Folk traditions meet modernity
Ensemble performs Russian dance, song at Wadsworth Theater
By Elizabeth Bull
Daily Bruin Contributor
Dmitri Pokrovsky never even rode a horse before he was asked to
sing while galloping.
"I was born and raised in town and never even really saw cows
before I went to collect my research," Pokrovsky laughs as he
"When I came to a small village to ask them to teach me to sing,
they put me on a horse and yelled, ‘Now sing!’ Well, I’d never been
on a horse before and I was just too frightened and confused to
This was just the beginning of Pokrovsky’s five years of
extensive travel and research into traditional Russian dance and
song. His ensemble will perform scenes from traditional Russian
village weddings and Stravinsky’s "Les Noces," without the horse,
Thursday evening at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater.
Pokrovsky developed the idea of performing ancient folk dances
when he realized the lack of true Russian culture in his country.
"It’s actually the conflict that I saw in the Soviet Union around
me at that time that inspired me," he says. "There was a lot of
folk culture on TV and in halls, but it was false folk culture. It
was an inner conflict for me. Mazursky, Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy are
are all based on my folk culture, but it was represented in my
country as vulgar and different from how it really is."
His mission in representing the actual folk customs was to give
these traditions back to the people, so the history of these
customs could live. "The main reason we’re in Russia is to take
back our theaters," Pokrovsky claims. "People feel that when they
lose this true culture, they lose themselves."
This internal conflict led Pokrovsky and members of his ensemble
on a chase into the Russian countryside in search of the ancient
Russian folk traditions. And what they’ve amassed is a collection
of over 2,000 songs, including medieval, religious and modern
"At the beginning, it was fascinating to find new techniques in
different villages," Pokrovsky says. "The best was how the village
people would improvise in their group singing and create new and
interesting sounds with scales and their voices. It was so amazing
and new to me."
Pokrovsky founded the ensemble in 1973 after studying conducting
in Moscow. The group has toured the United States, Japan, Europe
and the former Soviet Union; and received the Government Award in
1988, the former Soviet Union’s highest award for artists, which
was presented by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Pokrovsky is enthusiastic about the ensemble’s success and is
making plans for future performances and growth. "Our group is
pretty old and some of us have worked for 23 years," he says. "At
the beginning, we were young and excited to start this project.
And, as we performed, people could come up to us and say, ‘Teach
me, teach me how to sing.’ So, we created workshops and now we’re a
lot of young people, as well."
The ensemble, however, has had a few bumps along the way. Some
critics dislike Pokrovsky’s use of four computer-driven Yamaha
Dislavier pianos in "Les Noces," though he claims Stravinsky would
have liked it this way. "Of course, I get some opposition. Some
people believe that the music must be live, but Stravinsky himself
wanted ‘Les Noces’ to be mechanical," he says.
Stravinsky himself publicly denied any musical ties to his
ancient Russian culture, but Pokrovsky, in his travels, found many
texts and musical structures that prove the similarities between
modern and folk composers.
The ancient folk dances and "Les Noces," which is a modern
piece, are deliberately shown together to show the influences of
traditional Russian culture on modern composers and artists. "We
traveled for over five years to find the evidence for our songs and
dances," he says. "It’s so researched that it’s practically
impossible to argue. We perform ‘Les Noces’ even though it is
contemporary because it shows how our traditional culture
influenced modern artists"
Showing cultural connections is what Pokrovsky is trying to
prove with his flowing mix of past and present. "Usually, people
think ancient is in opposition to modernity. But they’re not in
competition – they can be used together to complement each other,"
Essentially, Pokrovsky is also trying to show what he has
discovered in traditional Russian towns to the world, to "open
their eyes," and he is especially excited to perform in the United
States after the positive feedback from their premiere at the
Brooklyn Academy of Music.
"I believe American audiences are the best in the world. To me,
they are extremely open and appreciative," he says. "It’s so
important for young people to get to know other cultures – it will
make the future world so much more open."
DANCE: The Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble performs at the Veterans
Wadsworth Theater this Thursday at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $9 to UCLA
students with a valid I.D. The Center Stage lecture begins at 7
p.m. with Timothy Rice, a professor of ethnnomusicology at UCLA.
For more info call (310) 825-2101.
The 11-member Dmitri Pokrovsky Folk Ensemble.
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