"Be sure to use my name when you see Igor Moiseyev. I know him very well. The greatest Impresario of them all, Sol Hurok brought him to America in the late 50's and I was invited as the widow of Vaslav( Nijinsky, the legendary ballet dancer, choreographer and subsequently Father of modern ballet). So said Romola Nijinsky to me a few months before her death in Paris.
Almost three months to the day that Soviet tanks had entered Afghanistan, Moiseyev and his Dance Company came to Florence in the midst of a triumphal tour of Europe. Ah! The right of center and the extreme right mounted and organized protesters. Noisy Ones. Angry Ones. Carabinieri and police ( forze del ordine, the Italians call it) the forces of Order. Don't you just love that metaphor? The authorities bent over backwards to protect the Maestro and his dancers as well as members of the public. Fascist deputies in Parliament spoke out against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. Socialist and Communists defended their actions.
I did not give a flying fuck. Artists and Musicians did not fit into the political mold.We should not care about their politics because basically deep down all an artist wishes for is ARTISTIC FREEDOM to do with as he wants.
Imbued with this spirit and with the precious words of Romola Nijinsky I rang up the Teatro Fiorentino. He took my call. Dead or alive Romola was a powerful laissez passe. Not only because of her husband the one and only Nijinsky. Romola had written a best selling book on her life with Nijinsky. Romola had that Hungarian charm, moxie and personality. The aphorism says " All Hungarians possess something of the Count, the gypsy and the Jew in them.That's what makes them so fascinating."
It was all incarnated in Romola. She was Countess Romola de Pulski. Her mother had been Emilia Markus, a Judean actress known as the Balkan Bernhardt. She criss-crossed the globe in the days when a trip to New York from London took 20 hours.
Moiseyev had asked me to attend a rehearsal," We can talk during the pauses."
Bright blue eyes full of Life, well muscled body, disarming smile, a deep baritone voice and sculpted lips completed the image of Maestro Moiseyev.
We spoke in French and reminisced about Romola whom we both had been fond of. And then I invited him and his entire troupe for dinner at Villa del Saraceno in Bellosguardo. He had many more dancers then, close to a 100. The former Soviet Union did not mince money when it came to showing off their geniuses.
We decided that the last night of the performance a week hence would be a good date. The company could relax and enjoy la vita bella Fiorentina, even if politically the vita was not so dolce because of Afghanistan.
He asked me to stay and watch the reharsals as long as I wished to. I did. At a certain point he approached a tall DDG( Drop dead gorgeous) man and whispered something in his ear.
A mixture of cold and hot tingles ran down my spine. "Aha! That must be the highest ranking KGB accompanying Moiseyev and his troupe."
Without a thought of dissimulation, DDG man turned to gaze at me for about a minute, as if in that space of time while he took in the sight of me he was making up his mind. In the meantime he and Moiseyev continued their conversation.
"If only I coud read lips."
I did not take my eyes off him either. He was one of the most handsome men I have ever seen in my life and trust me, I have seen and known many. Then he turned swiftly towards the Maestro and nodded.
At that precise moment I knew that Maestro, his daughter Irina who happened to be one of his leading dancers, and the rest of the 100 plus dancers and musicians would come to Villa del Saraceno.
This was confirmed by Moiseyev himself when he beckoned me onto the stage to murmur." Cherie, A bientot. AVendredi dans la Ville de les Saracene."
I had no time for engraved invitations. The telephone would be my ally. To avoid diplomatic incidents and hurt feelings I talked to various high ranking American diplomats and informed them that I was not even remotely thinking of inviting them to my bash for a Russian legend. To a man, they expressed disappointment at the situation but took pains to express their understanding of my actions.
Ca va sans dire, the Russian Ambassador came with a large entourage from Rome. He was suave and sophisticated in his bespoke suit. (Caraceni from Milan, I was told. Gianni Agnelli's personal tailor). Fiat was building a huge complex in Russia, called Togliattigrad, in honor of Palmiro Togliatti, founder of the PCI - Partito Comunista Italiano. The Italian Communist Party. The Mayor of Florence and the entire city council would be attending. The Mayor was a spiffy dresser himself and always looked very fetching.
