In January of 1999, to the surprise of passerby tourists and the delight of locals, Moscow Nights brought a bit of borscht to the French Quarter with its first Russian Winter Festival.
The afternoon-long celebration of all things Russian took place at O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Centre and Pub thanks to the generosity of club owner Danny O’Flaherty. Participants strolled from table to table eating Slavic delicacies, admiring (and often buying) Russian shawls, jewelry, books, crafts, and, of course, colorfully painted nesting dolls.
While most New Orleans festivals rely on live music to bring in the crowds, this festival stood out for the variety of its entertainment. With local actor and producer Mikko acting as Master of Ceremonies, the packed program included theatrical sketches from Nikolai Gogol’s “Inspector General”, Evgeny Shvarts’ “The Shadow”, and Samuel Marshak’s “The Lady Cat-Catastrophe”.
Under the direction of Natasha O. Ramer, actors Mikko, Tristan Codrescu, Eva Earls, Phil Blunt, Mage Macchione, Stella Billings, and Mara Cooper brought the scenes to life.
There was an assortment of dance performances, ranging from folk to modern. Audiences were treated to “No More Barricades” performed by Barbara Hayley; Hayley’s dance company, New Orleans Dance Collective, performed “Khodiat Khoni” and the original choreography “Malchiki.”
Two original choreographies of Russian character dance — “Karusel” and “Khorovodnaia” – were performed by the Komenka Ethnic Dance and Music Ensemble under the direction of John Rodi and Daniel Gianfala. Original choreography was created by the famous Boris Moiseev, an artist who came to New Orleans and stayed here awhile.
And, of course, there was music. The Komenka singers serenaded outdoor crowds with Slavic standards from the balcony. Our special guests from Atlanta, Irene and David McCullough on balalaika and guitar, took to the indoor stage with “A Stroll Through Moscow”. At the end of the program, Natasha Ramer performed a series of Russian Romances with an all-star music ensemble comprised of the McCullough’s, Misha Kachkachishvili (Bassist), Neti Vaan (Violin), and Bart Ramsey (Piano / Accordion).
Balalaika Master Irene McCullough wrote about this first festival, from beginning to finale, for the BDAA Newsletter, the official publication of the Balalaika and Domra Association of America. Her report noted, among other things:
Guests were invited to celebrate the New Year in the Russian spirit, encouraged to show up before the two shows to sample the food bazaar and art exhibit. Greeted by a Russian maiden in white sarafan, guests wandered through the old building’s entranceway to a charming back courtyard to mingle and revel. Thanks to Ray Kane, America’s most sought-after Bass Domra player, guests were never without trays of warm pirozhki… The vodka kiosk was quite active as well, and tables overflowed with Russian sandwiches and delicacies. Local artists from the Russian community had their paintings and jewelry creations on show, and the Pub’s Celtic Store was, for the day, a Russian boutique.
Click the PDF below to read Ms. McCullough’s first hand account of the 1st Russian Winter Festival as published in the Balalaika and Domra Association of America’s newsletter