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An Indian dance troupe from Russia -- really -- highlights Asian Culture Night

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 7, 2016

Asian Culture Night is one of the more colorful events in Anchorage each year. Different ethnic and national groups from the western Pacific Rim and the continent of Asia take turns hosting performance groups from their regions -- Southeast Asia, China, the Philippines, Japan, etc. This year the host is India, which is to say Alaskans with family ties to India. But the performers are not from the subcontinent famed for sun and spices. Instead the main attraction is an Indian Dance Group from Russia.

Not the warm part of Russia, either. Mayuri -- Hindi for "female peacock" -- comes out of Petrozavodsk in Karelia, between St. Petersburg, the Finnish border and the White Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean. Alaskans will recall that Karelia is the site of Valaam Monastery, from which St. Herman and other Orthodox monks traversed some 5,000 miles as the first missionaries to Russian America in 1794.

Vera Evgrafova, the group's founder, fell in love with Indian dance after she watched a Hindi movie as a child. She threw herself into the dance and the culture from which it came and, in the past 28 years, has built up a company with a corps of 60 adult dancers and school-based studios with more than 400 children.

The connection isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. "Hindi culture is huge in Russia," said Anchorage businessman Sanjay Talwar, who was involved in bringing the group to Alaska. "From Moscow to India is only a three-hour flight. You see a lot of Russians in New Delhi and a lot of Bollywood films are actually shot in Russia."

The blonde Russians often don dark wigs to sustain the Indian ambiance, Talwar said. They study the costuming and crafts of the art form and also Hindi, since the dancers sometimes sing as well. And they've toured Europe and America as well as India.

What impressed the Alaska search group wasn't their reputation, however, but how good they were. "We found a lot of groups from India that were more interested in fusion. But we didn't want a rap group," Talwar said. "We wanted someone who could authentically present the dances. And these people are excellent performers."

The troupe will arrive in Anchorage this weekend to rehearse, present some performances for school kids and visit the world's farthest north Hindu temple. The public performance takes place April 15 in Atwood Concert Hall.

‘Grandmothers’ doc to air on PBS

Susan Stark Christianson, formerly of Anchorage and now living in Juneau, has spent the past several years producing a film that will show up on Alaska public television this coming Mother's Day. "The Wisdom of the Grandmothers" was inspired by words she heard from an indigenous woman, Christianson said: "There won't be peace on Earth until the voices of the grandmothers are heard."

"I interviewed grandmothers from Siberia to Patagonia over eight years in order to learn more about what ordinary grandmothers have to offer for peace and what advice women at the end of life want to share," she said.

It was a leap and learn project, she told the Alaska Dispatch News. She hadn't had much training on filmmaking when she started, "but I figured out a lot as I went along."

The documentary is also going to be offered to PBS stations around the country starting April 16. "So far, several states have already confirmed they will be airing it," Christianson said.

More information is available at thewisdomofthegrandmothers.com and womensvoicesproject.com for more information.

Choristers honor teacher

Cam McCarrey Bohman has organized and conducted thousands of young Alaska singers over the years as a choir director at Romig Middle School, West High and Dimond High and in Tok Junction, and as the music coordinator for the Alaska School Activities Association. A group of her former students is dusting off their vocal cords and preparing to present a tribute concert to honor her 50 years in music education this summer.

Three students at South High have produced a documentary in conjunction with the event, "Unwritten Song," about the importance and influence of elective teachers, particularly those in music and the arts, focusing on Bohman's career and contributions.

The program will take place at 7 p.m. June 4, in the West High School auditorium. Tickets are $10 and are available by emailing Tammy Hogge at westchoiralumni@gmail.com or calling 907-727-9613. We hear that 170 or more former Bohman choristers have signed up for the event and are presently in rehearsal.

All extra proceeds from this concert will be donated to one or more high school choir programs in the Anchorage School District in Cam McCarrey Bohman's name.

'100Stone' statues come down

It was always a guess as to when the statues in the "100Stone" installation at Point Woronzof would be removed. Some hoped they might last another week and some were surprised that they made it through the end of February, what with exposure to the weather and vandals. As it turns out, the removal will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 9. Volunteers are needed since at least some of the 50-plus pieces that made it through in pretty good shape have a possibility of being re-used in some future display.

Symphony season announced

The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra published its 2016-17 season lineup in the program for last weekend's concerts. Major offerings on tap include Cliburn piano competition finalist Fei Fei Dong in Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" and Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony on Sept. 24.

The program of Nov. 12 is something of a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and will include photos of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. The music for that night will be Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite," the "Alpine Symphony" by Richard Strauss and new work by Stephen Lias, a composer who's been spending a lot of time in Alaska, titled "Glacier Bay."

Tim Fain, whose playing was featured in the soundtrack of the film "Black Swan," will be the featured soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto on Jan. 28, a program that will also include Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." Electronic violinist Tracy Silverman will return to Anchorage for his own concerto on Feb. 25; Mahler's Fourth Symphony and Barber's "Adagio for Strings" will also be on the program. And the season will close on April 1 with the Anchorage Concert Chorus and Alaska Chamber Singers joining the symphony for excerpts from "Boris Godunov" by Mussorgsky.

There will also be a "symphonic tribute" to the rock band Journey on March 3 and 4. The Silent Film night, on Jan. 14, will be a Charlie Chaplin double-bill with "The Kid" and "The Idle Class."

The Mussorgsky is billed as "commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Alaska Purchase." The Russian connection is implied, but from a purely historical perspective, the opera falls outside the era of Russian colonialism. Boris Godunov died a century before Bering sailed and Mussorgsky didn't start to write his only completed opera until after the ink was dry on the treaty of cession. But it will do as well as anything, I suppose.

There's only one piece I can think of that actually has something to do with Russian-America, or Russians and Americans in Alaska, Willard Straight's 1967 opera "Toyon of Alaska," or just "Toyon." Straight was commissioned to write the work for the centennial of the purchase. Best known as a Broadway composer, he was hitting his stride at that time, selected as the composer for the Van Cliburn competition in 1966. The libretto was by Anchorage theater director Frank Brink and resembled his outdoor pageant about Baranov, "Cry of the Wild Ram." The opera was performed in Anchorage and Fairbanks and then disappeared. So did Straight, who is one of those anomalies who doesn't seem to have a listing on the internet. But the music must be around somewhere and it might be interesting to hear some of the excerpts from the forgotten piece from the last celebration.

Alaska novel coming from 'Staggering Genius' author

Prize-winning novelist Dave Eggers' next work of fiction is set in Alaska. "Heroes of the Frontier" will be published by Knopf on July 26. Writing for The New York Times, Alexandra Alter said Eggers, whose 2000 memoir, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," was a best-seller. Alter said Eggers "has family in Alaska and has traveled there regularly" and that he started working on this book six years ago.

"The novel centers on a woman named Josie, who flees a failed marriage and a disappointing life in suburban Ohio, where she lost her dental practice after being sued by a former patient," Alter synopsizes. "Without telling her ex-husband, she takes her two young children to Alaska, where she rents an R.V. and sets out on a sometimes harrowing road trip."

If that set up sounds a little familiar to readers, it may be because they saw an excerpt published in The New Yorker two years ago as "The Alaska of Giants and Gods." The Times piece included a couple of paragraphs from the opening of the book that referred to the main character in a motor home in "southern Alaska" and The New Yorker excerpt was set in Seward.

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