THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA - Day Five

Day 5:

St. Petersburg

Day off-

I woke this morning to moments of last night's performance experience tugging me awake. My gut pulling from the rise and fall of adrenaline. My heart soaring from the roller coaster of so many emotions. But mostly the vision of Tina Kronis, our director, with tears streaming down her face as we exited the stage, stays in my mind. Her return to Russia where all of this was born - the artist has come full circle.

My spirit is full, and I feel an overwhelming gratitude as I slide into my jeans to head down to breakfast at 9 am. The hotel had asked us all to come down at that time because they wanted to present us with something. I am a little unsure as to what the custom or presentation will be and why, but bed head will not do, so I don my headscarf.

After we've eaten our breakfast, they bring out a most exquisite pie-type/filled bread with a gorgeous latticed crust. It is stunning and with my love for baking - I can appreciate the amount of time and effort that went into making this lovely sweet.

It is filled with sour cherries and berries of many kinds, candied ginger pieces and currants. It is surprisingly not sweet but tart and glorious.

There is a young girl, probably 9 or so, having breakfast with her grandmother, who has been eyeing us and the pie. I offer her a slice and she looks to her grandmother who nods and then to us with a ferocious nod. I give her a slice as well and she shares with her grandmother.

Today is our day off.

Vladimir will take us for the day to tour St. Petersburg. So we take our leave with expressions of thanks and race off to get ready.

We have a very busy day ahead of us and will be gone for the whole day, so we pack and dress accordingly.

We pile into a large van/small party bus. We drive across the river and into town. We stop and pick up Vladimir's actress friend, who is a professional tour guide, and who will give us her tour of the town. She jumps into the van, and from word go she clicks into tour mode with her ‘'to your left” this…and “on your right” that. It was clear to me within the very first block that I had a choice. Try to keep up and immerse myself into every single detail or sit back and relax and let the city wash over me.

My favorite is when Vladimir interrupts her. He adds in his own details about the city he grew up in. Every so often the two of them argue in Russian about the path we will take and why their way is going to get us there better.

Such a conversation occurs as we try for more than twenty minutes to get close to the Church of the Spilled Blood. We discover that the streets to it are actually blocked off and two blocks away is as close as we get. It is very big and fancy and looks like the sister to St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. It marks the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt in 1881, hence the name.

We stop at a grassy park area just the other side of the river, where we are reminded to watch our wallets. I walk to the edge of the bridge and look across. The Neva River is about as wide as the Mississippi River, if not a little wider. There is a light breeze that blows through my hair and face, convincing me of it's beauty. With it's taste of the ocean it whispers:

This is a perfect moment.

You will remember it, and for the rest of time you will search for this breath that contains the most ions you've ever inhaled.

There were little tourist carts set up and a coffee hut that was shaped like a giant coffee cup. We only had 15 minutes but I took a look at the Babushka dolls. I had promised to bring one home for my mother.

Now is as good a time as any.

But then you have to carry it…

I end my inner conflict by picking the one that has the 8 nesting dolls.

Every block, there are impressive buildings with sculptures and monuments. Entire bronze brigades of horses carrying Generals or chariots exploding out the top of a shopping center or theater. There was this one horse - the artist used the backside of the horse's anatomy to sculpt the outline of his wife's lover's face - forever cast by betrayal as a horse's ass. That one was my favorite. Between the Summer Palace and the Winter Palace and the American Consulate and the home where Pushkin died, my mind boggled.

We go to St. Isaac's Cathedral.

I've been to a lot of cathedrals, and they are designed to invoke awe, but this place is simply next level. The most impressive aspect is the lapis and malachite pillars. I've never even seen a large piece of either the blue or green stones. I've only seen them in jewelry, and these are floor to ceiling and carved into the shape of pillars. Never seen anything like it. Every inch of wall is covered in a spectacular ode to Russian Orthodox versions of the story of Jesus, but I gravitate toward these tablets in the middle of the cathedral.   They stand about 8-10 feet tall, and, under inspection, reveal a mosaic of tiles that make up the picture.

We head to a lovely modern café with colorful tiles lining the floor and walls and stairs. I have an affinity for masterful tiling. It wafts over me as a feeling of order out of chaos. I have potato leek soup with smoked trout and a salad with pepitas. All is right with the world.

I step out to the bathroom, and when I return, our group is gone.

Aw, come on guys. Again?

