Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St. Petersburg

A Night of Russian Entertainment and Patriotism

This evening we attend what the Oceania Marina describes as a private performance of Russian song and dance by a large troupe of talented singers, dancers and musicians. That’s a vague description, which means it could be really good or terribly bad.  If happens to be a play performed in Russian, it would be incomprehensibly bad. On the other hand, if it’s a folkloric song and dance show, it should be pretty good. Russia is known as the land of the triangular-shaped instrument known as the balalaika, the well-known folk song “Kalinka” and Cossack sword dancing.

We have another new guide, who explains that the men and women performing for us are in the Russian military. She says they were given the choice to sing and dance or be sent to the Russian front (that would be the Ukraine). So I expect they will be singing and dancing their hearts out.

We caravan to the theater in three Oceania tour buses, the largest tour group I’ve seen to date. After we’re parked in a restricted area in the middle of an intersection, our guide says the bus will remain here and easy to find after the show: the theater is just down the street and right around the corner, less than 10 minutes away. And we must remember our bus number when returning: No. 1.

At the theater, we discover getting to the auditorium requires a bit of effort. Just inside the entrance door is a long ornate staircase leading to an open landing. From there, we must climb two more sets of lengthy stairways to reach the auditorium.  It’s quite a climb: 123 stairs in all according to someone’s count.

The large auditorium easily absorbs our three busloads, with hundreds of empty seats still left. As the first here, we sit wherever we want. (During the performance, a Royal Caribbean group quietly files into seats behind us.  We don’t realize they’re present until the intermission.)

Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St PetersburgMale soloist sings a Russian patriotic song

The show is better than most of us probably expected. We finally learn the performers are called the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St. Petersburg. The core performers are the male chorus and orchestra, whose roots trace back  to the first official Russian armed forces choir–the Red Army Choir– created early in World War II to help inspire the country’s morale. Although a dance ensemble was added to the choir, the chorus remains the essential component.

The Red Army Choir

The Red Army Choir has an impressive history. It was formed and led by the legendary Alexander Alexandrov, who during World War II also composed the official Russian national anthem . (Hear the Red Army Choir sing it,)

Today the Red Army Choir performs all over the world and is considered the world’s most famous military choir.  Within just the past month, the Red Army Choir had a viral video shown on most U.S. network news shows: see “Happy” featuring a dancing Russian traffic cop on the streets of Moscow.  In 1994, the choir appeared with the cult Finnish rock group Leningrad Cowboys at the 11th annual MTV Music Awards singing “Sweet Home Alabama.” They also stole the opening night of the 2014 Sochi Olympics singing Sex Bomb.

Although St. Petersburg’s Russian army song and dance ensemble may be the minor leagues compared to the Red Army Choir, they’re still very good. The choir’s powerful, patriotic songs, especially those by soloists, draw genuine applause, not polite clapping. Understandable since I think many Americans enjoy an honest display of patriotism since at home we keep ours hidden until something like 9/11.

Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St PetersburgThe women dancers add considerable color and flair

The real entertainment comes from the men and women of the dance ensemble who perform a series of entertaining folk dances while dressed in the traditional costumes of different Russian nationalities. Several male dancers perform a series of amazing acrobatic dance feats. Most memorable is the Cossack Calvary dancer who crossed the stage in nine rapid dance splits, an achievement that still hurts to think about. The brightly costumed women were standouts in the traditional Russian dances that are much livelier and more amusing than their names: such as the  Soldier’s Dance and the  Sailor’s Dance, in which the women take the lead.

For me, the energetic song and dance ensemble performance is the most enjoyable part of our St. Petersburg visit. Best of all, Linda now understands why occasionally I like to listen to Russian songs even if I don’t understand a word . Not surprised to see she’s enjoying this as much as I am.

Russian Champagne Tasting

During the intermission, I make the trek to a lower floor to use the facilities. Few other passengers make the descent, unfortunate since a refreshment room was set up for us there.  To fortify myself for the trek back upstairs, I visit the refreshment room and a table with small glasses of Russian champagne. I’m curious to see if it tastes the way I remember it. Hmmm…first glass doesn’t hold enough to tell. I need another sip or two to decide. Hmmm…think Russian Champagne really has improved. Trying the champagne is an unexpectedly uplifting experience, as someone directs me to a hidden elevator to the auditorium.

After the show, outside the theater we find the human equivalent of breadcrumbs: tour guides spaced along on the sidewalk with their arms pointing to the left to lead us back to the buses. Each of the three buses has a number next to its entrance. We find bus No. 1 where we left it and settle in for the ride back.

Our guide pops through the door and asks, “Is anyone missing?”  How would anyone know?

“Are you sure you’re on the bus you came on?” she queries.  We’re all sure. She takes a passenger count. Darting off the bus, she announces, “Well, someone is missing!”

We wait as the other the other buses take census. Our guide climbs back on the bus, with a huge grin. “Can you believe it?” she says, laughing. “They’ve lost a tourist!”  She shakes her head in disbelief, wondering how this could happen.

Linda and I look at each other. Yeah, we believe “they” can lose a tourist. It’s eerily familiar. But tonight it’s not me! This time, they make a real effort to sort it all out. Our bus starts up and we head back to the Oceania Marina. Seems that tourist still is MIA but since it’s not anyone from our bus, not of our concern.

I suspect the missing person may have used the first floor restroom, took too long and the guides were no longer in place. Or perhaps he discovered the champagne room and lingered.

With three busloads of theater goers and some of us still believing a passenger went astray at night somewhere in St. Petersburg, I expect that at some time there will be an announcement of the person’s return. No need to give their name, of course. Have heard them on other cruise lines under similar circumstances . Possibly there is such an announcement that we don’t hear.

There are few announcements ever on the Oceania Marina, which I usually appreciate.  Still, the Marina seems an unusually silent, impersonal ship. That could be one of the reasons we’re feeling so little attachment to the Marina, the last thing we ever expected. We’ve  treasured Oceania for so many years.

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