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Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of…
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Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (2002)

by Orlando Figes

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3.5 stars, rounded up for its sheer breadth of scope. ( )
  sageness | Feb 7, 2014 |
In “Natasha’s dance”, Orlanda Figes paints a large colorful canvas of Russian cultural history, encompassing literature, theatre, painting, music, ballet, architecture, and even film from the ancient times before Peter the Great up to Stravinsky’s return to his Motherland 50 years ago.

Cleverly mixing the broad strokes of the major cultural trends with the anecdotical, Figes delivers a book that is both academically serious and highly entertaining.”Natasha’s dance” is a book I couldn’t put down, and now that I have finished, consider rereading, to make sure I haven’t missed anything..

Figes book feels complete. The political, religious and social backgrounds are explained, the cultural reactions and counter reactions discussed, the individual artists, mecenas and others presented.

And what an exciting subject indeed ! From the great writers like Pushkin,Gogol and Dostoievski, we follow the painters such as Kramskoi, Levitan and Repin, we are introduced to Sergej Diaghilev’s ballet Russes, his dancers and conductors, his choreographers and composers . We follow the careers of genial filmmakers like Einsenstein, brillant poets like Akhmatova and writers like Anton Babel, Artists who are bullied, tortured and even killed during the Stalinist times !

For what is the most impressive of all, is how all these great Artists have been able to do their thing, to create their masterpieces in a Russia of Tsars, Church, revolutionaries and blood – thirsty Dictators.

The creation of Beauty is truly our last stand against Barbarism… ( )
8 vote Macumbeira | Jun 30, 2013 |
This long but very readable book opens with an account of the scene in
" War and Peace" where Natasha visits her "Uncle" in the country. Invited to join in a folk dance she does so, moving by instinct to rhythms seemingly alien to a well bred girl of her time when European culture held sway with Russian Aristocrats.
" ....the spirit and the movements were those inimitable and unteachable Russian ones that "Uncle" had expected of her."

With this engaging start, Orlando Figes sweeps us into an absorbing story of Russia, it's People. History and Culture. I learned much that I had never known. Reading of Russia's size and diversity, the ethnic mix making up her peoples, the dominance of the Tsarist regime and the influence of Byzantium , all added layers of knowledge to what I already knew of this country.
There is a fascinating chapter on Religion. The Russian Orthodox Church with it's roots in the East did not satisfy all needs and it was interesting to read about the Monastery of Optina Pustyn where a major revival of the medieval hermetic tradition took place, with a hermitage built within it's walls.
There is plenty on dissent within the Russian state and I was fascinated to read the story of the Decembrists, mainly aristocrats who bonded with the peasants during the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 and then concocted a hapless revolt against the ruling order. They paid dearly for it, and Figes focuses on the story of Sergei Volkonsky who lost his land, rank and status, being exiled to Siberia. His loyal wife earned plaudits for joining him, a fate she could have avoided.

There is much more one could say, and it is hard to pick out highlights in a richly textured book, packed with incident, fascinating characters and with the epic sweep one would expect of a book covering such a long period and turbulent history.
Figes method is to intertwine aspects of his narrative, with particular focus on certain personages such as the Volkonsky and Sheremetev families. In the chapter on Soviet Russia, the Revolutionary period is refracted through the experience of the poet Anna Akhmatova, allowing a different perspective on events one thought one knew about.
It took me a long time to read this book but it was such a worthwhile experience that I do not grudge a second I spent on it. ( )
1 vote Maura49 | Dec 15, 2011 |
I'm tempted to say that this is a great book because like Russian art it has a soul, but that sounds presumptuous since I've not an expert on any Russian art and I've never been to Russia. But I've been a fan of Russian literature--especially the great novels of the 19th century, and of Russian music and particularly of the Russian ballet and its offshoots in the West. The book starts with an episode from War and Peace in which Natasha and her brother visit an retired army officer (their uncle) who lives in a cabin on the edge of the estate. During the visit Natasha unconsciously begins dancing to a peasant melody. The point is that she has the "soul of the Russian people" in her heart and even though she's the daughter of an aristocratic count she "understands" the culture of the Russian peasants. The book ends with an equally emotional scene: the return of Stravinsky to Russia in 1962 during the Khrushchev thaw. I remember that scene from US television coverage: Stravinsky arriving at the airport and also at a performance of The Rite of Spring at the Marisky Theatre in what was then Leningrad. Both episodes represent a deep-seated emotional attachment to the land--something that seems to pervade every Russian art and which some of us (like me) find both fantastic and strangely appealing. The intervening review of Russian literature, painting and other visual arts, architecture, music, opera, ballet, film, even science fiction in the period from the 18th century to the present is discussed, more or less chronologically, but more significantly set in the context of Russian history (including the war with Napoleon, the cultural conflict between Moscow and Petersburg, the influence of the church and of the peasants, the affect of the Mongol invasion as well as Russian's colonization of Asian lands, and finally of the Soviet period and the influence of Russian émigrés in the west). The organization was sort of like music: a theme and elaboration, with repetitions so the reader doesn't get lost. I found it confusing at first, but then found I enjoyed it. ( )
2 vote fourbears | Apr 24, 2010 |
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In Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' there is a famous and rather lovely scene where Natasha Rostov and her brother Nikolai are invited by their 'uncle' (as Natasha calls him) to his simple wooden cabin at the end of a day's hunting in the woods.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312421958, Paperback)

Beginning in the eighteenth century with the building of St. Petersburg and culminating with the Soviet regime, Figes examines how writers, artists, and musicians grappled with the idea of Russia itself--its character, spiritual essence, and destiny. Skillfully interweaving the great works--by Dostoevsky, Stravinsky, and Chagall--with folk embroidery, peasant songs, religious icons, and all the customs of daily life, Figes reveals the spirit of "Russianness" as rich and uplifting, complex and contradictory--and more lasting than any Russian ruler or state.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:05:29 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Explores the cultural history of Russia from the eighteenth century to the Brezhnev era, looking at how artists, writers, and musicians struggled with the question of what it meant to be Russian.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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