Archive for February, 2013

Bucolics (Aleksandr Egorov)

February 28, 2013

Many things go better in the cool night,
or when, at first light, Dawn wets the earth with dew.
Virgil, Georgics

The farmer’s wife wraps unleavened dough in a sheepskin coat,
Tall pines creak on snow-covered slopes,
An unseen spring freezes in crystal halls,
And little children in huts are like peas,
In the embraces of Morpheus on their sleeping-benches..

The winter crops sleep, obedient to the laws of nature,
Pairs of mice live under the stubble, reproducing
In the sheep-fold, a lamb tries to get to its knees,
An experienced young pig is dreaming of a sweet girlfriend,

A hungry she-wolf dreamt of an obedient victim,
A brown she-bear dreamt of a clearing of wild strawberries,
A portly doe rabbit dreamt of a head of snow-white cabbage,
A honey-bearing bee dreamt of the flowering grasses of July.

A mare in foal dreamt of meeting a fine-looking stallion in spring,
The pleasant burden of his stupendous flesh,
A calf dreamt of the tight and sweet udder of a cow
And she dreamt of an unending field of green lucerne.

Which the peasants hack down with a sharp scythe,
After they have got up with enviable willingness before dawn.
They have managed to complete the main work during the dew,
Cutting about ten capital swathes in the meadow.

Hardly is the sun at its zenith, they sit in the shade to eat,
Getting the bread from home out of baskets and cloths,
About ten hen’s eggs and some spring onion,
Seasoning all this either with cold kvas or with salt,
And afterwards–whistles for the freckled boys to whittle,
Shirts to dry of sweat, have a smoke, jest,
Remembering games of lapta, the swings of distant childhood,
That would fly up in the sky as far as the sun in Spring,
The colourful shawls and elegant jackets of beautiful girls,
The heart’s chill from a sudden touch…
They float away on invisible waves into pleasant dreams,
Leaving the crows, magpies and scuttling field voles
Only pitiful crumbs from the generous earthly feast.

(Original on p137 here.)

Oh, Democracy! Theatro Technis 27 February

February 27, 2013


This was a musical adaptation of The Knights by Aristophanes, of which the original would have been pretty musical anyway.  There is a useful plot summary on Wikipedia–in brief, the People (Demos, an elderly householder) have been taken in by the Paphlagonian Slave (Athenian politician Cleon) and an even more shameless scoundrel–in the form of the Sausage Seller–is needed to save the day.

When I arrived, director George Eugeniou was telling someone that the previous evening’s first night had been something like a dress rehearsal; this was like being present at a workshop and only just managing to avoid taking part on occasions.  The audience were equal in number to the cast, and contained a certain number of claqueurs or at least people who hoped to appear in the show on a future occasion.

The idea of the production was that Europa was dominated by Paphlagoune, who had managed to hoodwink Demos (the people).  The advantage of this was that George Eugeniou could use actors who were not native English speakers without the usual incongruity, while the disadvantage was the lack of hatred and obscene innuendo directed at recognisable targets.   Indeed we Brits have the great advantage over our fellow Europeans that our leaders continue to engage in foreign wars out of cowardice and venality, a good Aristophanic theme that could not be used here.

I suppose it was all rather too genteel:  Marco Aponte was hardly shameless (more of your Italian diamond geezer) as the Sausage-Seller, while Jackie Skarvellis was a muted Cruella De Ville as Paphlagoune.  At least the fart jokes survived, and also provided the best of the song-and-dance numbers–in fact, I enjoyed those, even though the words could not always be distinguished.  And some of the bathetic contrast between fine words and the homely comforts  sufficient to win the heart of Demos worked as well.

Ellen Patterson impressed in the chorus–she could sing and dance, as well as looking pretty.

So why did I enjoy this?  I suppose it was the that workshop thing, the feeling We’re all in this together as someone once tried to claim.

See here for what I know of other Greek plays in London.

Later:  It took me 3 days to work out the Brexit joke (like Grexit–Greece leaving the Euro) and another two to decide it was daft since we’re not in the Euro.

Forest (Andrei Nitchenko)

February 27, 2013


Under a bridge diesel locomotives breathe long-windedly, steam rises.
No more snow falls, the icy iron is shining.
Signals transfer their fire.

And time stands like a forest–without leaves, without noise.

I have lived here about a hundred years–
in a new town, where you are not, by the river,
where the flour-mill clatters,
and the flakes of snow fly straight down.

