From Russia with Love
In any bustling metropolitan business
centre of 15 million in today's world, there should be nothing unusual
about a night out at the theatre or ballet. But in post-Zia Pakistan,
even our largest, most cosmopolitan city Karachi remains starved of any
regular classical entertainment.
The host for the evening, Sohail Hashmi, who has become a well-known FM radio voice, did a good job of covering up his own irritation of having to walk back and forth to make his announcements. Only after the intermission was the sound and light system fixed so that he could stand up at the corner where he was seated and make his announcements.
The welcome addresses were thankfully brief. The Russian Consul General
in Karachi, Vladimir P.Mikhaylov, made a particularly thought-provoking
speech, observing that "Russia's might lies not in her nuclear arsenal
but in her rich culture… We shine with our achievements in culture,
In terms of culture, ballet, now an integral part of Russian culture
originally came from the West centuries ago and was assimilated in the
fertile ground it found there, explained Mr Mikhaylov. This reminder of
the ever-evolving nature of culture counters the possessiveness of some
His closing words, "let guns be silent, let the music be loud" were a poignant reminder of the threat to even music in Pakistan from these vigilantes. Thankfully, they were not in evidence at the occasion. The tight security outside, including guests having to leave their cars at a parking lot and take a van to the venue a kilometre away, took care of that, or the dancers with their elegantly low-cut, figure-hugging outfits may have had trouble pirouetting about. It is noteworthy that Russia's enmity with Nazi Germany did not lead to a ban on the music of German composers like Mozart. His Serenade of Don Juan was magnificently rendered by the opera singer V. Osipov, who acknowledged applause with a curtsey and graceful gesture of touching fingertips to throat. This is the second time that this troupe, managed by the Russian businessman Gleb Fomin of Mercury, has performed for Zindagi Trust fundraisers in Pakistan. The smallness of the stage and the Pakistani audience's unfamiliarity with this form of dance led to them choosing to present brief scenes from several classic stories rather than one cohesive story -- Giselle, Esmerelda, Don Quixote and The Nutcracker (rendered with an interesting "Indian" touch), besides the ome more innovative and modern Last Tango in Paris.
One last irritant that must be mentioned is the Pakistani audience's typical stinginess of applause. The performers after each scene made elaborate bows and curtsies before fluttering off… but the applause tended to die down while they were still on stage, sending them off in an awkward silence. One reason for this may have been how the audience was seated, spaced out around large round tables, rather than packed closely together in chairs focused on the stage, a setting that may have generated louder and more sustained applause. Besides the beauty of the performance, a plus point for the organisers must have been the substantial pledges for donations that Mr Hashmi managed to elicit for the cause of education of underprivileged children. For this, and for the performances, a big hurrah.
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