[b]Allure Gypsy Show is to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the end of the year. Recently, AT the Minsk Automobile Plant'S Palace of Culture, Lyudmila Rodionova, the artistic head of the ensemble, has also celebrated her personal anniversary[/b]Their songs awaken feelings long forgotten in the bustle of everyday life. We sometimes feel that we’ve lost the ability to burst into laughter or be moved to tears — as happened so easily in childhood. However, certain melodies can revive us, bringing us back to life and happiness, raising our spirits. The Allure Gypsy Show brings joy, making us realise that those feelings are truly never far from the surface.
I first saw their creativity at a birthday party, where it’s now fashionable to invite well-known musical groups to perform. The wife of the birthday boy ‘presented’ her husband with Gypsies — artistes of the State Youth Variety Theatre. I must admit that I was hugely impressed by their professionalism and the guests were all amazed by the performance, let alone the guest of honour, who was moved for a long time by his unexpected gift, tenderly smiling at his wife and constantly thanking her. The surprise was a true success…
Later, I saw a concert by the Allure Gypsy Show. It’s a real spectacle to see how the audience responds with tears, laughter, cries of encouragement and applause to the songs. Each is a mini-performance — bright in form and deep in content, testifying to the ‘strong hand’ of production director Lyudmila Rodionova, who also sings and designs costumes.
Of what does Allure sing? Of love, life and fate: dear to every person. Moreover, they dance so spectacularly that you immediately wish to join in the whirlwind of dance.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary concert for the Rodionov family, Lyudmila and Sergey came to our editorial office with daughter Natalia Gorbacheva, who sings.
Many describe performances as ‘Gypsy’ and ‘non-Gypsy’, with the former encompassing everything dealing with music, dancing and showbiz. How long has it taken for you to master this and what inspired you to create the ensemble?
This year, we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary of giving concerts under the ‘Allure’ brand. Initially, we were a trio playing Gypsy songs and ballads. Of course, we saw that people enjoyed our repertoire and had the idea of sewing costumes, for a ‘Gypsy’ segment. This proved a great success, much to our delight. I proposed that we bring dancers into our small family group and Sergey and Natalia agreed. At first, one couple appeared, then another and so on. We also found a violinist and, in the course of time, an accordion player. Our ensemble formed over five years.
How did you become artistes of the State Youth Variety Theatre?
After one of our performances, Vasily Rainchik, the Artistic Leader of the Youth Variety Theatre, approached us to ask where we were from and where we worked. When he learnt that we were independent, he invited us to join his theatre and go on a major concert tour entitled ‘For Belarus’ — travelling the country’s regions and performing at concert venues with audiences of 100,000. We were very keen and truly delighted, as we were always welcomed with great enthusiasm.
How do you find your work with the Variety Theatre?
It’s very comfortable — as there’s a good rehearsal hall and the stage is perfect. We’re very grateful to Mr. Rainchik for all he does, involving us in concerts and performances.
To whom do you owe your musical talent?
L.: I was born in Ukraine’s Poltav Region, where Russian writer Nikolay Gogol wrote his ‘The Fair at Sorochyntsi’. My roots are in Mirgorod and Dikanka, where all my remaining relatives live. My father had four sisters and, when they all gathered together, my aunts would sing and the whole street would come to listen. I often spent summer holidays in these villages, taking part in club concerts and various events. I earned fame as a local ‘artiste’. However, I’ve lived all my life in Belarus. My father — a military man — was transferred to Minsk when I was four and I performed on stage from the age of five, singing in the legendary ‘Zorachka’ ensemble, at the Republican House of Pioneers. Other groups followed. I’ve enjoyed so much experience and have learnt to give myself fully to songs. ‘Allure’ always sings live.
N.: It’s clearly where my musical genes come from. Before I began singing with my parents, I sang with the University of Culture ensemble and then with Gosteleradio’s ‘Gostitsa’ Folklore Ensemble, singing a cappella in Belarusian. I’ve loved singing since early childhood and have now been singing on stage with my parents for 15 years.
S.: My father is also a military man, born in Russia’s Saratov Region and serving in Minsk, where he stayed. My mother is Belarusian and played the harmonica, as did my aunt. There were Gypsies among my distant relatives (on my father’s side) which may inspire my ability for music. Moreover, my father played the balalaika brilliantly. All my life, I only thought of him as a military man but, in fact, he was also a balalaika-player. I became closer to music as a ninth grade pupil, although I also devoted part of my free time to gymnastics — involved almost professionally.
After finishing school, I went into the army. On learning of my affinity for sports and music, they offered me a job as a musician. After completing my service, at the border, I headed the army orchestra, conducting the musicians. I then worked with the ‘Krasnaya Zvezda’ Orchestra, under Alexander Skakh — whose memory I cherish. He was an excellent teacher and gave me much ‘musical wisdom’. I’ve worked with other orchestras too, including at a restaurant.
How did you meet Lyudmila?
S.: She came to the restaurant to find a job as a singer. It was less than a year before she took the initiative in her hands. I was shocked that she wasn’t afraid of losing her voice but she suggested that we only sing live. Her powerful energy, determination, assertiveness and drive made me fall in love with her.
L.: Yes, singing in a restaurant is a good way of learning if you take yourself seriously and sing at full strength.
Does Lyudmila continue to ‘wear the trousers’?
N.: Yes. With my father, I’m happy to concede to her, as she does this very well.
Who arranges music for you?
L.: Sergey does and also writes musical scores for our musicians, who all have a conservatoire education.
Does Gypsy culture influence your life, tastes and relations with people?
