This article about RUSSIAN DANCE written by Mikhail Smirnov,
artistic director and founder of Russian folk dance and music ensemble "Barynya" from New York
for The Balalaika and Domra Association of America magazine.
Ensemble Barynya was established in 1991 in Carl Place, New York.
First show took place at the Russian restaurant "Fyodoroff".
RUSSIAN FOLK DANCE HISTORY: KHOROVODS, SOCIAL DANCING
In ancient script "About Country of Moravia" psaltery player-story teller is talking about rafts on the lakes where young Russian people used to gather to have a good time by singing and dancing in a ring (dancing khorovods). It is difficult to judge what kind of dancing was performed by Russians on the unstable rafts in the middle of the lake. Shy psaltery player is not sharing any details about those celebrations and games; the short 3 parts of his story, however, repeatedly contain the word “SHAME”. It seems like even without DJs, MCs, Karaoke and iPods those young ancient Russians knew how to have a good time.
DANCING WITH BEARS
First official record of Russian dancing is related to year 907 when Great Russian Prince Oleg (Vechshiy Oleg) celebrated his victory over Greeks in Kiev. During the Gala Dinner 16 male dancers dressed as bears and four bears dressed as Russian dancers performed for the guests. After the dinner was over Great Prince commanded to release the bears into the wild and to execute all the dancers.
As it became clear later on, Vechshiy Oleg, who was purblind, has mistaken the dancers for the ambassadors from the Northern Tribes (Severyane) who owned him a few hundred skins of marten - Russian tiger-cat.
From the "Primary Chronicle" compiled by monk Nestor we learned that when Grand Prince of Kiev - Sviatopolk II Iziaslavich died in the year of 1113 from the rather unpleasant disease, big chaos started almost right away with looting, pogroms and massacres being a favorite time-spending among the inhabitants of Kiev.
Fast fact: all Russian Tsars, Princes, Presidents and Counts were Grand, Greatest, or both.
At the same time, mason Petro Preesyadka didn’t go with the swindlers looting shops and houses but was working hard, spending all day in a squatting position with heavy stones and instruments in his strong toil-hardened hands. Every evening after work he went walking on Khreschatyk (Kiev's Broadway) and after having some wine and a loaf of kalatch (bagel) he started jumping up trying to release tension in his tired legs.
The best loved Velikiy Kniaz of Kievan Rus Vladimir Monomakh was invited by the Kievan populace to stop the chaos on the streets of the city. He was passing by with his bodyguards when he saw a strange dance performed by a big man on the street. He pointed the dancing guy out to the Mitropolit Nikifor and just few days later Petro Preesyadka was dancing at the Monomakh's Palace at every breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is even rumored that Petro shared a drink with the Velikiy Kniaz himself.
To dance "like Preesyadka" (knee-bending) or "with Preesyadka" has become very fashionable in a prosperous city of Kiev. Fat entertainers (skomorokhi) were trying hard to loose weight by learning "Preesyadka-dance" and often breaking their curved legs on the nasty medieval sidewalks.
When Monomakh died in 1126 Petro Preesyadka has returned back to his usual routine of being a mason. He died as a “very old man” (38 years old), after giving his name to the most famous move of the Russian dance and becoming a cultural icon of his time.
It is common in the Western World to consider the jumps and mimics of the traditional Russian dance to be the result of cold weather of the Nothern country. As if such dances as “Prisyadka”, “Arabic”, “Goat”, “Raznozhka”, “Devil”, “Pistol”, “Ring”, “Small Barrel”, “Ling”, “Beduinsky” etc. were invented by Russians only in order to get warm.
Indeed, most of the Russian holidays come in the fall and in the winter after the end of the agricultural work. At this time the fun would begin starting with a prayer and followed by lavish food and drink, singing and dancing, and finally ended up with a cycle of fist fights called “wall against wall (stenka na stenku)”. After a short break the whole procedure would resume.
According to the experts, extreme dancing in a cold weather was an optimum case of continuing fun outside; at that time it was not common to celebrate inside by the table, watching TV.
Personally I do not agree with the so-called climatic birth of the Russian dance in its Western perception. During cold winter times Russians are known to wear fur-coats and sheepskin coats. I happened to be in the Russian Army and can swear that wearing a heavy sheepskin coat won’t even let you think about preesyadkees (knee-bending). I may think of “drobushki”, “preepreezhki” (hoping), and “tchetchotka” (tap-dance), but definitely not “Pistol”, “Devil”, or “Goat”.
In my opinion, the real developers of Russian dance were so-called “skomorokhi” – street entertainers semi-forbidden by the Church. Among the performers of the troupe some were strong in tricks, others in foretelling, some could sing and dance but all of them were good thieves.
“Skomorokhi” constantly moved from one place to another, from town to town, from fair to fair, adopting best tricks and movements from the local dancers. Otherwise, how would the folks of the Tver and Penza villages know about the “Beduinsky” and “Cossack” dances?
In time some troupes fell apart or were killed by competitors, others were caught by oprichniks (Tzar’s bodyguards) and were converted to the court troupes of the wealthy landlords (“Red Army Choir”, “Moscow’s Virtuosi”).
COURT JESTERS AND CHOIRS
Starting from Ivan the Terrible, the Czar famous for his nasty temper and love of the art, it became common to have court jesters, singers, psaltery players, and dancers. Court artists were considered to be the court people equal to cooks and stable men.
When the Czar was tired of the show, all the artists were sent to the army or jail. Unlike the artists of the ensemble Barynya, court dancers constantly thought of the new tricks and performances and the rest of the time they spent rehearsing.
