By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

When The Russians Danced On The Delhi Ridge

Talking about music and dance (of the kind we like), how long do we remember what we call 'memorable occasions'?  The answer, of course, is that it depends not only on the character and excellence of a given performance, but also on the frequency or infrequency (or uniqueness) of the occasions when we encounter the given genre of music or dance. 

Naturally, fine live shows of foreign music and dance (of the kind we like) are more memorable than equally fine live performances of our own native music or dance (of the kind we like), for the simple reason that we encounter them on our soil only very rarely. 

Anyway, 45 years aren't long enough to let my very first live encounter with Russian, Ukrainian and other folk dances of the  Soviet Union fade away from my memory.  I don't have a precise record of my impressions of that massive performance in front of an enormous audience, but here's my recollection of it in a humorous article I wrote in a similar context several years later :-

Glossary & annotations

Ballayram  --  In the Evening News (as in Shankar's Weekly earlier) I liked to play with words and names, twisting or coining them in amusing  topic-oriented ways  --  an unconventional practice I had to give up when writing for THE HINDU later on.  And Ballayram was irresistible in the Bolshoi context, sounding so much like Balaraman/Balram, real South/North Indian names! 

Kamani Hall  -- Large, well-equipped, prestigious auditorium in New Delhi, with 600+ seats. 

Rabindra Rangshala  --  Colossal outdoor amphitheater on lush woodlands on the fringes of New Delhi (capacity 8,000), named after Rabindranath Tagore, world-famous poet in Bengali language.

Vish  --  I was signing Delhiberations with a pen name : RAJA VISHNU.  So naturally my imaginary friends who figured in the light-hearted column used to call me Vish.

Delhivision  -- What was more natural than Delhi TV becoming Delhivision in my column?  By the way, television in India was in its early stages in the 1970s, with a single Government-owned TV station in the Capital, telecasting a single black-and-white channel for just four hours in the evening, except in the week-end when there were some more programs.

Bharata'naatyam/Kathak  --  Classical dance of North/South India. 

Hindustani/Carnatic music  --  Classical music of North/South India.

Evening News,
New Delhi

30 November 1977


The Russians won't object!

My friend Ballayram and I are among the thousands of Delhi citizens who couldn't get either tickets or invitation cards for the Bolshoi and Russian folk dance shows at the Kamani auditorium.

We had warned each other that we should be alert and ensure our seats early ;  but somehow we've  been slack and have been left out.

"I just can't understand why they aren't having these shows at Rabindra Rangshala,"  Ballayram told me two days ago.

"Maybe the Russians didn't agree to perform in the open air theatre in this cold weather,"  I said.

"Are you out of your mind?  The temperature goes far below freezing point in Moscow in the winter!"

"But they must be having centrally heated auditoriums."

"But Vish, I remember in 1972 a Russian folk dance ensemble did perform in Rabindra Rangshala in February, when it was just as cold as it is now."

"Maybe the folk dancers didn't mind, with their warm costumes, but maybe the Bolshoi people do."

"In that case, why not organize at least the folk dances at Rangshala, even if the Bolshoi had to be in Kamani?"

"Don't worry, Ballay!"  I said,  "Maybe there will be good coverage on Delhivision."

Ballayram took my statement seriously, so day after day he has been sitting in front of his television set, waiting for the Bolshoi ballet and the Russian folk dances to materialize in a big way.

But except for some bits and scraps now and then, Delhivision hasn't brought the performances before the eager and expectant public at all. 

"Oh, why can't they televise the whole Bolshoi show from beginning to end?"  Ballayram laments.  "And why not cover a whole Russian folk dance show too?  Why must art and culture always get only 10 or 15 minutes?  Bombay films get two or three hours at a stretch!"

"Why only Russian dances?"  I grumble.  "Why can't they televise a full-length Bharata'naatyam or Kathak performance?  Or a full-length Hindustani or Carnatic music recital?  Or a Delhi Symphony Orchestra concert in full?  And those boys, Deepak Castelino and Julius Fernandes -- they just got 10 minutes on a Youth Forum program!  Why not give them half an hour to strum their guitars and sing, in or outside Youth Forum?  Why not give young people a couple of hours at a stretch to let off steam?  Why not scrap a Bombay film on some Saturdays and Sundays?"

"But dash it all, Vish, the Bolshoi is far more urgent!"  my friend Ballayram wails.  "You won't have another chance to see it for a long time!   What prevents them from projecting a full Bolshoi program on Indian TV, not only in Delhi, but elsewhere too?  You don't think the Russians will have any objection, do you?"

PostScript, 2016

Russians and other 'Russians'

The 1972 'Russian folk dance ensemble' mentioned in the above article was actually the Moiseyev Dance Company (also called Moiseyev Ballet) of Moscow, which had an extensive repertoire of folk dances not only of Russia, but also of other Soviet Republics like Ukraine, Byelorus (White Russia), etc., and even of some non-Soviet countries.  Strictly speaking, therefore, it should have been called 'Soviet folk dance ensemble'. 

However, 40/50 years ago, in ordinary conversations in India we normally didn't refer to 'Soviet Union' or 'USSR', but used 'Russian' as a generic expression covering the whole federation of Soviet Socialist Republics -- just as we often said 'Xerox-copies' instead of 'photo-copies' , and even said 'Xeroxing' for 'photo-copying'.  Thus, we always referred to the USSR Embassy in New Delhi as the 'Russian Embassy'. 

In the same spirit, in this blog's headline I have referred to 'Russians' in a specific as well as generic sense, though I have no idea whether all the dancers in the Moiseyev team were Russians, or some of them hailed from other SSRs or even foreign countries.  But I am now tempted to study the Moiseyev Ballet's history and geography thoroughly!

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