I've been to Russia twice—once to Saint Petersburg and once to Moscow—and I had air tickets for a third visit (and a valid tourist visa) in-hand when Ukraine was invaded by Russia in 2022. My plans were dashed, naturally. My husband, Robert Perdziola, a scenic and costume designer, was in the final stretch of opening a ballet, The Pharaoh's Daughter, at the Mariinsky (in Saint Petersburg) at the time of the invasion. Everything had been designed (two years before), constructed (months before) and the opening night was 3 months away. All that was left for him to do was to oversee the load-in, technical rehearsals, and final costume fittings. Last minute adjustments are always a part of any production's lead-up to opening.
When the invasion began, the American creative team (including the choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky, a Russian-born American) left the country. Even the U.S. State Department advised Americans not to travel to Russia. Alexei had grown-up in Kyiv and his parents (and in-laws) were living there. Alexei's first professional job, after ballet school at the Bolshoi, was dancing in Kyiv.
The Mariinsky postponed the ballet's premiere. At this early stage, no one knew how the war would develop or how long it would last. But, finally, after ten months of postponement, the company opened the ballet, without the American creative team. It was a great disappointment to not witness (in-person) this premiere, which was one of the most important projects of Bob's career (and one of the most ambitious in scale). He had labored (14 hour days) over his drafting table for two years and spent long hours flying back-and-forth from the Russian scenic and costume shops. But his troubles (and my disappointment) paled in comparison to the human suffering caused by the war. It was impossible to feel sorry for oneself under these horrifying circumstances—which also were so far out of our control.
Nevertheless, I still love Russia: its history, its art and its culture. The art and architecture in Moscow and Saint Petersburg are incredible. Russia's contribution to the world's culture is immeasurable. Just a few names: Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff. Nijinsky, Nureyev, Diaghilev. Chagall, Kandinsky, Goncharova. Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekov.
I pray for the day when I can return to Russia—and a free and independent Ukraine—and soak-in the brilliance of Russia's artistry and culture. Russia has so much to offer the world. And the world wants to partake of Russia's enormous contributions.
The hand-painted ceramic bear, shown above, was made in Russia (well before the war). He is an ornament, meant to hang on the tree. He can also stand on a desk, bookshelf or window ledge. Click on the photo above to learn more about him.
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