Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Moscow-based children’s folk dance group travelled to 50 countries and the last performance of the year is in Moscow. Excerpts from a candid chat with artistic director and choreographer Natalya Levitskaya-Filippova:
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’.