Saturday June 16, 2012 – Marjorie, please. I enjoy all the meats of our cultural stew.

Do do, do do do do do do, doo doo…

We experience mass and high culture today, thanks to M.’s suggestion of seeing a ballet and Roman’s promise to take us to a beauty pageant organized by one of his friends, which he assured us was “non-promiscuous”. Not something I’d go to in Canada, but I’m not in Canada, and it would be weird to turn down an invite to a local cultural event. It turned out to be a talent show for women – much like a pageant, I guess, except it was based on a short performance the women gave, not their clothes or body shape. Roman was right – most were dressed in regular clothes like pants, jeans or skirts, far less dramatically than the women with 6-inch heels (with leather tassels!) by the river in the city centre.

The show took place in a Soviet-era auditorium, about half-full, exclusively with friends and family of the contestants, who chanted and counter-chanted their favourites’ names. The contestants had two minutes to perform, singing:

Strutting:

Rapping:

Clog-dancing:

Receiving rapturous applause:

Afterwards the audience got to vote, and everyone got as many ballots as possible and circled their contestant’s picture – Roman said we’d gotten our first taste of Russian corruption. I found his reaction interesting: he shook his head and smiled at many of them, and during the rap leaned over and told us, “This is really, really bad.” Afterwards he said that it was done like the old USSR used to do things, where every contestant pretended to be the best. This was fine for small-scale things, but not for world-class events. I took him to mean that it wasn’t professional enough – the voting was rigged, the contestants weren’t trying hard enough. I thought it was fun (except for the obvious – that no men participated), but certainly not marketized in the way a Western contest could be i.e. no major corporate sponsors, bikini walks, etc.

Next was the ballet, Amore Buffo, the Elixir of Love. I formalized my look by adding a red polka-dot tie.

It was thinly-plotted: there’s a love triangle, an entrepreneur sells fake love potions to everyone, the artist guy wins the girl’s heart over the military guy. But you don’t go to the ballet for plot details, nor even bears driving little cars; rather, the cast of dozens leaped and pointed in ridiculously muscular ways. One character, an accountant, looked like she’d stepped in off the street, dressed very Russian in a smart skirt and blazer combo and the ubiquitous shiny black stilettos. (And she managed to spin a few times in them, which was particularly impressive.) I particularly liked the stretchy military uniforms – who knew you could have shiny jackboots flexible enough to dance in?

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