Aug 29::Day 1
Oh, the madness of last minute packing and preparing. I had errands to run, costumes to be ironed and packed, hoards of makeup to be organized (it was a performing trip, after all). It was generally chaos. I barely ate, and felt crazed and icky all day. Such is life. We left the house at 2:30 to go to my doctor to get my Hep A shot (yes, I know, I left it to the very last possible minute) and then on to the mall for a quick wax (at this point, I was under the impression that the weather in Moscow was going to be unseasonably warm per the forecast, and that I’d be wearing t-shirts and tanks all week. Ha). I realized immediately after leaving the house that I had forgotten to give the dog a big hug and just about fell apart. My two appointments went shockingly quickly, though, and we were able to swing back by the house before heading to the studio to meet up with my ride. Wembley got lots of hugs, and I was able to write out the pattern for the Jaywalker scarf which was to be my on-flight knitting for the trip, the pattern for which I had inexplicably lost. Off to the studio, then, pattern in hand, and we all climbed in our respective cars for the drive to Trudeau airport in Montreal. I rode with my good friends Heather and Chris; Heather’s mum was kind enough to drive us all there. Heather’s dog, Sprite, joined us for the ride, as it was to be the last time Heather would see her puppy until February, as she is volunteering outside Mexico City for five months, and left from Montreal 6 hours after we returned from Russia.
Heather enjoying a last snuggle with Sprite before our trip, to be followed by 5 months of volunteering in Mexico on her part, and Chris trying to look super-enthused. Did he succeed?
Everyone arrived at the airport without incident, we partook of some St. Hubert’s chicken for dinner, and then headed through security about an hour in advance of our 10:45 pm departure. My ball of yarn was in my carry-on, and two of my Crystal Bay bamboo dpns were stashed in my pinned-up hair. No problems.
We flew Air France, and may I just say that they have entirely secured my business. Checking in our luggage was a quick and painless procedure, both to and from Russia, the service on board was spectacular, the plane was quite comfortable, despite flying as cheaply as possible, and the meals were remarkably good. Air France, you will take me on my next international trip.
Despite the fact that we all went through check-in as a group, and that we were, I believe, the first people to do so, we were not able to get all our seats en masse. I was seated with two of the dancers from my studio, Liz and Kristy. Soon after take-off we had some pasta, I had some wine, and then settled in for some rest. When I couldn’t sleep I listened to Feist, my new obsession, and tried to work on the scarf. In the dark. Very little progress was made on that flight, and eventually I gave up, and played solitaire on the seat-back screens with which each seat was equipped. I won.
We landed at Charles de Gaulle about 6.5 hours later. It felt like early morning, while it was in fact almost noon. The staff at the airport did a great job of retrieving us from our flight and getting us to the next terminal for our connection. Unfortunately, they had absolutely no appreciation for the fact that we were travelling as a group, the majority of which was minors, and I had to have some very irate and forceful words with the woman who kept mocking me and saying “It all goes to the same plane”. Screw you, I thought; I will personally piss off every person between here and Moscow if that’s what it takes to keep this group in one place and all together. We made our connection with a great deal of time to spare, to catch our airbus flight from Paris to Moscow.
I do not like airbuses. They are too small and cramped, and ours had a very unhappy baby on it. We were delayed by nearly an hour due to some passenger checking in his luggage and then failing to board the plane. His luggage had to be found and retrieved from the hold. I imagine it may very well have been destroyed for fear of explosives. I sat next to Darryl MacLeod, one of our two musicians, who is a riot, and made some good progress on the scarf. Feist was also a major theme.
We landed in Moscow about an hour later than we were scheduled to. It was late at night, perhaps about 10:30 pm Moscow-time, though it felt like dinner hour. In passing through customs, however, we had a small problem with Darryl’s fiddle. Not sure what the trouble was – he was never able to get a well-translated answer, and we were all forced to wait in the lobby of the arrivals terminal for the better part of another hour. We were met by one of the organizers of the festival, who informed us that we would be sharing a tour bus with one of the other countries for the duration of our stay. The Indian dancers had arrived earlier, and had been waiting for us on the bus for the entire time. We felt badly, but there was nothing to be done.
Eventually, Darryl and his fiddle were returned to us, complete with long, hand-written letter in Russian with some regard to his fiddle, and were able to move on to the bus. This was our first exposure to Moscovite roads, traffic, and general driving practices. The first word to come to mind? Scary. 6 lanes of seething traffic, darting in and out of lanes, failing to signal, and using the shoulders of the road as additional lanes. We sat in traffic for hours. I knit. I listened to my mp3’s. We all napped. We barely moved. It became evident that there was some sort of accident ahead causing all the difficulty, as emergency vehicles occasionally passed us on the left shoulder, with opportunistic drivers following behind in an attempt to gain some head-way. It was ridiculous. We came upon the accident, and within metres the traffic cleared. We were held up on a Moscovite highway for three hours due to rubberneckers.