(There was a night in Shanghai when we went on a river boat tour, and I was too busy taking photos to notice that the boat had stopped, my group disembarked, and the boat started off again. I ended up getting a cab driver who used his horn instead of his brakes, and I met everyone later at the hotel, so I guess it was fine.  But seriously?)

I ask which way to the Hermitage and start walking.  If I walk swiftly I can catch them. I see Doerr hurriedly walking back and catching up with me.

He asks me: Again?

I shrug my shoulders, and we catch up with the rest of the group.

The city square is massive. There is a giant angel on a spire in the center and the Winter Palace where the Hermitage is housed.

 

The Hermitage is a museum. A world renowned museum.

I could do an entire blog just on the Hermitage and my experience there.

But, suffice it to say that now is the moment when I will have to go off on my own. It's just how I roll. I've got to do my own thing. I sneak into the exit of the museum and go backwards. Somehow I end up going down a hallway filled with art crates. And I find a secret corner of the museum where I spend an hour staring at Siberian horse bridles that were decorated with wood carvings of deer antlers and saddles with the most elaborate inlaid designs ever.  From the 11th Century.  I see only 3 people.

On the way out, I catch up with the group as if we'd been together the whole time.

We go off in search of a river boat cruise.

We hop on a bus which is packed. There is a woman who sells tickets but she is at the other end of the bus and has to navigate herself through the entire bus at every stop to get to everyone who needs to purchase a ticket. This seems like a bad method for ticket distribution.

Apparently I like river boat tours-especially at my favorite time of day. That golden time when the sun is at that angle that makes everything gorgeous. I get to put my feet up and just take photos and feel the wind on my face. The weather couldn't have been more perfect. I look to the rest of our group spread out over the boat and smile at the sight of everyone having their own experience with the city.   As the tour guide continues her tour completely in Russian over a speaker, I can see that her deep melodic vocal rhythm has lulled both Elizabeth and Jesse asleep in the seats next to me.

Somewhere between the warmth of the sun kissing my cheeks all day or the moisture in the air that nourished any part of me that could've been parched, I fell in love with the cracks and spots where the city shows it's age and can't hide it's wear and tear.

After the boat ride I stay behind on my own for a dinner. I go to the Soviet Café where Vladimir had tried to take us the other night but it was too full. It has a red bicycle with flowers in a basket chained to the stairwell that leads down to it. Russian comfort food. I have the Chicken Kiev with mashed potatoes and cranberries. They bring dark rye bread that I cannot eat and I spend a fair amount of time removing the breading on the Kiev. It is worthwhile and there is a Russian War movie from the 50's on the TV. This place reminds me of Gorky's which used to be a 24 hour Russian Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles that I spent a good portion of my nights.

I feel at home even though everything feels familiar but not.   Even though the people look like me, but not. Their clothes, their hair, the way they walk. Like me but not-in ways I simply can't find words for.

This is a riddle that perplexes me. I'm not sure I will ever fully understand how St. Petersburg grabbed a hold of me demanding that I love it. Courting me with all of the riches the world has to offer and impressing itself into my soul.

You don't have to leave tomorrow.

Yes. I do. I have to go to Moscow. Tomorrow.

But Moscow cannot give you what you want. St. Petersburg has everything for you.

I wouldn't have even come if it were not for Moscow. I must go. I must.

You can go but it will not love you the way I can.

You think you must-but remember that I said this to you first.

You will never forget me and I will never let you go of you.


THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA, Day Four

Day 4:

Show Day

St. Petersburg, Theater Buff

A nerve wracking day.

 

To say that all of us were a little tense would be an enormous understatement. There is quibbling. Our show is so tightly choreographed that the slightest shift can throw off the whole train. We had a chair issue. This chair thing, with up to ten moving chairs in play at any time, can derail everything. A moving oscillation that, if it doesn't land right the first time, it won't ever be right. The stakes are huge and the fears about the chairs are just a representation of how huge.

Why couldn't I have been an accountant? Or have a regular job? One that doesn't require that I stand in front of thousands of people and bare my soul. But sometimes there is a simplicity in it that cannot be found anywhere else but through the eye of the needle. Sink or swim, we were going to do this show.

I've got my headphones and my Dior ultra dark fancy eye make up. I don't have time for perfection - I have time to smudge and breathe and smudge and line and wand and line and spray and jewelry and hose and girdle and dress and spray and blot and wig and pin pin pin…pin--  Good god there are so many pins, but tonight it goes on right and tight and this show is going to happen and we are going to give it to them our way. And love it or not, they will come with us.

