By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Monday, July 25, 2016

Swimming In Foreign Cultural Streams : Folk And Art Music And Dance From Soviet Union

In the Cyberian universe of ours today, all you have to do for swimming in foreign cultural currents is to press a button on a keyboard or touch the screen of a computer or cell phone -- and musicians, dancers or actors from anywhere in the world will instantly materialize before you and start performing. 

Things were totally different even 30 years ago, and in India's Capital city New Delhi we had to wait for months (or even years sometimes) for the kind of foreign music and dance we liked.  Here's an extract from a vintage review of mine, which will show you how precious such rare occasions were in our cultural life :-


Siri Fort  --  Historic site in New Delhi, where the city's largest auditorium is located. 

Rashtrapathi Bhavan  --  ('President's Home' in Hindi)  :   Imposing British-built red--stone palace in New Delhi, with impressive grounds and garden -- official residence of Viceroy during British rule, and of President of Indian Republic now. 

Nehru Stadium  --  Large indoor stadium, named after Jawaharlal Nehru, legendary freedom fighter and first Prime Minister of India.

Byelorussia  --  Byelorus in Russian (pronounced Byeh-lo-roos) -- means 'White Russia'.

New Delhi
27 October 1987

Speaking through music and dance

.  .  .  .  Masters of Soviet Art, held in the Siri Fort auditorium last Sunday evening, was the first indoor program of the Festival of the USSR in India (that is to say, after the inaugural open-air presentations in Rashtrapathi Bhavan and Nehru Stadium on Sunday) ;  and the fair presented was varied and condensed, giving us a preview of the kind of Soviet music and dance we would be encountering in several other programs spread over this whole week in Delhi.

Among other things, the 100-strong orchestra conducted by Alexandr Kopilov gave a polished recital of Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italiano and the world-famous waltz occurring in the same composer's score for the ballet Sleeping Beauty.  Accompanied by the orchestra, Galina Borsseva rendered a lovely song from the opera Snow Maiden by Rimsky-Karsakv.  The orchestra then shifted to the spacious pit, and provided music for the Bolshoi dancers, who enacted a ballet sequence based on an orchestral version of some of Chopin's masterpieces, collectively called Chopeniana.

So far as the musical part of it is concerned, I must specially mention the spontaneous and vociferous applause which greeted the rendering of the immortal Chopin waltz which is best known to music-lovers as Opus 64, No. 2.  This exquisite composition, which so beautifully blends a sentiment of yearning with a sense of fulfilment, is too delidcate and fragile to be featured in a ballroom like the robust waltzes of Johann Strauss Jr.  If  its ethos is to be expressed in terms of  dancing, perhaps it can be done only in the ballet form, and who else in the world can do it better than the Bolshoi people? 

Folk music and dance

The gentle steps and movements of the Bolshhoi dancers were followed by some vigorous pounding and leaping by the Karoshky Folk Dance Ensemble from Byelorussia.  There were colorful costumes, with free-flowing blouses, skirts and sleeves.  There was much thumping on the floor by the heavy boots of the dancers, which constituted a rhythmic additive to the brisk tempo set up  by a small group of musicians playing an assortment of instruments like the accordion, folk fiddle, guitar, drums, xylophone and zither.  

The interest in the folk instruments increased when a group led by V. Nazarov appeared later.  Apart from the usual accordion, fiddle and drums, this ensemble featured a complicated stringed contraption from Ukraine, and a multi-reed panpipe from Moldavia.  The musicians set up a scorching tempo, which went well with the folk section of the program.

One of the delightful pieces projected during the evening was a sampling from the wide repertoire of the famous Moiseyev Folk Dance Company.  It was a scintillating dance called City Quadrille, performed by four couples robed in romantic costumes.  The men wore bright silk sirts, black trousers and knee-length boots, and a peaked military cap.  The women sported gorgeous gowns in different colors.  A seven-man orchestra provided some sizzling music for this sprightly and humorous exercise, which made us eagerly look forward to the full-length Moiseyev shows scheduled for this week-end. 

Foreign cultural streams

The concluding part of the program presented a very loud Armenian jazz orchestra, which sounded like a mid-century 'big band' from other parts of the world.  This phenomenon seemed to come as quite an anti-climax ;  but when a group of men and women singers joined the band and injected a choral element, the proceedings acquired some Soviet colors.
Organizing such a trans-national cultural festival is like capturing a series of powerful short-wave broadcasts from a distant foreign country.  The invisible and mysterious radio waves are present in the very air surrounding us, but we cannot breathe them unless we have the proper apparatus and the inclination to tune to the appropriate wave-length. 

The music and dance of the whole world constantly flow in many different streams, most of which are usually inaccessible to us ;  but every well-organized encounter with a rich and dynamic culture which exists abroad adds to our artistic experience and enhances our global vision.  In this context, the value of isolated but frequent visits by accomplished foreign artists must also be recognized.

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