After 1 am, Moscow-time, we arrived at the place we would be staying during the festival. We had been told it would be a hostel, but it was much more like a compound of some sort, with four dormitory buildings, many additional buildings for staff quarters, a main building with dining hall, auditorium and bar, a high concrete surrounding wall, and a 12-foot locked gate complete with military guard. Welcome to Russia.
Despite the late hour, we were given dinner in the dining hall. Hot tea, roasted chicken and potatoes, and yogurt. It was very welcome and quite good. It was also hot, which was nice as it was about 9C in Moscow!! The forecast I had read had NOT indicated that it was to be that cold in Moscow, and we were not entirely prepared. Of course, we’re all Canadian, and Ontarians at that, so we’re all quite accustomed to the cold. The dancers from India, however, seemed to be suffering, and all sported toques and parkas. One of our dancers had become quite ill on the bus, and did not recover for the better part of a day. Several members of the Indian company were very kind, and found bags for her to use for her upset stomach for the long, long, bus ride. One man did ask, however, if it was motion sickness or “a baby”. Oddly enough, when we arrived at the compound, the health staff asked the same question, and seemed quite convinced that she was pregnant. No, Amelia is not pregnant, and yes, she did recover fully.
We found our rooms, we set our alarms after changing out clocks and watches to what we believed to be the accurate time and went to bed. It was about 2 am, and we needed to be at breakfast for 8, fully dressed and ready for the day.
We lost a day in travel. I think we left it somewhere over the Atlantic. We set our alarm for about 6:45. What we had failed to hear was an accurate time upon our arrival and we had overestimated the difference. So we woke around 6 am, not 7 as intended. We had sufficient time to have our showers, get ourselves ready, and take a good nap before heading to the dining hall for breakfast. Our meal was baked eggs with cheese, bread, cheese, yogurt (sensing the dairy theme, already, are you?) and this instant coffee, complete with sweetener and whitener, which was remarkably good.
After breakfast we had a three hour rehearsal in the lobby of our dorm. The floor was hard, we were all buzzing from excitement, and had a great time. We were housed in a building with the delegations from Austria, Germany, Italy, Greece and India. The Austrians and Germans were particularly interested in watching our rehearsal, applauding at the end of our dances. It was fantastic.
Lunch time. Chicken, mashed potatoes, tea, and more yogurt. Afterward, we had been told to arrive in the auditorium in our costumes where we would “sit and watch the other dancers rehearse”. What was lost in translation was that we would rehearse as well, first. We were exhausted, we had just eaten, we had danced hard all morning, and we all passed out in the seats of the auditorium. With moments to spare, we were awoken by being told we needed our dance shoes NOW. We proceeded to engage in one of the worst rehearsals of my entire performing career. It was awful. We were off our game, our musicians were flubbing, and the head of the festival, one of the premier members of the industry in Russia, was NOT happy. He yelled at us, at length, in Russian, while our translator failed to keep up with him, and failed to understand him herself, which just caused greater problems for us, as we had no idea what he was looking for. There was to be an introductory bow at the commencement of each of the shows of the festival, and this required nearly an hour of painful rehearsal because we simply did not understand.
After we were finally released from the stage, our dance teacher, Heather Forbes, met with the festival organizers to receive details on our performances during our stay. When she returned to us, she looked bereft. She informed us that we were scheduled to dance twice: once the following day, Saturday, and once the day after, Sunday. That was all. We had travelled all that way, spent countless hours in preparation, and large sums of money to come to Russia to be locked up in a compound (granted, for our own safety, but still very much NOT exposed to Russian culture at all) and dance two shows. She apologized to us all, I felt terribly for her, and there was nothing any of us could do but go on with things. We continued to watch the rehearsals of the other countries – which was not only enjoyable but also reassuring as they all had as much trouble with learning the bow as we had – and Heather was pulled aside by the organizers again and given fuller details on the festival. She was told that, while we were only dancing twice, our shows would be on two of the largest stages in Moscow, and for enormous crowds. While small in number, our shows would be unbelievably large in capacity and importance. We all felt better upon hearing this. After a nap in the late afternoon, dinner (which I believe was more chicken, mashed potatoes, yogurt and tea) and showers all around, we felt better and more ready to face the rest of the festival.
That evening was the opening ceremonies of the festival. We all marched, in costume, into the auditorium, and were treated to performances by the numerous Russian dance companies who were also involved in the festival. Many of the dancers and companies represented the small-in-number, tribal, indigenous peoples of Russia from parts of the country furthest east and north, past the Ural mountains. The dancing and costumes so closely resembled Native Canadian and Inuit traditions that we have witnessed at Canadian dance festivals, we actually felt quite at home watching it. The Bolshevik-era dancing, however, was the real treat. Impressive, balletic, bright, and expressive, it was energetic enough to make us forget our exhaustion and jet-lag.
During our hours during the day and evening in the auditorium with the other countries, we began to meet other dancers and establish friendships with them. The Italian dancers were the first to initially befriend us, which, culturally, didn’t surprise me a bit. We were the youngest (on average) and decidedly most female dancers at the festival, and many of the male dancers from other countries were quite intrigued by us, telling our girls how beautiful Canadian dancers were and taking pictures of us.