The house is packed. 400 plus.

Sold Out.

First bell. I sneak off to the back stage area behind the scrim. Do my preshow ritual in the blue of backstage.

Second bell.

The cast files into the backstage area. We have our huddle. Vladimir comes by with bubbling enthusiasm.

Break your legs!. He cheers to us.

Break your legs!

We choose him for our show mantra. Our prayer to do the show for. But first, we breathe…together. 1, 2, 3 Vladimir!

3rd bell and preshow announcement.

I assume it says turn off your cell phones but nothing about photography because as long as you don't flash you can take photos all you like. Perhaps it says, be nice to the Americans. Let's all be on our good diplomatic behavior. They've had an easier history and as a result feel entitled to be treated special. Whatever it says, they start clapping. Their enthusiasm matches that of Vladimir.

The air is electric as time evaporates and the lights go down and me and my two sisters take the stage and sit as one.  The music starts and…

We are off. I make a little mistake in the opening dance, nobody but me knows…and maybe the pen of our director, and the rest of the cast who just saw it, but it doesn't matter. No feathers no fluff. (Their version of break a leg)

Stick in there.

We finish the dance and there is applause.

If there is applause after the dance, then they want to be with us. And they are.

What transpires over the next 90 minutes is that indescribable ephemeral thing that is exchanged between the performer and the audience. You were either there or you weren't. Me and my castmates and that audience. It is magic.  To try and put more of a name on it would be tantamount to finding words for your first love or the first time you knew you were free. It's sacred. It's an intimacy that is shared.

Come curtain call, I am in tears. I mean, I already am because of the play and it's the end of life as all of us know it. But then comes the clapping - the rhythmic clapping Russian audiences are known for. We have our dance reprise, and then we say thank you to the audience, and then we are joined by our director.  It is a tradition for the director to join us onstage. Tina Kronis, this is your moment. To come home and stand on a Russian stage again. More tears.

And then come the flowers. Patrons come to the edge of the stage and hand us flowers. I've never received flowers from someone I didn't know before.

One woman comes with only 3 roses.

One for each sister.

I kneel down to receive my yellow rose.

I am crying. She is crying.

This woman takes my face in her hands.

She kisses me on each cheek saying:

Spasibo, Spasibo.

I say:

Thank you, thank you.

I have no idea who this woman is, and all I saw of her was her eyes as she kept kissing me on each cheek. I had been so worried that I couldn't comprehend the extent of Russia's history and what it must've been like to grow up there that I had to surrender the whole idea and just speak from my heart and try to touch another person's heart. She was my proof. The language of the heart will always win out across any barrier.

If I never stand on another stage ever again, I will always have that moment.

After the show there is a tradition of being hosted for a reception.

It is just a reception for us, given by the producers and the theater staff and those who worked on getting us there without even knowing us. There are fancy little cakes and bubbly drinks with fruit and mint and perogi-type delicious dough balls encasing meat.

There are toasts. This elderly man who has apparently run this theater for 50 years gives a toast. I can't remember everything that was said, and I'm sure all of us took something different away from the night and his speech but it was something to the effect of how important Chekhov is and the gift of seeing ourselves in his writing and such.

"You could've been Russian with your understanding of the play and its nuances and its humanity. And now we raise a glass to you. You are now Russian and have a place to come back to."

Now to load out the show and pack it up for Moscow.

When we left the theater we discovered a few people who had waited outside for us to come out. This is now at least 2 hours later! There is a woman who doles out flowers and candies to us and then later sends me a Facebook request. We passed the front of the theater and there are 3 or so older couples who say hello and holler "Thank You & Spasibo!" to us from across the courtyard. It appears as if they have been sitting and chatting and waltzing and enjoying the late night dusk and breeze that lightens the evening air.

Some of us stop for snacks at a 24 hour grocery.

We found everything from fresh fruit I've never seen before to cheese and snacks and these weird cookies which were like a strawberry meringue, to crab-flavored chips that were  refrigerated.

Back at the hotel we all converge on Caitlin and Elizabeth's room - they seemed to have the most space - to toast from the vodka that had been given as an opening night gift and to share snacks. There was a giant bag of these chocolate candies of various flavors of cherry, orange and coffee.

We toast and laugh and enjoy. I went to my room to see if I could reach super-hubby Jeff.

The sun is finally at its lowest, and it appeared to be night. For at least 2 hours it will be. Until the sun rises again at 3:30 am.

I will take advantage of this darkness for a restful sleep after a job well done.