The Bolshoi, I must say was something amazing, not so much the theatre which granted was large but not really impressive or at least not as much as the performance given by this magnificent group of dancers whom both my father and grandfather had always told me so much about. Tchaikovsky’s “The Nut Cracker” was what those in my group as well I were privileged enough to see that evening and though I was already familiar with the wonderful music; I was not so much with the dancing that went with it and as I watched, it seemed that this was the most radiant of all the performing arts in regards to its visual aspect.
After the ballet, it was back to Hotel Cosmos for a night cap which I took at the bar; shots of Vodka accompanied by caviar which in America was so expensive but in the Soviet Union was literally cheaper then peanuts. The hotel had several bars, and it was in each that there were women, some I could imagine were there to exchange other then just souvenirs for money, while others went in groups looking for any westerner to buy them a drink. By “them” I mean all of them as they came in groups though this did not interest me other then just to see that women in the Soviet Union wore what I would call an excessive amount of make up; despite most of them being much more attractive then the average American woman.
The following day came and off to Kiev it was on a plane by Aeroflot. It was something I will never forget; being on the runway and dozing off in my seat during the long wait which was required before take off, when suddenly I was awaken by the feeling of my ears getting blocked by the pressure. I remember being slightly upset; thinking that we had probably spent all that time on the ground and only then was the plane going to take off when the reality was that it was already going to land. Such a smooth take off and flight it was that not only had it not awaken me, I had not even noticed it or it could have been the fact that my cold was making my very drowsy along with my lack of sleep from the night before.
Kiev was an interesting city though perhaps not as much as Moscow; but on that particular visit the only thing I recall was being far away from my hotel; me always the one to wonder from the rest and asking a Soviet policeman if he could find me a cab which much to my surprise he did. It being on one that was taking several passengers; in a sort of improvised transportation like I had known in countries like Argentina and Peru. As for the policeman, he told me in broken English how he was from Armenia, a place that had suffered from the effects of an earthquake the previous month, which made me tell him how I had in fact donated 20 USD to a relief organization. I do not know if this man really understood me but when saying goodbye in gratitude for his having found me this means of transportation I handed him one of my packs of cigarettes; which made him give me a small pen knife (which did not even open) in the shape of a fish as he said the word “souvenir” and went off.
With Kiev being smaller then both Leningrad and Moscow, our stay was planed to last only one night after which we would be departing for Leningrad. I really can not say what it was in me that night which I was to stay in Kiev that made me do what I eventually did. This being to get what could be classified as extremely drunk. Vodka did I consume and plenty of it; perhaps to show that Italian Americans like their Soviet counter parts could also hold their liquor but what ever it was I did get sauced. In this elbow bending I do seem to recall a Soviet who also engaged in the same as I did after which we started a conversation in trying to solve who were more daft? Me claiming that it was Americans (me referring to those in my tour group) while he made the case for Russians; only to settle the issue by proclaiming a draw between Americans and Russians as to who were the more dippy.
In this night that would go down with a certain degree of perhaps over joy my Soviet comrade and I also entertained ourselves by smashing our vodka glasses on the ground, which only managed to draw the attention of some policemen. Police however were called Militia at the time in the Soviet Union and two of them did approach us and when I could not understand what they were saying one of them, caught my off guard with a punch to the stomach. That by all accounts should have knocked the wind out of me. This probably would have been the effect during other circumstances but on that day after half a bottle of Vodka, I did not feel the blow which showed on my face as I did not even bend over in pain. This my reaction which almost sent this policeman in to shock as was clear on his face before I tried to strike at him with my camera, after all he was much bigger then me who only stands at 5’6″.
Fortunately nothing became of the incident as the receptionist informed these policemen that I was a guest at the hotel and not some peddler (as they figured) who had come in to trade dollars, which of course was illegal at the time.
Leningrad and the last stop on our Soviet trip before our return to the states. Leningrad I must say was more interesting at least from my point of view then Moscow. The city itself was different; after all this had been the capital of the country during the revolutions though that was the past even then as at that time the Winter Palace was the Hermitage. With the Hermitage being one of the world’s largest museums I could not help but spend one whole afternoon there out of the three I had; though one would really require more time to fully appreciate the entire museum.
In Leningrad, I was fortunate enough to be given a hotel room which unlike the one in Moscow and Kiev I did not have to share with any of the members from my group. This factor would prove advantageous as I would go on to meet two very lovely young ladies from Kiev by the names of Victoria Ibanchenko and Svetlana. It was with these two friends that I would spend three very lustful evenings (two with Victoria, One with Svetlana), thanks to which I would draw inspiration for “Svetlana Ibanchenko”. Svetlana Ibanchenko being a fictional Russian soprano in my book “New York’s Opera Society”. There was something so romantic yet beautiful in these two that their dreams and ambitions took over me as I was creating this small but important character in my first book.
