This post is by Gabrielle Cornish (University of Rochester). Spring 2012, Russian Language Program, CIEE Saint Petersburg.
I know it’s only been a few days since my last post, but I figured that, since I have the time tonight, I’d write another — it will be short, don’t worry! Anyways, it will help make up for some of the time when I didn’t post anything.
Last night, CIEE (my study abroad program) hosted their fourth annual Smolny Spring Ball, which was tons of fun and a great way to get the entire group together. The ball was an eighteenth century themed dance, where we all got to dress up in period costumes, attend an “authentic” ball, and learn different Russian dances and ball etiquette. For girls, we learned how to flirt and talk with men using our fans (there are actually several different ways of communicating via fan, surprisingly enough) which provided for some great laughs (especially when the guys had a go of it). Additionally, we learned the “language of beauty marks” (those little black dots on women’s faces). Basically, women in the eighteenth century would have a small black piece of fabric on their face, and depending on what they wanted to convey to a man, they would move it around accordingly — we learned close to twenty different beauty mark positions, but ended up not using them during the ball (which was fine with me — I wasn’t crazy about the idea to begin with!)
Prior to the ball, we all went to a costume shop by the Ulitsa Dybenko metro station (at the end of the orange line) and picked out our dresses (and, for men, outfits ranging from military garb to court jester-esque) for the ball. Though none of us were super pleased with our dresses (it was like choosing a prom dress all over again, except this time one that had an inconveniently puffy skirt and a lacy collar!) we had to admit that we looked pretty “fresh” in spite of everything. It was even better to see the men’s outfits; I was especially a fan of my friend Zack’s unfortunately awkward wig.
There's nothing like being nestled between Napoleon and someone who I'm assuming was supposed to be Judge Hathorne from "The Crucible"
Once the night actually began and we got over our initial aversions to waltzing around in hoop skirts, it was really enjoyable! We were served champagne and hors d’oeuvres by waiters, while listening to classical music and waltzing (or at least attempting to…) My friend Chris and I had a bit of trouble with the polka, but managed to hold everything together (or at least pretended to).
As the night progressed, we were surprised with student performers, the CIEE choir, and even a duel between two guys over a girl — gasp! Towards the end of the night, we switched from period-appropriate classical music to modern dance music; I certainly never expected to see a bunch of people in large ball gowns jumping up and down to dubstep, but it happened! Tired from our night of dancing and drama, the night wrapped up and we headed home. Overall, it was a really fun experience — both for the historical significance and the group bonding.
This weekend, we’re going to Pskov and Pushkinskie Gory — an ancient town and the place where Pushkin is buried, respectively. Though, admittedly, I don’t know too much about either town, it should be a great trip, and I’ll make sure to post something when I return!
I’m reading Laurel Fay’s “Shostakovich: A Life” right now, which is a fantastic account of Shostakovich’s upbringing, compositions, and experiences (especially those with Soviet censorship). I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Shostakovich — it’s detailed in its musical accounts, but isn’t strongly based upon music theory, so it’s a good read for both musicians and non-musicians. Regardless, here’s Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, Mvmt. IV, conducted by Leonard Bernstein (though I suggest you listen to the entire symphony — Fay writes that, at the premiere, nearly the entire audience was in tears during the third movement, only to be roused by the triumphant fourth movement). This symphony was the first major work Shostakovich premiered after his opera, “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” was denounced publicly by Soviet authorities and the composer disgraced. At the end of the symphony’s premiere, the audience applauded so vigorously and for so long that, in fear of repercussions from the Communist Party, Shostakovich had to be escorted out of the theater safely before it could be considered a riot or a challenge to the party! The symphony went on to be one of Shostakovich’s most successful, and is still a standard in orchestral repertoire today — take a listen!