And time stands like a forest–without leaves, without noise.

Here there are few people,
There are few of them in all.
Here I saw you,
a slow step from yesterday caught me up.

I have lived here about a hundred years,
I encounter the ones we abandoned,
those who we ourselves used to be.

Let them forgive us, that we are not them.
They have nobody, apart from us.


A bluetit throws its body quickly along the wind and blocks out the light.
Things hurry, flare up, disappear, we ourselves move.
But time stands like a forest–without leaves, without noise.

Time does not believe in the straightforward word,
That is like a barefoot step on the grass
Where even now a golden measure breathes
Listening to the footsteps.
You may know the future
By simply going out of the door.
You may pay for words you have lived through with an unlived life.
You used to gather leaves–
here are two more.

Look after the leaves–life is falling–put them in letters.
Life is falling faster and faster. Half of it is at your feet,
and there’s no time for the other half.

Time stands like a forest–without leaves, without noise.

Soon it will be the edge of the forest–let’s come out from under the branches.–
Towards the snowy light with eyes screwed up.




Под мостом тепловозы растянуто дышат, поднимается пар.
Снег не падает больше, ледяное железо блестит.
Светофор перебрасывает огонь.

И время стоит как лес — без листьев, без шума.

Я живу здесь лет сто —
в новом городе, где тебя нет, у реки,
где гудит мукомольный завод,
и отвесно хлопья летят.

И время стоит как лес — без листьев, без шума.

Здесь немного людей.
Их немного вообще.
Здесь я видел тебя,
догонял шаг небыстрый, вчерашний.

Я живу здесь лет сто,
я встречаю брошенных нами,
тех, кем были мы сами.

Пусть простят нам, что мы не они.
У них никого, кроме нас.


Быстро синица тело вдоль ветра бросает, и убывает свет.
Вещи несутся, вспыхивают, исчезают, двигаемся мы сами.
Но время стоит как лес — без листьев, без шума.

Время не верит прямому слову,
Это как шаг босиком по траве,
Где до сих пор золотая мера
Дышит, прислушиваясь к шагам.
Можно узнать будущее,
просто выйдя за дверь.
Можно платить непрожитой жизнью за прожитые слова.
Ты собирала
листья — вот еще два.

Листья храни — жизнь облетает — вкладывай в письма.
Жизнь облетает быстрей и быстрей. У ног половина,
а на вторую времени нет.

Время стоит как лес — без листьев, без шума.

Скоро опушка — выйдем из-под ветвей. —
К снежному свету с зажмуренными глазами.

‘In our school, the music teacher was murdered…’ (F. K.)

February 24, 2013

In our school, the music teacher was murdered, and now during the nights she plays the piano,
You sit downstairs in the hallway, and her wretched ‘Fur Elise’ reaches you from the stairwell.
The school is like a packet of cigarettes, lost among the boxes of its catchment area,
In it there are two lighted windows–one is the caretaker, the other is on the third floor, in a locked classroom.

There is one overcoat left in the empty cloakroom, but it’s not mine,
With some stupid little dog on the front, and I never wore a dog,
So it’s me sitting in the hallway, I listen to her singing
I’m waiting until one of the grown-ups comes for their little boy.

Chord after chord, the despondent school sounds in the locked music room,
You still don’t know who’s the bigger victim here, Beethoven or the teacher, killed by an unknown madman,
As he locks the doors after us, the caretaker doesn’t look lonely,
There’ll soon be an interesting programme on, ‘Isaura the Slave Girl’.

And here we are walking, and here, then, I even notice for the first time these little parachutes on the wires,
As if some gnome paratroops landed and left them, cut the thin threads and jumped into the snow,
Daddy, there’s little parachutes there, what are those parachutes, I ask in a whisper,
But my father can’t understand me, grown-ups don’t see them.

В школе убили учительницу пения, и теперь по ночам она играет на пианино.
Сидишь внизу в вестибюле, а из лестничного колодца доносится её жуткое “К Элизе”.
Школа похожа на пачку сигарет, потерянную среди коробок микрорайона,
В ней светятся два окна — одно у вахтёра, а другое на четвёртом этаже, в запертом классе.

В гардеробе пустом осталось одно пальто, но не моё,
С какой-то дурацкой собачкой на груди, а я никогда не носил собачку,
Так что это я сижу в вестибюле, слушаю, как она поёт,
Жду, когда кто-нибудь из взрослых придёт за своим сыночком.

