Thursday, January 17, 2008

Russian Dancers

I recently attended a spectacular performance by the Moiseyev Dance Company. It’s a group from Russia that was founded by Igor Moiseyev in 1938. Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times described him as “one of the greatest choreographers in 20th-century dance.”

Moiseyev, as Ballet Master at the Bolshoi Theater, arranged a successful festival of national dance in 1936. The dance troupe grew out of that. Since its first performance, it has traveled to over 60 countries.

At the beginning of the performance, a short, silent film was shown highlighting Moiseyev’s life. It was amazing to see black and white video of two rapidly twirling circles of dancers in Moscow, identical to what we’d be seeing on a brightly lit stage 70 years later. It was amazing that he could begin his career during the height of Stalinism, yet escape the terror and continue to successfully produce his works. Most impressive was his evident vitality. The video of Moiseyev dancing over moving bars on his 80th birthday made the elderly viewers around me gasp in awe. He looked more pale and fragile at his 90th and 100th birthday celebrations, but he was still out in the public. “He lived a full life,” an old man near me whispered to his wife when it was announced Moiseyev died in November 2007 at the age of 101.

What a legacy to leave behind, a group of 65 strong, vibrant and talented dancers, dressed in colorful national costumes and bringing joy to the packed auditorium. The first half of the performance, which consisted of dances from various areas of the former Soviet Union was amazing. The precision of their movements was stunning, the difficult moves impressive, and the costumes gorgeous. I liked less the international parts of the performance. I just didn’t think the Russian women had the Middle Eastern exoticness to jut their hips out in an Egyptian dance, nor did the pairs have the Latin American verve needed for the Venezuelan dance. When they stuck to who they are and where they came from, they were stunning.

Watching the dancers of course made me recall my time living in Russia. I realized that living in Russia was like living in a bipolar society. Encounters with bureaucracy, depression, callousness and rudeness alternate with encounters of kindness, hospitality, genuine friendship and innocence. Both types were of an extreme I rarely experienced in other countries. The dances, switching between pulsing music, bright colors and rapid movements and simple tones and elegant, thoughtful movements, reminded me of that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Baby Passport

We received River’s passport today – just over a week after submitting the application. We used the express service, but I was still amazed, based on the long delays I’ve heard about recently. Kudos to the Passport office for getting its act together.

The passport is quite beautiful now. Every page has an etched drawing of an American landmark – much more impressive than when I got my passport.

The funniest thing about it is River’s photo. It took us three days to get a picture of our one-month old that complied with all the rules – face forward, white background, no adult body parts showing. I don’t think the people who came up with these rules ever tried to take such a picture of an infant.

I took him in one day and the clerk said his eyes also needed to be open. It was impossible to do that, plus all the above. When we had no success after an hour or so, she suggested coming back the next day. Mark returned the next day after River had been fed and napped. He got him to open his eyes but he had to hold him to keep his face forward. The tip of Mark’s finger appeared in the picture and the passport office rejected it. They told us it would be OK if his eyes are closed, but no adult body parts can be visible, even if they don’t obscure the face.

So I went back again. The CVS employee put River on a piece of white cardboard paper on top of the counter. Of course his head fell to the side and he began to wail. He only cries with his eyes closed. We walked out with a picture of his eyes scrunched shut and his mouth in a wide, open O. It looks nothing like him on a day-to-day basis.

Now it’s embedded in a beautiful passport, under an elegant eagle, and will serve as his identification for the next five years. Just imagining him as a four year old showing that photo to a border control agent as his photo ID cracks me up. Even now, it’s hard to see how it will be used as identification. But in any case, he’s officially prepared to begin his world travels and I’m excited on his behalf.

He made it to Bolivia, Ecuador and Germany while still in the womb. His first trip on an independent passport will be to Mexico this March at age 3 months.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Berkshires

We took our first trip with three-week old River over New Year’s. Before the birth, we’d been contemplating a trip to a Vermont cabin. More experienced friends recommended we choose a place closer by, within a four-hour radius. I think that was good advice and I’m glad we followed it.

River did a great job in the car, at restaurants, and at the museums, generally sleeping whenever we were out and about. So that gave us more confidence about the three-week upcoming trip we are planning.

We based ourselves in the town of Lenox. The area was rather hoity-toity and expensive, not my usual getaway type of place. But I was so eager for a change of scenery I would have gone almost anywhere.