After yesterday’s post, I couldn’t help but think of one of the things I associate most with St. Petersburg.
First movie I ever saw in a movie theater that wasn’t a children’s story… It’s hard to believe it but that was a little less than 30 years ago. My parents had decided to see it with friends and I’m not sure if a babysitter fell through or we never really had one since it was a last minute plan but I got to go see this movie and I felt so grown up seeing something in a theater at night…I’m not even sure that I even stayed awake through the whole thing but I certainly know this movie nearly by heart today.
So many things that still stick with me. It made me love Roland Petit. It made me love Twyla Tharp…and Lionel Richie…and Isabella Rosselini (her first role! how much does she look JUST like her mother here?)), and Gregory Heinz. And the noted Polish actor Jerzy Skolimowski. AND Helen Mirren, who plays the ballerina left behind. And Vosodsky. And finally, Misha. Do we even need to talk about Barishnikov? This movie started a my lifelong affair for this dancer…My father took me to see him dance with the White Oak Project in Paris when I was 16, which is one of the best surprises I’ve still ever received. I went backstage to try to find him, only to be promptly thrown out but only after I got my picture with him, which I still have, and his autograph, which I don’t.
The movie is full of Iron Curtain flare and drama that American movies love. The images from St. Petersburg…the palaces and the theaters and the bridges were all ones I knew from the movie until I saw them in real life myself. And it’s even all the more interesting when you consider the context of filming it. Because American film wasn’t allowed at the time, the got their live shots of the city by sending in a Finnish “documentary crew” and historically, that was a phenomenal undertaking. I’m not sure that many movies excite me in that way when it comes to the political context.
At the same time, the movie captures so many things about the Russian or Eastern spirit. Skolimowski, despite his terribly accented Russian, plays Colonel Chaikov in a sardonic way that only someone from “EOD” (East of Danube) could. But it’s the passion for the arts and the tortured creative soul that they capture too – I mean, even in Siberia there is a playhouse putting on Porgy and Bess. And when Barishnikov dances solo to a Russian song – still one of my beloved songs to this day… He’s crying…the ballerina he left behind is crying…the singer is probably crying…I’m crying…and if you watch the below and start crying, you probably are at least 10% Russian too. It’s just a thing…
I know some people will watch and just pass it off as some dancing – but ultimately it’s about the two options you have when your ability to create and express are limited . Do you fight for the freedom to pursue whatever art you want through radical change, or do you stay behind and work in the system, making incremental changes without abandoning your home and your family? Not everyone has the temperament or the ability to do both of those options. Which would you choose?
Say it for always…that’s the way it should be.