife in 1901 while on their honeymoon.  Rachmaninoff was just 
    recovering from a deep depression and a four year period of no composing caused by the horrible
    performance of his Symphony No. 1 in 1897 and made better by the popularity of his Piano
    Concerto No. 2.
    Below is the text in Russian and one of the numerous English translations. 
    I have also included recordings of three different opera singers to give a contrast of the
    piece sung by different voices. 
    Fun Fact: All of the singers are from either the Ukraine or Russia!!
    Здесь хорошо...  
    Взгляни, вдали
    Огнём горит река;
    Цветным ковром луга легли,
    Белеют облака.
    Здесь нет людей...
    Здесь тишина...
    Здесь только Бог да я.
    Цветы, да старая сосна,
    Да ты, мечта моя!
    How nice it is here...
    Look - far away,
    The river is a blaze of fire;
    The meadows lie like carpets of colour
    The clouds are white.
    Here there is no one...
    Here it is silent...
    Here is only God and I,
    The flowers, the old pine tree,
    And you, my dream! 

    Opera Houses

             Opera in Russia has always been slightly different and separated from most western opera cultures.  This is specific to the techniques the Russians use along with many other details. 
    However, something that stays within the tradition of opera throughout the world and that is the pride and respect that goes into the opera houses themselves. In St. Petersburg, there has recently been a new opera house built, called the Mariinsky II. It is an addition to the historic Mariinsky Theater. This theater is unique in the fact that it allows for different types of productions to occur.  The space provides room for the ballet as well as fly space in the back of the stage for heavy sets and technical aspect to contribute to the art.  As well, the orchestra pit can be lifted and transformed into an extension of the stage if it is not needed as a pit. The opera house is constructed to have a space for 2000 seat audience and is predicted to be a success in housing many international singers.

    Sunday, September 9, 2012

    100 Faces of Russia

    Danish photographer, Keen Heick-Abildhauge had a goal upon moving to Russia: to make Russians smile. When his wife got offered a job in Moscow, Heick-Abildhauge embraced his new country with all of the typical stereotypes; Russians are cold, scowling people who never smile. He soon discovered, however, that these stereotypes were false. H-A wanted to show his friends what he saw in the Russian people from day to day, so he embarked on a new photography project of capturing the faces of Russians, from every age, 1 to 100. It started as a project to simply to show his friends, but soon it gained momentum with the help of the Russian media. Finding a person from every age, 1 to 100 proved to be a bit of a challenge, but with the help of friends, he was able to network and complete his portfolio entitled "One Hundred Years: The Russian Portrait.” Through the experience, H-A learned that it is easier to make someone smile than you might think (even a Russian!). "I found out quite fast that Russian people are smiling; you just need to talk to them."
    Here's a link to a sample of his work. Each picture has a caption with the name and age of the subject of the photograph and a the dreams and passions of his subjects.