Allow me to introduce: Russian Soul

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The Russian Cultural Center “Russian Soul’ has been officially in existence since 2006. Though we do not have a “home” and have to rent space for performances, workshops and lectures all over Twin Cities, are work is quite diverse. We are registered as a non-profit organization with a goal to research, preserve and promote the rich and diverse Russian cultural and artistic heritage. The RCC is acivlely collaborating with educational institutions, and state and city organizations and agencies, We are proud to be the only Russian artists to be selected by the Global Arts & Culture program, sponsored by COMPAS.

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The RCC has different levels of membership — from very active to supportive. Currently, we have over 20 active members, people of different ages and diverse backgrounds, united by the love to the Russian folk arts and crafts. Our youngest member, Gosh Shurkin, age 5, is the dancer in our folk ensemble «Belozer’e.» And our oldest participant is over 60. However, the age is not a problem — it just does not exist on the stage. Over the last two years the folk ensemble «Belozer’e» performed over 30 times, including such stages as Landmark center, Festival of Nations, Metrodome. The ensemble helped the Minnesota Zoo to celebrate the opening of the Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit in June 2008. Currently, «Belozer’e’ can offer three hour-long programs, based on the country and city folklore for adults, three unique shorter programs which recreate the Russian folk rituals of the 19th century: «Devichnik»(Bridal shower Russian style), «Maslenitza» (Russian Mardi-Gra celebration), and «Svyatki» (Christmas time ritual). We also have a special winter interactive program for kids, called «Yolka», with traditional Russian games and dances.

We are proud recepients of the Minnesota Regional Art Council grant, which helped us to develop the «Festivals and Rituals» program and re-create the Russian folk costumes, some of which we exhibited in the Hennepin Gallery this June. Researching Russian folk culture in Minnesota is not easy, and the grant helped us to purchase more materials from the Russian Folklore Association in Moscow . We work with authentic folk art materials, not the XXth century adaptations, and our audiences have the unique opportunity to see the ritual of changing the bride’s one braid into a matronal hairdo — the pinnacle of the pre-wedding ritual in old Russia, when the girl’s social status was changing; or enjoy the dances of the costumed and masked villagers in re-creation of maslenitza and svyatki rituals; or learn about ancient traditions of fortune-telling. Our next project is the «Russian Fashion show», which would present the costumes from various areas of Russia and song and dances of the same.

Though performing is a large part of our activities an the most popular one, our members are much more than performers. It is incredible how people begin to demonstrate hidden talents, given an opportunity. None of our performers are professional dancers, singers, or musicians, yet all of our dances, though based on Russian traditional dance steps, are choreographed by Elena Shurkina, our Artistic Director, dancers Maria & Aleksandra Zavialov, Ludmila Lobenko, Irina Yaritz, Polina Sheldeshova, and Elena Kallevig. All our performers are wearing hand-made and hand-embroidered costumes and many of them started sewing only when they joined the RCC. Incredible embroideries of Tatiana Zhukovskaya and Irina Yaritz, as well as magnificent beaded and embroidered head-dresses (kokoshiks) by Galena Michaels, Cassandra Gavin, Olga Ivkin received well-deserved public praise at the exhibition. The colorful peasant and XIXth century city costumes are, in major part, copies of the museum pieces in Russia, the work of Vera Alenova, Valentina Drakh, and others. Our master-craftswomen are quite wlling to share the ‘secrets of the trade» – we offer workshops on traditional Russian crafts regularly.

We consider the work with children and youth one of the most important. People often forget that adaptation in the new country is just as painful for children as it is for adults. We collaborate with the Children’s Home Society & Family Services by participating in their charitable events and by offering Russian dance and games classes for children. The majority of the members of the children’s dance studio “Rodnik” are adoptees from Russia. Singing familiar songs, playing familiar games in a casual relaxed atmosphere of bilingual classes help them to relate to their Russian roots. Appearing on a stage at major events together with adult performers strengthens their self-esteem and reinforces the sense of belonging.

We do not have many teenagers in our Center and hope to attract more by offering Teenage Posidelki – a Russian-language get-together for teenagers, who would like to practice their language skills and to learn more about Russia. The adult Posidelki have been going on for nearly 10 years. The way it works is to select topics offered by the participants: everybody can write a topic(as long as it is related to Russia) and drop it in a box. At the end of the meeting somebody pulls out a topic for the next meeting. The participants are expected, but not required, to contribute to the discussion. We plan the first Posidelki for the end of October.

The logical continuation of our efforts has become a project of creating the first Russian Immersion Holistic Charter School in Minnesota. The mission of the RHCS is to provide an education that fully integrates the rich and diverse Russian culture, language, and arts with a classical academic curriculum, guided by holistic principles of the healthy growth of the whole and balanced human being, and using five aspects of being: mind, emotions, body, spirit & environment. Further, the RHCS mission is to create a community that honors truth, beauty and goodness and encourages development of the inherent gifts of each school community member. We have specialists form the University of Minnesota and the College of St. Catherine collaborating on the developing of the proposal and curriculum.

The «Russian Soul» is always happy to welcome guests and potential members and sponsors. Please visit us at www.rusculturemn.com, call 612-978-6209, send e-mails info@rusculturemn.com.

Elena Kallevig at Zerkalo