Аккорд за аккордом, унылые школьные звуки в запертом кабинете музыки,
Ещё неизвестно, кто тут большая жертва, Бетховен или учительница, убитая неизвестным изувером,
Запирая за нами двери, вахтёр не выглядит одиноким,
Ведь скоро начнётся новое интересное кино “Рабыня Изаура”.

И вот мы идём, и вот тогда-то я и замечаю впервые на проводах эти парашютики,
Словно десант гномов их там оставил, и в снег попрыгал, порезав тонкие нити,
Папа, там парашютики, что это за парашютики, спрашиваю я шёпотом,
Но отец не может меня понять, взрослые их не видят.

‘Ekaterina asked Voltaire…’ (Boris Khersonsky)

February 23, 2013

Ekaterina asked Voltaire,
‘What do you believe in, good sir?

I believe God was created by nature,
and nature was created by culture,
and there are no flies on nature.
God’s not so odd, not so bad for an idea.
The idea holds in her hands a figure to cause fear
–a philosopher or an Empress–like a chess player.

Don’t be cross, Kate, this way helps you conceive
it’s an example to make clear what I believe.

Yes no flies on nature, she’s no fool at that,
especially when the clouds are burning at sunset,
this is clear to Kate and to the paysanne in a wretched hut
and the sentry beside a striped booth
with a forget-me-not stuck in his rifle as a joke
and to the Divine child, and the ox, and the ass.

Terra incognita, life’s full measure
This is the faith of monsieur Voltaire.

Yes, though here it’s not your Paris, but a cloud over a stream,
an old woman on a stove, a cricket behind the stove,
a plate with buckwheat kasha, an icon over a candle there,
none of your French cheese or any other plaisir.
Summer by the calendar, but we have mosquitoes and damp evenings here.
The Empress, we know, is a wolf–so why sheep’s clothing for her?


Екатерина спросила Вольтера:
Вольтер, в чем твоя вера?

В том, что Бога сотворила культура,
а культуру сотворила натура,
у натуры губа не дура.
Бог – не лох, Он неплох как идея.
У идеи в руке фигура Пугача-лиходея,
фигура философа или царицы – как шахматная фигура.

Не обижайся, Катя, это я так, для примера,
так понятнее, в чем моя вера.

Да, натура не дура, не земля на лопате,
особо когда облака горят на закате,
сие открыто и Кате, и пейзанке в убогой хате,
и часовому у полосатой будки
незабдуку в ружейный ствол вструмившему ради шутки,
и Божественному дитяти, и волу, и осляти.

Жизни полная мера, инкогнита терра
это и есть вера господина Вольтера.

Да, но тут тебе не Париж, а тучка над речкой,
старушка на печке, сверчок за печкой,
тарелка с гречкой, иконка над свечкой,
ни тебе французского сыра, ни иного плезира.
Календарное лето, а – комары, и вечерами сыро.
Царица, известно, волчица, что прикидываться овечкой?

Tatyana, Barbican Theatre 2 February

February 5, 2013



Green Olgas and pink Tatyanas

The staff were very keen to hand out plot synopses for this show from the Deborah Colker Dance Company, but in the event it was all very simple.  There were four Tatyanas (pink), Olgas (green), Lenskys (yellow) and Onegins (blue) in the first half, together with a Pushkin (black) and Deborah Colker herself as another Pushkin.

I thought it worked very well, and managed in some ways to bring out more of Pushkin than either Tchaikovsky or John Cranko managed.  The Letter Scene, to Henryk Gorecki’s Three Pieces in the Olden Style was extremely intense as the Tatyanas wrapped themselves round the arboreal set and also wrote on their own bodies.  At least one of them captured a convincing Tatyana both gawky and shaken by the discovery of sex.

In fact, it occurred to me that this was the first ballet I’d ever seen that showed a convincing depiction of female sexuality–rather than working on the principle that ballerinas look like beautiful boys, so…–and even of a woman’s life in general (in the second half, when Tatyana grows up and Onegin degenerates).

Oh yes–in Pushkin, the narrator is the main character so I thought portraying Pushkin on the stage here was entirely appropriate, though all I can say for Deborah Colker’s performance is that it was pretty good for someone who is not quite so young as me.

