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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Russians Were Here

From the Vault Dept.: Browsing through the pages of old Metrolands, I’ve found a trove of pieces with memories attached. This one, describing the visit of Moscow Musical Theater for Children founder Natalia Sats, doesn’t give any feeling of the sterile room at the Empire State Plaza – then home to the ill-fated ESIPA – in which my interview was conducted, or of the KGB agent accompanying Sats in the guise of translator. Especially memorable was the moment in which the excitable Sats, wearying of the bother of having her words filtered, finished the interview in her own broken but sufficient English. But my time with her was too limited and my interview skills too wretched to produce anything other than the workaday piece you see below.


THE RUSSIANS ARE HERE. Natalia Sats has brought her Moscow Musical Theater for Children to Albany for a series of almost-sold-out performances at the Egg.

Bill Snyder, Natalia Sats, and
ESIPA artistic director Patricia Snyder.
As part of the first cultural exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States since 1979, the ESIPA (Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts) company traveled to Moscow in January to perform the very successful Rag Dolly; now they go from guest to host. From now until June 16, ninety-five Soviet performers and technicians are living and working in the Albany area.

Accommodations are being provided by SUNYA, where transportation needs also are being coordinated. Area groups and businesses are offering enough food to give the Soviet company a taste of the great variety of American eating from hamburgers to a covered-dish supper, with pizza and ice cream along the way.

Members of SUNYAs Department of Slavic Languages and Literature translated program notes, itineraries, biographies, even name tags and direction signs. And graduates of that department's Translation Certificate Program are working as interpreters in both the theater and the community.

The Soviet tech crew is working alongside its American counterpart to run the shows, the orchestra also comprises two nationalities.

But, perhaps even more interesting, the dynamo behind the Russian company is here with them and will perform a piece written for her and her company fifty years ago: One of the most famous children's pieces of all time, Peter and the Wolf, written by Sergei Prokofiev for Natalia Sats and first performed in May, 1936.

Madame Sats, now 82, founded the Moscow Children's Theater in 1918. Her father, llya, was a composer and conductor who worked with the famed Stanislavsky at the Moscow Art Theater; her mother was a professional singer. Natalia graduated from the A. N. Scriabin Musical Technicum when she was just 15. After founding her own Children's Theater, she became director of the Moscow Theater for Children in 1920 (now called the Central Children's Theater).

She brought all of her interests together in the Moscow Musical Theater for Children, founded in 1954, which occupies its own grand palace, built in 1979.

Sats has written that her central theme in life, “from my youth and for the whole of my life, has been the love of children and the art intended for them.” Her ambition was to have a theater in which “children would not be occasional visitors but masters of the house. The best authors would have to think of children and write new plays for them, and major actors and artistic directors would have to give all their talents to their little spectators.”

She also has created her own productions, and is the prolific author of plays, opera librettos, ballets and treatises on musical education.

While in Albany, the Bolshoi-trained dancers and singers of the Moscow Musical Theater for Children are presenting three programs: The Blue Bird, a ballet that dates back to Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theater and is based on a Maeterlinck story about two children looking for the Blue Bird of Happiness; Miracle Music, a modern fairy-tale opera about a search for a stolen jewel with a story co-authored by Sats and Vladimir Poliakov; and the double bill Petya and the Wolf and the history piece Divertissement.

Miracle Music previews tomorrow (Friday) morning at 10, and opens tomorrow night at 8 with an additional performance at 2 PM on Saturday.

Petya and Divertissement open at 2 PM on Sunday with further performances at 10 AM June 9, 10, 12 and 13.

The Blue Bird opens at 8 PM June 13 with additional performances at 8 PM June 14, 2 PM June 15 and 10 AM June 16.

All performances of Petya and the Wolf and all other morning performances have been completely booked by individual and school-group audiences. Tickets to Miracle Music and The Blue Bird (afternoon and evening shows) are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $5 for kids under 12: they are available through CBO outlets and at the Egg box office.

Metroland Magazine, 5 June 1986

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