Novelty mixed with nostalgia

Russian dancers practising at Siri Fort in New Delhi on Saturday.

Russian dancers practising at Siri Fort in New Delhi on Saturday.  

It's different and yet familiar. As Delhiites gear up for "Days of Russian Culture in India'', there's a sense of novelty mingled with nostalgia. And just as it is for most of the city's residents who remember the active cultural exchanges between the two countries, so it is for the artistes, most of who have performed in India before.

"About a decade ago, there was a very active cultural exchange between the two countries. There has been a gap of some years maybe because of the political situation. But it is being revived again, which is a positive move,'' says Vasilee, a musician with Russia's State Musical Theatre of the National Art. Recalling his last visit to India, he adds, "I came here some time in the early 80s and have wanted to come back ever since. And finally I have!'' And as a memento of his last visit, Vasilee took with him the love for Indian instruments like sitar and sarod. "But no, you won't hear me play that tonight! I am trying to learn but it is very difficult,'' he says with a smile during a break from his rehearsal for the inaugural ceremony at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi this week-end.

The stage saw some fancy footwork and enthusiastic dancing as members of the State Musical Theatre of National Art rehearsed for the evening's performance. But apart from the traditional folk music, the troupe has a surprise "gift'' planned for Delhiites. As part of the performance, the group would sing the "Mera Joota Hai Japni'' from Raj Kappor's `Shri 420'. "This is the most famous Indian song in Russia. It is very popular and everybody knows it,'' says producer of the group, Igor. G. Tomilov. Though word perfect, the singers do not understand the popular song sung by their favourite hero. "What do you mean by `joota''' enquired Igor and burst out laughing when he heard the translation.

For the troupe from the Moscow State Classical Ballet Theatre, there's been some trouble, but "nothing we can't cope up with'', says the director, the State Classical Ballet, Ivan Vasilev. "This stage is not designed for ballet performances but they have arranged for plastic sheets which suits the dancers,'' he said. Also on their second visit in India, they have planned an excerpt from "Swan Lake'' and a full performance of the 250-year old antique ballet, "Giselle''.

But minor technical problems haven't troubled Ivan as much as he misses out on eating "real'' India food. "What they are giving us is a mix of Indian and European! Unfortunately, we haven't been able to eat the Indian food and we have been looking forward to it,'' grumbled the director.

By Anjali Malhotra

Photo: R.V. Moorthy

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