Kunstkammer, Peterhof, Ballet

Trip Start Jul 10, 2008
Trip End Jul 15, 2008

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Flag of Russia  , Sankt-Peterburg,
Saturday, July 12, 2008

Today took another little “Russian twist”. We were unable to obtain our tickets for the ballet tonight until 11:00. There was a bitchy young blond woman who wasn’t ready to sell us tickets at 10AM when the kiosk opened. We had to have some coffee and wait until she was prepared. The office was located between the Underground and our hotel. Luckily, we got some tickets, and it wasn’t until later that we discovered how lucky we were, at least by my standards. The seats were in the front row and off to the extreme right. I would not trade any seats, other than the front row for what we got. We could see the dancers up close, hear them pounding the floor when they landed and be part of the experience first hand. I had never had such a good orientation for a live performance.

Our plan was to hit the Anthropology Museum know as the Kunstkammer, especially the strange deformed human section, which Peter the Great had personally found fascinating and had collected. He probably had scientific interests in mind when compiling such a bizarre, in-the-jar array of specimens.

Again, we had to wait on line as this is the high season for tourists, mostly Russian, travel. Too bad, we had to observe the interesting, Eskimo, American Indian selections and not be able to read the texts. Some of these displays reminded us of the Vancouver/Seattle trip. In fact, while in Victoria, we purchased a large format book, Spirits of the Water, Native Art Collected on Expeditions to Alaska and British Columbia, 1774-1910. When we arrived home from our trip, we noticed that this worldwide collection was an exhibit that took place in Barcelona in 2000 and included some items that we saw at the Kunstkammer.

After lunch, we . . . . .waited on line, hopefully the right one, to get round-trip tickets to the glamorous palace of Peter the Great and to be told we had to get one-way. Later we would pay again for the other half. We finally headed by boat fout on the Gulf of Finland about 20 miles away.

Our planning, the eternal planning, was put into operation, as we had to calculate our return trip time, “last boats leaves” routine. Therefore, we were unable to go inside the glitzy interior. Actually, we had seen enough the day before and would see more at the Hermitage. The crowds were rolling and we were navigating along as well. I covered the scene of people photographing relatives. I can see where photography really validates people’s “been there, done that”. On the other hand, I was doing it myself.

In between dodging the visitors, we managed to get a grip on the most important “shots”. The terraced fountains that lead the eye to the great palace with the golden boys who irrigate the waters are quite impressive. We are again amazed by the splendor of the space and amount of acreage devoted to architectural extravaganzas. And. . . . . the restoration of these wonders, after WWII. Essentially, but don’t tell anyone, these grand ego mansions are now reproductions.

We walked the gardens and stations (sculpture, fountains) connected by clay/gravel pathways. The lovely alternative wilder forest-like areas between these stations was a relief to the carefully controlled grounds around the palace. What a balance between the natural and the man made.

Bands were playing around the area. Some camouflaged by the trees and grounds. People were enjoying being immersed in history. Their histories as most of the visitors were Russian. It seems to be a human need to share the plans of others.

Alas, the clouds kept us guessing whether they would release or not. We had carried umbrellas with us and we surely needed them when we marched to our boat on the dock. The Gulf of Finland spread out in front on us. Gray, calm and vast. During the trip home, I stayed awake while half the other tourists dozed.

We arrived at a better dock than we started. It was located down river a bit, allowing us to get to the theater by a shorter route. After a coffee at the Angleterre Hotel, one of the more expensive, across the street from St. Isaac’s Cathedral, we walked in the rain to the Alexandrinsky Theater (now called the Pushkin) for our wonderful ballet.

This is a plush, multi-tiered, theatre with classic gold and red interior with those old favorite baroque motif decorations. The performance was on the highest level of talent, with the dancers executing a combination of athletic and ballet moves. Modern dance meets classical ballet. A tremendous amount of energy was obviously necessary to carry off successfully the demands of this kind of dancing. I immediately felt at home with combinations of intertwining body sculptures they formed. Sometimes I feel classical ballet is boring. It reminds me of watching figure skating in the Olympics. You have to perform the basics according to the way so many others have before you. The technical execution is the stressed and communication through artistry is minimal. This Boris Eifman group held our interest throughout the night. Not once did they pirouette endlessly and scissors kick forever.

The audience was well dressed, and of course, the women were very attractive and wearing expensive haute couture. We managed to filter into the crowd with our everyday, yet moderately elegant attire. I was carrying the omnipresent camera bag, hopefully disguised by my jacket.

The second half started with Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead” and the “Tannhauser” by Wagner. I was at home. Bring on strong moody Romantic music. The music was slightly modified by electronic muting and I liked it. Everything was so dramatic. The story was based on a real ballerina’s rugged life and the battle of attraction to the man/woman and man/man relationship. Sorrow, triumph, the whole struggle.

The corps de ballet was wonderful as the tortured souls, encaged and yearning for freedom. The principals slid, wrapped, stretched, jumped, ran, and linked with each other in so many combinations. Yeah!!!!!!!!! Maybe this is the best experience of the trip. Certainly different from long lines and no communication. We got the message through art. The universal language.

I was especially touched in the final scene when one of the lead men was wheeled on stage, slumped in a wheel chair. Memories of my dying brother Bjorn brought tears.

Too bad we had to finish the evening with a late crummy meal at the “disco café/restaurant near our hotel on Vasilievsky Island.
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