From Russia With Love
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Moscow-based children’s folk dance group, Kalinka, travelled to 50 countries and the last performance of 2019 was in Moscow. Excerpts from a candid chat with artistic director and choreographer Natalya Levitskaya-Filippova during their show in Delhi:
Children’s Russian Folk Dance Group Kalinka performed at Russian Centre of Science and Culture, Delhi, India, along with Choreographer and Artistic director Natalya Levitskaya-Filippova (Lady in black dress, far right)
Words & photographs: Ambica Gulati
Back to 1968, what inspired your father Alexander Filippova to start the school? How did the name Kalinka come about?
My father was a classical ballet dancer and loved children. He was young at heart with fire in his belly. Even during his illness in the last years of his life, Kalinka made him happy. So, when he passed away, it was natural for me to join the school with my mother Irina Filippova who is the director general of the school. From my father, I inherit the love for the stage and dance. I also started my career with Kalinka.
For the first two years, the group didn’t have a name. Kalinka means guilded rose which is a symbol of maiden beauty. My father loved that symbol. One day after a fight with his assistant, when a remix of the song Kalinka was being played on the piano, he named the group Kalinka. The assistant is now 98 years old and is our guide even now.
Over 20,000 students have been trained in 50 years. Now, how many students are there with you?
We now have around 150 students with us. All of them are from Moscow as we have four days of practice in a week. Three days are for learning folk and classical dances and one day for rehearsal.
What is the age group? Is it easy to teach children?
Our youngest dancer is three years old and oldest 25! Technically, they can stay in the school only till the age of 18, but some keep coming for performances. Young ones are very energetic and enthusiastic. But those in the age group of 10 and above, going towards adulthood, are not easy to deal with.
You have around 3,000 hand-sewn exquisite costumes. Do you ever plan to open a museum?
We would love to but we need our own home. As the school is in rented premises, this is difficult right now.
From the USSR to Russia, there have been many changes in the region, have there been changes in the dances too?
In folk dances the elements remain the same, the technique does evolve over time. The choreography does change a lot as that depends on the number of people on the stage.
How many teachers do you have?
We have three teachers along with one assistant.
Over the years, have there been exchange programmes with schools globally?
When I was dancing, I did go for these programmes to Japan and USA.
Kalinka has performed at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games in Sochi-2014, EXPO-2015, and opened the solemn meeting of the Russian national football team as a part of FIFA-2018. Has that helped in reviving the interest in folk dances across the globe?
Yes, we feel happy to have contributed to the world dances. People are now more inquisitive about the culture of Russia.
How has your experience been in India?
India is lucky to have such a large number of appreciating people. I came as part of the team 10 years back also. And this continuous exchange keeps the spirit alive. Even the new generation is aware of the different traditions in Russia and there could be more travel to and from Russia. It’s always been a very good experience with India.
Kalinka performed in Mumbai and Delhi in October 2018 as part of the third edition of the Rosatom Festival of Science and Culture, organized by Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation. There are more than 150 dances of the folk dances including Russian folk, military and sport variety dances in the repertoire of ‘Kalinka Filippova’.
2. Chinese Opera Comes To India
Love is in the air tonight, the stars are bright, the dreams are silver, the world is a shining sight–the dreamy, lovely world of
The Peony Pavilion
Heer-Ranjha, Romeo-Juliet, Anthony-Cleopatra, Shiri-Farhad, Laila-Majnu, Dola-Maaru, their love and stories flashed in my head. And now I can add the awesome Du Liniag and Liu Mengmei to this list, even though I have difficulty pronouncing their names. Unlike a lot of famous star-crossed lovers, this love story had a happy ending, planned by the divine in its own mystical soulful way.
Performed across the world as traditional Chinese Kunqu opera—the story of Du Liniag and Liu Mengmei, a rich maiden and penniless scholar—is a story of divine blessing mingled with drama, demons, ghosts and enchanting hypnotic music. This opera is about 470 years old; it was written by Tang Xianzu in the Ming dynasty and first performed in 1598. Kunqu pronounced as Kunju is the oldest extant form of Chinese opera and evolved from the Kunshan melody. This opera, titled as the mother of 100 operas, has been listed as one of the masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001. The China Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre was formed in 1957 and has won many national and international awards.
In fact the woman who brought this to India, Artistic Director of BraviaSadir Theatre Festival and Bharatnatyam dancer Swati Bhise, had seen it at the Kennedy Centre and it comprised 55 acts and took 20 long hours. We were in a trance during the entire 90 minutes. The opera had 18 stage performers from Mainland China and was translated by Joanna Lee.
Even though, the credentials of the opera were long, there was still the issue of the language but the dialogues were all visible on a LED. The music soft, probably one of the best Chinese flutes I had heard, touched the soul and left me longing for such as love to come my way. It made me sway and enraptured I watched the beautifully dressed people on the stage. The costumes took us back to tales of ancient China—beautiful embroidery, traditional robes, vibrant colours and one of the most amazing gem-studded headgear. The men had shoes much akin to our platforms, so I got an idea where the shoes in trend today were inspired from.
The story, a fairy tale, the young rich lady is taken to a garden by her companion. And there she falls asleep and the gardener sends a dream of her true love. The lover makes bold advances in the dream and she falls in love. And this lovesickness is the cause of her death. The celestial judge decides that this love is predestined to meet and gives her he gift of life. She finds her lover though still a ghost, who comes at the destined hour to bring her back to life and there are wedding bells.
Artistic endeavours are great educationists. You can learn all about cultures from the clothing to the music to the way people live. The songs, interspersed with mention of a Moon Festival, Goddess Guanyin were openers to the prevalent beliefs. And plums seem to be a well liked fruit as the young lady is buried under a plum tree. Spring is the eternal festival of love. And then there were a lot of truisms—beautiful women are ill-fated in love; if trapped in fame, fortune, rites and rituals, you can’t be as carefree as a flower. Love will beget love with sincerity. People lament when in no-man’s land caught between the living and the dead. Ghosts and celestial spirits reign the Chinese philosophical world. But none deviate from the path of divine plan. The Peony Pavilion is a soft, treasured memory that instills my faith in true love.