Friday, June 29, 2012

Swan Lake and Memories of Russia

Just a year ago, my husband, Drew, and I left Moscow after living and working there for seven years.  We tried to squeeze in as many "one last time" activities as we could, knowing that chances were slim  we would return.  I was writing a blog at the time called "Arkansas/Russian Reflections," not the catchiest of titles, but one that mirrored my goings and comings to homes in both places, following my retirement.  One of my last Russian postings on May 27th was "Swan Lake."

I wrote, Last Friday night we attended a performance of Swan Lake.  It is the final ballet we will see in Moscow, and it was the first we experienced when we arrived.  It is my absolute favorite!

I didn't expect it to be my favorite. I wasn't even sure I was going to like it when we entered the Bolshoi Theatre on a snowy December evening in 2003.  I opened the program and was unable to read a word of Cyrillic.  I didn't know the story line; I was unfamiliar with the music.

Russia was new to me then.  I knew little of its history, except through the lens of the Cold War - little of its culture - art, music, literature.  I had never read War and Peace, seen a Repin painting, or heard a Rimsky-Korsakov symphony.   What I had missed!

Swan Lake was my introduction to Russian culture.  Over the next seven years, I learned.  Concerts, museums, monuments, the homes of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Chekov, Pasternak, books, poetry, walks though woods, parks, palaces, into churches, villages, cities. . .
But Russia became more to me than history and culture.  It became the people I met, the friendships I made. Natasha, Zhenya, Natalia, Margarita (Rita) and more.

When I saw a notice in the New York Times announcing that Swan Lake would be performed at Lincoln Center this week, I had to go.  I didn't question why. I simply bought a ticket for the Wednesday afternoon matinee and went.

As the theatre darkened, and the orchestra played Tchaikovsky's first notes, I knew why.  I missed Russia. Certainly not the politics, high prices, language that seemed impossible to learn, or hours spent in traffic jams. . . but the beauty.  It's like a thread that connects a Pushkin poem to a Levitan landscape to a Glinka opera to birch branches glistening in the breeze to a cup of tea with a Russian friend.  Illusive, hard to pinpoint, but present.

For 2 1/2 hours on Wednesday, I joyfully experienced Russia again. As the dancers bowed and accepted flowers amidst applause from a standing crowd, I tried to snap a few departing pictures.  But something was missing -- the signature Russian rhytmtic clapping.

Fortunately, I captured part of the curtain call on video from the last Swan Lake we saw in Moscow.




  1. What a wonderful whim to follow and such a fantastic way to reconnect with the Russia you are remembering and missing. I too found myself expecting the rhythmic clapping after a play here in NYC. What a great way for you to spend a summer afternoon :-)

  2. Thanks, Nola. I know you experienced some amazing performances in St. Petersburg. Aren't we fortunate to have lived in a country with such a rich culture!


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