The Cossacks Are Coming!

The Russian Cossack State Dance Company will make its U.S. debut at the StateTheatre.

By: Josh Appelbaum
   Leo Tolstoy once wrote that "All Russia is made by Cossacks." Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians have been reconnecting with the culture of the steppe people, who have been fighting to protect their borderlands since the 14th century.
   Famous for their military prowess and fierce independence, the Cossacks were persecuted by the Bolsheviks after the revolution and were repressed throughout most of the Soviet era (despite continued service to the Red Army). It was during perestroika reforms, in the late ’80s, when Cossack descendants were able to revive their storied traditions.
   Founded in 1990, the Russian Cossack State Dance Company has emerged as the most prominent artistic messengers of the Cossack way of life. The company even received the formal honor of performing at Russia’s state concert hall in Moscow in 1991.
   Donning bright, colorful suits and frocks, the company’s dancers and musicians sing "frolic" songs and perform traditional dances of the Russian and Ukrainian Cossacks, which incorporate acrobatics, flips, twists and what seems like levitation to uninitiated spectators. But the traditionally mustachioed male members of the company also get to rattle their sabers, re-creating famous battles stretching back to the 14th century.
   The Cossacks’ only firm historical allegiance has been to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and they’ve battled forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Tatars and the Ottomans, mostly in service of the earlier Russian tsarist regimes. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Cossacks fought on both sides of various conflicts: for the Red and White armies, the World War II-era Russian (Red) Army and the German Wermacht.
   Winning over eastern and western European audiences as it built an eclectic repertoire of songs and dances and staged battles through the ’90s, the dance company recently set its sights on patrons abroad, and has performed in Canada and China. Truly an internationally recognized troupe, the company is looking to the final frontier: the United States. And so the Russian Cossack State Dance Company will make its U.S. debut at the State Theatre in New Brunswick April 21 and 22.
   Vitaly Mironov, the company’s impresario, manages the 50 dancers and tailors its repertoire for each of its audiences. Mr. Mironov, speaking from his home in Moscow, says the company gained a higher international profile after its August 2001 performance at Edinburgh, Scotland’s Military Tattoo festival. Apologizing for his supposedly poor English language skills, Mr. Mironov, who has been with the company since 2000, explains that the performance, which was met with rave notices by The Scotsman and The Times of London, has catapulted the Cossacks to the world stage.
   "The people at the festival were very surprised by us and impressed," he says. "Many people were discussing our (program)."
   At 2005’s Military Tattoo, the dance company’s performance caught the eye of State Theatre President and CEO Wesley Brustad, who then contacted Mr. Mironov to arrange for a pair of shows at the New Brunswick theater. Mr. Mironov envisions the dance company as agents of cultural exchange between Russia and the U.S.
   "The culture is very common in Russia," Mr. Mironov says. "Our performances are typically Russian and are energetic and romantic… lots of people in Russia think of themselves (as descendants) of the Cossacks.
   "For us, coming to the U.S.A. is very special because we know that the U.S. is a great country and has a wonderful culture," he continues. "Like Russia, U.S.A. is a big country, and has proud people and is very powerful. We just wish to present our part of Russian culture, and we want to see (audiences’) reactions to us."
   Mr. Mironov says the company is excited for its first trip to the U.S., because a nation of 300 million is a viable market for the Cossack dance performances. But he stresses that money isn’t the company’s only motivation. In fact, Mr. Mironov says the opportunity to travel to the U.S. and interact with local audiences is what’s important to the troupe.
   "For Russians, money is an important part of life, but mostly we think about how to enjoy ourselves and we concentrate on the music," Mr. Mironov says. "It’s something in the Russian spirit, (especially) in our dancers and musicians, that allows them to just enjoy themselves no matter who is sitting in front of them. People recognize when they are having a good time."
The Russian Cossack State Dance Company will perform at the State Theatre, 15 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, April 21-22, 8 p.m. Tickets cost $25-$45. For information, call (732) 246-7469. On the Web: Russian Cossack State Dance Company on the Web (English language site available):