Tragedy would also fill my stay in Leningrad as it was there that I found out that an American airplane (Pan Am) had been the victim of a bomb along with all of the passengers while flying over Scotland. At that moment there was little for me to do but be grateful that it was not I who had been on that flight and continue with the good time I was having; which is precisely what I did.
The last night I would spend in Leningrad as I would be leaving the following evening was one I which will stay with me forever. My group and I went to see the Kirov ballet and what an experience it was. The Kirov was no less grand then the Bolshoi though different. My father had told me when I asked him that the difference was that the Kirov was more artistic while the Bolshoi was more dynamic and this I could see as I witnessed their performance of another Tchaikovsky piece; this time “Swan Lake” and what a show it was. They seemed to float in the air; almost as if they could fly and had an energy about them which let them to do as they wished with their bodies with such grace that it was almost like watching angels.
Regarding my last two nights; these two were spent with Victoria and who knows what would have become of our relationship had it not been for the “Iron Curtain” which made it almost impossible for her to come live with me in America. I naturally tried to send her an invitation but even this was difficult given the closed system her country had at the time and though I did not have problems regarding money when it came to inviting Victoria over to the States still the matter was more complicated then I would have ever considered possible. It is hard for me to say what would have happened perhaps Victoria and I would have gone on to get married and have children but then my life would have been another, though also interesting. I for my part wish Victoria Ibanchenko from Kiev all the best in what ever she decided to do with her life.
Upon my return to New York I naturally dedicated a lot of my time and money to trying to bring Victoria over to America; who in retrospective I can say I had fallen in love with and though my attempts ended in failure, I can in all sincerity say that I did make every effort to have her be with me in America. Once in New York; I also with the inspiration of having been in the Soviet Union still in me, went to see the world famous “Mosayeb” (Russian folk dance company) who just happened to be performing at “Radio City”. This too like the Bolshoi and Kirov was a performance that left me mesmerized as it combined grace and music in a way that also expressed so much though perhaps in a more modern fashion which was no less impressive. As a strange coincidence I will add that on that evening I bumped in to the man who had been our tour guide in the Soviet Union.
Actually so much was my desire to have Victoria come to America and interest in what I had seen in the Soviet Union that I even started taking private lessons in Russian, which would come in very useful many years later in 1992 in Chile. A country I would have never imagined would require me to speak Russian. It was there in Santiago that one day after having taken photographs for one of the newspapers I was in contact with saw a poster advertising an upcoming performance by the Bolshoi. By then I was working as a freelance photographer and was not really planning on seeing the Bolshoi; believing it would be expensive but I was glad to see that they were in town. This being something to practically cheer about as there had been a time in Chile, not long before during the reign of Pinochet in which the Bolshoi and all other things from the Soviet Union were banned.
It was on the same day after seeing the poster that I walked in to a shoe store where stood a couple; a woman whose slim body gave away that she must have been a ballerina with a man who had what I would classify as an athletic though not muscular build. In all frankness neither caught my attention till I heard them speaking Russian and it was at that moment that my mind put two and two together. The Bolshoi were in town, this woman was very slim and spoke Russian so it was at that moment that I decided to introduce myself; which I did so using the Russian I had learnt in Poland as well as my private lessons. I managed to get their names; hers being Nina Semizorowa (whom I would later find out was one of the Bolshoi’s biggest stars and their top attraction on that particular tour) and his being one which I have forgotten though he was Nina’s husband. Naturally, my being a photographer at the time made it that I had my camera which I used to get a snap shot of the two.
I being ignorant about the ballet at the time did not realize that Nina was such a huge star of the Bolshoi and it was not her humble personality that gave her away either as her husband and her were among the most unassuming people I had ever met. This in spite of or maybe because both of them were stars of the Bolshoi; arguably the best ballet company in the world, where only the best are allowed. The Bolshoi being to ballet what the NBA is to basketball or the “Serie A” is to football, basically a collection of the world’s top talent. As a footnote I might add that an English actress named Joyce Frankenberg (later known as Jane Seymour or “Doctor Quinn” on the TV serial with the same name) was once accepted in to the Bolshoi in which she due to injury was only able to give one performance as a prima ballerina.
After having chatted to Nina Semizorowa and her husband I quickly got the photo developed and took it over to the hotel where I knew they were staying and it was there where I got to meet the remaining members of the Bolshoi; who had made the trip to Chile. There was something about them that I must confess made them among the most interesting people not only to watch dance but to talk to and as I spoke to them one of their managers invited me over for the following day to not only watch them practice but to take photographs as well.
It was that following day that I became a ballet fan, maybe it was knowing them and being able to ask them questions along with seeing the dedication they put in to what they did that made me appreciate the ballet all the more. I took many a photograph which would end up in a couple of Chile’s newspapers though in all truth I do not recall which but what mostly stuck out in my mind was the friendships I made with the members of the Bolshoi ballet specially with a very young dancer of twenty years of age by the name of Anna Petrova. It was through one of the member’s of their entourage that she asked if I cared to take her photograph and mail it to her which I naturally agreed to do.
