From Russia With Love ….. Part 6: The Athletes of God
Wednesday and the temperature is still rising. It is true to say that I am less keen on rising after what feels like far to little sleep but after my beloved has rushed off to wow the crowds at the symposium I reluctantly drag my sluggish corpse into life. A wander up the street to include the customary greeting of my oldest Muscavite buddy – Ivan the Terribly Nice and I am to be found at 11:15 sitting on the steps of the Institute of Economics in the sunshine. When he appears fresh from the fray of addressing 130 large brains numbed by the excesses of the night before, we take a saunter towards Red Square and then cross under Tverskaya to an as yet undiscovered part which has us hemmed in by Gucci, Prada, Vuitton etcetera ad designer nauseum. But delightfully, amongst these haute temples of decadent overspend are lots and lots of cafes with al fresco dining (covered and with heaters since Moscow spends so much of its time bitterly cold) which suits the day. Also theatres – many theatres … amongst them the Chekhov
which is added to the mental list of must-go at some stagers. We choose Kafe Gusto which is clearly Italian but as we have learned this will be a Russian version. Swiftly seated in the sun out comes our waiter who takes our wine order (now the presentation is out of the way, The Husband with Two Brains is happy to relax) and waits for our food choices – him rabbit salad, me seabass. Very carefully and several times to absolutely ensure that I understand,the kindly waiter explains that the price(650 rubles) is per 100 grammes of fish and the fish will weigh about 400 grammes. I order a vegetable salad. We eat leisurely (that is certainly authentically Italian) and the owner who could have walked straight out of The Rat Pack comes by to ask if everything is OK? Very Good? We affirm, he smiles and asks if we need anything. Actually, yes – coffee … he stops a waitress and orders the coffees but not dva, rather due. Something I have noticed here is the effort that is made to speak different languages – our Russian dancer waitress a couple of nights earlier enunciated the names of dishes in her best Italian accent (and spoke excellent English), at Paul across the road from the hotel the serving boy says bonjour monsieur ‘dame as a result of Two Brains ordering a cake in French the first time we went in (the food there is labelled in Russian and French, it being a French patisserie).
Not for the first time in my life, I am shamed as an English National when I consider the dismal comparison in the UK.
I can hardly contain my excitement at the next bit. The symposium hosts had secured 10 seats for the ballet and we had bought two of them. The Kremlin National Ballet performing at the Kremlin Palace. The ticket price? Under £20. In Russia ticket prices for the ballet are kept low so that every man can have the opportunity to attend. It’s fair to say that we were a little red in the face when we eventually got to the palace having decided to ignore instructions to take the metro to Biblioteka and rather get off at Teatralnaya and walk across the square. Doh! The square is closed for the May Day parade so we end up walking round the outside … it’s quite large. We ask a couple of policemen and are reassured that we are heading in the right direction and eventually join the crowd crossing the bridge. Through security and we are in the Kremlin State Palace. To say it is shiver-making to be inside would be ludicrously understated. Frankly I nearly wet the floor with excitement. The theatre is no newer than the festival hall in London and is similar in style. I look around me and I see a cross-section of Moscow society. Old, young, families, couples some rich, some clearly less so. This is the face of the ballet in Russia and its a lovely face. Unpretentious, eagerly anticipating.
We are watching Giselle and the whole ensemble – orchestra, corps de ballet, lead dancers give a stunning performance – the girls so limber and graceful, the boys strong, athletic and all so apparently effortless. It’s my third Giselle – for the first I was a girl of around 9 and my cousin and I wore paper dresses that Granny had brought back from California – short A-line shifts, mine turquoise with orange piping, hers pink with yellow … they were the latest fad there – mercifully, I don’t think they ever took off. The second time was 30 years ago when I saw Nureyev give one of his last performances. He was almost the age I am now and now as then I am staggered that he could still cut it. But he did. This production was beautiful, faultless. There is nothing more to say. Some things are better left unsaid and sometimes even I am lost for words. When the production finished, Giselle at peace in her grave, the count saved from eternal dancing torment by her love for him, the audience applauded raptuously, straight to their feet and many taking to the gangways and front of orchestra pit to show their love and appreciation. Then onto the stage came girls with flowers. Not staged but members of the audience – to kiss the prima ballerina and give flowers to their favourites. The last favour was the biggest (and seemingly heaviest as two men carried it to the star staggering under its weight). These are people who truly love the dance and I was as priviliged to sit among them as I was to watch and wonder that human beings can perform with such poise, grace, strength.
PS: Afterwards we headed back to the Italian we ate in on Monday night. When they came round to hurry us up we realised that it was already striking pumpkin o’clock. Even the most brilliant scientists have yet to explain to me why time passes so swiftly when life tastes sweet. Speaking of brilliant scientists – Albert Einstein gave me the title – ‘Dancers are the athletes of God’ – who am I to argue?