The Carabinieri and the police blocked off the road leading to the Piazza of Bellosguardo, where Villa of the Saracen stood in all her Renaissance splendor since 1521, Demonstraors and protesters never showed up. It gave me some satisfaction that the local authorities had thought of this. It showed me that some politicians can be far-sighted and intelligent. La bella figura of the Florentines had been maintained. In politics face is very important.
So much for the intime - intimate after performance party I was planning strictly for the Maestro and his dancers and the de rigeur KGB escorts.
I invited my beautiful friends from Florentine and Roman nobility. Some happened to be married to equally fascinating men. I think they all came out of curiosity. They had seen the performances of Moiseyev and had clearly been impressed with the power and charisma of the dancers and their repertory of dances from all the countries comprising the USSR - Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. At that time, most of the rich and famous in Italy regularly voted Socialist/Communist. Italians are always fascinating because they are chock-a-block with contradictions.
The menu was all Fiorentino. Bruschetta, Pasta alla Puttanesca, Florentine beef steak which you could cut with a fork, wild rucola and fresh mushroom salad. The Chianti wine flowed from a fountain which a friend who was a decorator had hastily improvised. For dessert we enjoyed a macedoine - salad of fresh fruits steeped in aged Taylor port.
My children Marc'Aurelio and Cinzia stayed up till the wee small hours. The next day was a Saturday and there was no school. It was a unforgettable moment in their lives because at a certain point after dinner, the dancers asked the beauties to dance with them. Moiseyev had brought several accordion players and in the Great Hall the sounds of the tango, polka, valzer, varsoviana, mazurka, and tarantella reverberated throughout the Villa. A couple of the young dancers taught Marco and Cinzia the mechanics of some of the steps of an intricate polka.
I met the handsome KGB spy with whom I had locked eyes at the theater. His name was Pyotr and he was a diplomat at the Soviet Embassy in Rome. He was the Cultural Attache. His Italian was impeccable. That figures. He graciously asked me to dance when the musicians struck up Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers. I wore three inch heels which made me a meter and 79 inches - almost six feet. Pyotr was taller by a good three inches. My daughter often reminds me of the striking figures we both made.
"Mamma, it was like watching Anna Karenina and Vronsky in real life."
Children can be romantic and magical that way.
Everyone stopped dancing when Maestro Moiseyev took my hand and led me to the center of the Great Hall. "What would you like?" he asked me.
"The Kaiser Valtzer." I replied without hesitation.( The Emperor Waltz by Johann Strauss.)
I realized that he was honoring me by dancing the Emperor Waltz with me. Yet he knew that I was reciprocating my admiration and respect for him. The nearly 200 people who witnessed it felt the same way. The fact that I was a good dancer and had danced the Waltz with my father, uncles and cousins before I turned 15 was a great advantage.
I am compelled to say, looking back on that wintry Florentine night that it was a night to remember for all time.
The party I hosted in Fort Lauderdale while" a smash", as society editor Martha Gross wrote, was anti-climactic. The musicians did not play a single note. None of the dancers danced. Neither did the singers sing. It did not have the magic and power and yes! the perfection of that night in Florence, Bellosguardo.
I asked Maestro what he thought about working out of gyms, pilates, aerobics, body buildig and such.
He threw his head back , laughed and replied," I think we are genetically wired for a long or for a short life. If you abuse your mind, soul and body you might die sooner. All this working out will not add a day to your life. I don't believe the doctors. The only thing it will do is turn you into a good looking corpse."
It was my turn to crack up. He then told me a Russian joke which was making the rounds at that particular time.
Two stray dogs meet on the street. One says to the other,"well, well, Valodya, how are you doing under this free life?"
"Not at all well Nikita. We had plenty of food before but we could not bark."
"Yes. I know. Now we can bark all day and all night but we have no food."
The first thing Yeltsin and his cronies did was to turn the Ministry of Culture into a sort of insignificant association. Money for the Arts? Forget it.
I think Moiseyev must be happy with Vlad the Putin. He has not only reinstated the Ministry of Culture but money is flowing again into all the arts. Maestro is now a national treasure to all Russians and to all of us who love the dance and his intelligent and artful way of globalizing the company these last 10 years.
In a few months Putin and the country will celebrate his 99th birthday. What a life! What a man!
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