Anna was a shy young girl from Leningrad who spoke English well enough to at least hold a conversation which is what we did and what a delight it was as I not only took photographs (using a whole role of film on her) but getting to know her. She being one who could not have exceeded the 5 foot mark by much and whose weight could not have been that much over 100 pounds but in this body held the strength of one who could perform moves of incredible grace as the ballet requires. As far as our conversations were concerned, at least during our first encounter; they mostly centered around ballet with me asking her many question which ranged from what she felt was the difference between the Bolshoi and the Kirov with her telling me that it was difficult to put in to words however it was then that I wanted to try out my father’s theory which she admitted to there being some truth in. I also asked Anna what she felt about the Mosayeb which she claimed to be good but not as good as it had once been 20 years before. Many things were said between Anna and myself that day in a conversation that I found most fascinating but the one answer she gave me which distinguished itself in my mind the most was when I asked her what she thought of American Ballet. It was my question which yielded her reply and it I will never forget as I quote “American, French and British ballet are very strong and good but we’re the best”. A statement which would be hard to dispute prompted my comeback “as is the “dream team” in basketball”. My comment being made as that was the year in which Jordan, Bird, Magic Johnson, Carl Malone and many others showed their incredible talent during the Barcelona Olympic games as the now legendary “dream team”.
On that day at the auditorium which had been designated to the Bolshoi; I also got to talk to other members of the Bolshoi; one of them being a friend of Anna’s who told me that he had received several offers from American ballet companies of more money but feared making the move given that he had heard perhaps rightly or wrongly that many American ballet companies went bankrupt. He however was considering the offer made to him by the Geoffrey Ballet but was not sure yet.
Other things which this young ballet dancer told me included that he really did not have to watch his diet so much as some of the female dancers and that he felt that there were some dancers in the Bolshoi who had made it not so much because of their dancing abilities but their connections in the party. I of course could not say anything regarding this comment; me not knowing anything with regards but I was surprised at his comment, not so much at what he had stated but that he had at all as I could imagine there was a time, not that long before where one could have been in deep trouble for saying less.
The day had been grand but the night would not be less as I was going to be seeing the Bolshoi ballet in action performing scenes from many ballets that included “Swan Lake”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky along with others such as “Giselle” by Adams. I particularly remember this last one given that it was the one that featured my new friend (whom unfortunately I have lost contact with) Anna Petrova in the lead role and what a performance she gave. In saying this however I must confess not to be a connoisseur of the ballet as I am other things such as football or singing or acting; which makes it difficult for me to give an impartial view of her performance that evening but to my eyes she was wonderful in the role she played. She danced like a bubble from a bath, bouncing not even on the stage but in the air as she delighted all those present, one of them being the president of Chile at the time; Patricio Aylwin.
To me not only Anna but all the members of the Bolshoi danced not as if they were dancing to the music which was playing for them but as if their dancing was creating the music, such was the coordination between music and the moves that it seemed that they were one in the same. As if they were an image that was being created by the music and how grand it was that night as I got to see something that will last with me till the end of my days and all not only due to the spectacle I witnessed but the bond of friendship that had been created.
The following day I went to the Holiday Inn to see off the members of the Bolshoi and specially my friend Anna Petrova; whom I had agreed to meet at a certain hour only to find out that she and the rest of the members of the Bolshoi, were not back from an extended interview they were giving to the Chilean press which lasted over two hours. I however did not mind waiting as it was while I was doing so that I met a man from Chile who had been one of the people responsible for bringing the Bolshoi to Chile. We as one can expect talked about the Bolshoi (in Spanish) and how they had been allowed to come to Chile now that Pinochet was no longer president. Freedom of speech however had not come completely as the government, influenced by the Catholic church had banned the British heavy metal group “Iron Maiden” from playing in Santiago on their 1992 tour of South America.
Once my friend Anna returned to the hotel our time was limited to say good bye given her late arrival (which she apologized for) and the fact that she and the rest of the Bolshoi had little time to get to their flight on time. Anna and I went for a walk around the hotel which must have lasted about 15 minutes in which we did not talk about the ballet but our lives and taste in music; her claiming to like Elvis Presley apart from Tchaikovsky and me claiming to be found of Iron Maiden apart from opera and classical music. Unfortunately time was not on our side as I would have liked to take her to a nice place for lunch given, not so much due to my physical attraction toward her but my desire to enjoy her company, however this was not to be as we had to limit ourselves to exchanging addresses, so I could send her the photos I had taken of her. I for my part bought her a flower from a street vendor as a token of the short but friendly time we spent together. I would go on to send her the photographs though in all honesty I am not sure she ever received them as I got no reply from her but this does not matter so much as I was truly enchanted by not only my encounter with the Bolshoi but with Anna Petrova.
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