For his son’s bar mitzvah Ivan the Terrible spent a five year’s military budget by hiring 50 psaltery players and 34 dancers, exactly as much as the guards of the Czar could catch in Moscow during one year’s period.
It was Ivan the Terrible who prohibited the use of the same dance costume for the different numbers of the show. He also restricted the use of the phonogram (pre-recorded tracks). Rebellious were executed.
ACADEMIC AND FOLK ART OF DANCING
By Russian czars and landlords becoming richer, the gap between the folk and academic art was growing. Pompous opera divas didn’t notice stout folk singers. Slender ballet dancer in beautiful tight trousers wouldn’t shake the hand of a Russian folk dancer in Ukrainian wide trousers and pompously would pass by to see his boyfriend for the cup of hot tea with lemon.
Great Russian composers Tchaikovsky, Glinka, and Pakhmutova tried to change the existing situation by introducing the parts of folk music into their contemporary operas and ballets and orchestrating them with the so characteristic of them skillful way.
Creative collaboration of Russian composers known as “Mighty Group” also attempted to overcome this situation but well-known circumstances stood on their way and they were not alone.
COMMIES AND THE RUSSIAN FOLK DANCE
After the civil war has ended and the blood of the revolution has dried out Soviets allotted the money to organize the first state funded troupe of the Russian folk dancers. In 1937 the first professional ensemble of Russian folk dance was born under the leadership of Igor Moiseyev; it is still considered to be the best academic ensemble of folk dance in the world. Moiseyev laid the foundation of the classic dance for the improvisation and joy of the folklore. This idea was successful, the West loved it, and nowadays the ensemble is fantastically popular. The performances, tricks and ideas of this dance company are used by almost all the choreographers in the world, except for the most lazy and uneducated ones.
RUSSIAN TRADITIONAL DANCE IN ITS ORIGINAL FORM
An interesting concept is suggested by the innovators of the New York ensemble “Barynya”. Refusal of the bass-balalaika player Leonid Bruk and balalaika virtuoso Alex Sinavski to learn by heart the dance compositions longer than 15 seconds as well as unwillingness to play from music sheets or use the pre-recorded tracks forced the well-experienced dancers of the company adapt the story of the dance to the unexpected changes of the rhythm and music depending on the mood of the balalaika soloist and the general condition of the contrabass-balalaika player.
Neither the audience nor the dancers or the director of the ensemble know for sure how the dance performance is going to end. As a result of this creative collaboration some very interesting and eye-pleasing combinations could be born right on stage but they also may end up in a failure.
Thus, the choreography of the Russian folk dance is returning to its roots of improvisation.
DANCING ONLY Runtime: 60 minutes. On this DVD ensemble Barynya dancers are performing Russian, Cossack, Gypsy and Ukranian folk dances including "Kalinka", "Katyusha", "Barynya", "Two Guitars" and others. more info, videoclips, order
New York based Russian folk dance and music ensemble Barynya, 2004. Russian folk dances, songs, virtuoso performances on balalaika, bass-balalaika and garmoshka. Runtime: 1 hour, cover art: Anna Nagorskaya more info, videoclips, order
Ensemble Barynya, 1998. Live performance in cabaret "Moscow", Lexington Ave/54 street, New York City. Russian, Cossack, Ukrainian, Klezmer music and dances. Runtime: about 35 minutes. more info, videoclips, order
RUSSIAN FOLK DANCE COSTUMES
Russian, Cossack, Ukrainian, and Russian Gypsy folk costumes were made by designer Svetlana Gavrilova for dancers and musicians of ensemble "Barynya". All costumes are available for sale. For prices and time frame please contact S. Gavrilova directly. When you call her please make sure to mention that you have got the number from ensemble "Barynya" website... more
Russian dance workshop at the Public school # 91 in Brooklyn, New York
Russian dance workshop, song and music concert in Maryland
Russian dance workshop and concert of Russian dance, song and music took place at the Kensington Parkwood Elementary school during International Night event. Address: 4710 Saul Road, Kensington, MD 20895-4251. Phone: (301) 571-6949. Ensemble Barynya performed with three members: Mikhail Smirnov (garmoshka, guitar, vocals), Elina Karokhina (balalaika), dancer Andij Cybyk.
12-08-2020. Russian dancer Vladimir Nikitin in Nutcracker episode on TV in New York City
Principal dancer of Russian dance and music ensemble Barynya Vladimir Nikitin was hired to participate in Christmas Russian Winter TV episode dedicated to world-famous Nutcracker Ballet in New York City on Tuesday, December 8, 2020. Because of Covid outbreak only three dancers were allowed to participate in Trepak the Russian dance. Vladimir Nikitin was performing Trepak in Cossack outfit. Also he did a bit of dancing and photoshoot in Russian Bear outfit.
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Cossack Dancers troupe is available in New York, New Jersey, PA, CT, VT, and Nationwide.
Rostov Don Cossacks - Rostov Don Cossack State Academic song and dance ensemble from Rostov-Na-Donu, Russia. Program of traditional Cossack dancing, music and songs.
Ensemble "Barynya" from New York - traditional Russian dance and music show. Barynya is a unique group of top soloists: musicians, singers and dancers who were trained and performed with world-known companies such as Don Cossacks of Rostov, Andreev State symphonic balalaika orchestra, Moscow State center of "Russian Song". Artistic Director Mikhail Smirnov.
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"Kalinka" dancers from Baltimore, Maryland perform in beautifully detailed costumes and accompanied by a full orchestra, Russian Folk Instruments quartet/trio or pre-recorded music. Artistic Director Ekaterina (Katya) Denisova.
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