At the beginning, I thought that these dancers would have been hidden at the back of the corps de ballet in this country or Russia, but then I realised they were after doing something else.  But I have some sympathy with those who have complained that the Olgas were characterised no differently from the Tatyanas.

Anyway, on the evening I went the performance was very warmly welcomed by a predominantly young, fashionably-dressed and female audience.

An Evening with Boris Akunin (in Russian), MacDougall’s Arts Ltd, 3 February

February 5, 2013


The event consisted of Boris Akunin responding to questions from the floor, and he did so in a very  pertinent and interesting manner.

He said that he was working on a new literary project that he was not going to say anything about.  He intended to write two more Erast Fandorin novels to take the number up to 16.  He did not read novels himself, because of the contaminating effect on his own work.  He had written one children’s book when he wanted a change–he hated books for children.

There was much discussion of Russian history and politics.  BA felt that the assassination of Alexander II was the point at which catastrophe became unavoidable.  (He almost seemed to say that World War I was caused by occult influences, or perhaps historical inevitability, when nobody actually wanted it.)

As for the present, he thought that the Putin regime was authoritarian and also very weak.  He could see four possible scenarios:

i)  the regime would eliminate all opposition and Putin would become dictator;

ii)  something–a shooting at a demonstration–would lead to a mass peaceful uprising in Moscow:  a bloodless revolution.  This was bad because it could easily lead the country into chaos;

iii)  more serious suppression of a demonstration would lead to an armed uprising, probably leading back to scenario (i) by way of bloody repression;

iv)  perestroika Mk II–from below.  This was the most favourable scenario, but not as likely as he had thought earlier.

BA felt the hopeful thing was that Russia had for the first time become a country in which most people were not poor.About a quarter of the population were Net people who got their news from the Internet rather than TV.  It was a good thing that the opposition was amorphous and could not simply be decapitated.

Asked what influence Japan had exerted on him, he mentioned the importance of how as against what.  The Fandorin project had started as an attempt to show how popular literature could be done professionally.  There was a difference between literatura and belletristika;  the latter involved being polite to the reader and following well-established paths.  His new book Aristonomiya was his first attempt at literatura, and it was structured around six family photographs.

Everyone should watch the TV series of Zhizn’ i sud’ba.

The question ‘If not Putin, then who?’ was stupid.

And people went home feeling very satisfied.

A Russian Fairytale (with Q&A), Riverside Studios 31 January

February 1, 2013



Denis, Irina, Ksusha

The film followed the lives of a group of homeless young people in the city of Perm, beginning in Winter and ending in Summer, though it was difficult to see exactly what period it was since footage from different visits had been edited together.  They sniffed glue, they injected drugs, the girls turned tricks at 500R a time, Denis begged in the market…They also laughed and joked and hung out, while Kolya got to visit his family’s dacha, have lunch in the sunshine and swim in a lake.,

My own feeling was that if it had been done more competently it would have been unbearably moving, and even as it was there were many opportunities for tears.  My heart went out to the young women Irina and Ksusha because you could see what they would have been like–should have been like–in different circumstances.  Scenes like Irina going to see her mother in the hostel where she lived with her present ‘boyfriend’ and the mother shouting at her to go away, or Ksusha’s pregnancy test where she clearly had not the slightest resource if it proved positive–apart from a determination not to have an abortion–will be very difficult to forget.

There was a certain amount of the film telling you what to what to think, both in the titles at the beginning giving some over-simplified background information and in the music.  Also it was another of those situations where I knew a great deal more about the subject-matter (drug use and its effects; children in need; Russia) than the film-makers did, which as ever led to discomfort.  The shocking revelation at the end merely caused me a momentary spasm of fucking drug users.

The film was enthusiastically received by a large and predominantly young audience.  Nicolas Doldinger (co-director) said that they had wanted to make a film that dealt with an ugly situation in a beautiful and engaging way.  In answer to a question about whether the young people had been paid, Jake Mobbs (the other co-director) said that they had brought them bread and mayonnaise and lent them a mobile for emergency calls.  They didn’t actually know what their interviews were about until they took the film home and scraped together some money for translation.  The fact that the only rehab available was run by Evangelicals gave rise to a facile comment about this being merely a different form of addiction.   Jake Mobbs said there were plans to show the film in Perm, though there might be difficulties with the authorities.

So I’m left feeling a helpless horror that there should be such lives, and also that the film should have been better to do them justice.

The charity Love’s Bridge works with street youth and at-risk children in Perm.