L.: As far as Gypsy traditions are concerned, we don’t observe them, as we aren’t Gypsies. There is nothing of the Gypsy in our everyday life, except for playing the guitar at home. However, musical Gypsy culture is a powerful influence on our lives; it has completely absorbed us. We don’t have any leisure time, as we’re constantly working. Simply, it’s a cultural trend which is popular.
Why is this?
L.: Gypsies have much we can learn from. I think their culture releases us from inner constraint, inviting in a wonderful world of joy and cheer. We see from the stage how faces are transformed from sombre to smiling during the show. By the time we take our bows, we see completely different faces: cheerful and laughing.
Many Gypsy songs draw on philosophical musings, making them more intelligent than some. Does this matter to you in selecting your repertoire?
L.: Of course, it can’t be otherwise. We include only good songs in our repertoire. It’s no secret that we’re invited to corporate parties and birthday celebrations, so we have to use psychology in selecting appropriate songs — for a man or a woman, a newly-wed couple or those who’ve lived together for many years. We also monitor the mood of the guest of honour and the reactions of guests, trying to involve everyone in our festive atmosphere. As a rule, everyone tends to enjoy songs ‘with meaning’: about love, life and fate. They cry and rejoice at one and the same time. When we leave, they run after us, hug us, ask for autographs and praise us. What could be better?
How do you feel on seeing an emotional response from your audience?
L.: If they laugh, it warms our souls; if they cry, we cry with them…
S.: Previously, it was difficult, as Natasha used to always cry during concerts — until she matured.
N.: This happens even now, especially when I have to sing for friends or relatives.
L.: Once, we were singing at the House of Veterans. One was sitting in the front row and I saw a tear running down his cheek. Immediately, I felt a lump in my throat, making it difficult to sing. I understood that I shouldn’t allow this to happen but it’s much better than playing the clown or lip-synching.
How many people comprise your ensemble and where do they come from? Are there any Gypsies among them and how often do you perform?
L.: We now have 25 people in the ensemble but only one Gypsy — Adam Malinovsky, who comes from Mozyr. He used to work with professional bands in Moldova (in particular, the ‘Zhok’ State Ensemble). The remainder all boast a conservatoire education while our dancers graduated from the University of Culture and the Choreography College. Over the past decade, the band has changed but the major core remains the same: the family of Rodionovs and Gorbachevs. Since our first days of establishing ‘Allure’, Alexander Kulgun, Dmitry Miranovich, Sergey Kuchko and Anna Mashkova have liaised with us. Anya has worked with us since childhood while the others have been with us for six to three years. All are young and talented.
Is Allure like a big family, where everything goes well?
S.: Of course. If some questions arise, as is natural for any artistic family, they are resolved in a peaceful manner. We all have different opinions but Lyudmila advises our artistes to ‘grow’ as creative personalities, not letting their talent stagnate. You need to nurture your talent rather than concentrating on your fame.
L.: As soon as someone begins to think that they are a star, they should retire from the stage, as Lyudmila Gurchenko once said. I like to repeat it for their edification!
How do you enhance your professionalism as director?
L.: I have no idea where my inspiration comes from — perhaps some natural intuition or genetic memory. Sometimes, I’ve seen or read something long ago which has greatly impressed me. It transforms inside me, ferments gently and comes to light at the proper time, when we need to update our programme. I just sit and write a script. Each of our concerts differs from the last. I also invent costumes, draw designs, find fabrics and select colours. My brother’s wife sews them while I embellish them with various beautiful items.
I’ve heard that you hire a separate flat to store costumes?
L.: We can’t do otherwise, as we have 16 sets of costumes. We change costumes up to seven times during each concert — or even more. We’re often asked how we manage to change our clothes so many times…
Allure’s repertoire encompasses famous ballads and hits from long ago. Which new pieces have been recently added and what are your plans? Do you use Gypsy folklore, aphorisms and Gypsy words?
L.: We perform not only ballads and Gypsy hits, although Gypsy folk songs (in Sergey’s arrangements) account for 90 percent of our programme. We also have songs by unknown composers.
S.: We love one particularly tender ballad, entitled ‘I Won’t Speak with Words’ but no one knows the composer. Moreover, it has its own story of how it came to be added to our repertoire. Many years ago, a small Gypsy boy brought us an audio cassette, saying: ‘Take this, maybe, you’ll like something’. We chose this ballad out of all the songs and still sing it. Unfortunately, we don’t know the name of that Gypsy boy.
What I like about Gypsy culture is that Gypsies can take any song they enjoy and re-sing it in their own manner, introducing their own nuances. Many ballads have been preserved due to Gypsies.
L.: Yes, Gypsies have taken the best, most spiritual elements from each culture. For example, they might hear a beautiful melody, remember it and then re-invent it in their own way. The Gypsy song is then ready for performance.
N.: During our performances, we also ‘flavour’ the songs with Gypsy words, as Gypsies do. For instance, we sing: Romale, your boots are hot; my gold, my diamond, my pearl… or ‘Misto! Sukar! Barvales!’ which can be translated as everything is well, wonderful and rich.
L.: Adam teaches us a great deal. Our use of hands, legs, head and eyes and manner of dress are influenced by him. Before he joined us, we had a good teacher from the Gypsy diaspora — Artur Gomanov — to whom we’re also very grateful.
According to Gypsy legend, God loves Gypsies for their ability to enjoy life, their merrymaking and talent. Accordingly, he decided not to ‘tie’ them to any particular land, unlike other nations. He presented them with the whole world. This may be why they like to wander. How often does your band tour, bringing joy to people?
L.: You’d better ask us when we’re at home (laughing). We’ve already visited a great many places, travelling all over Belarus and visiting the Canary Islands, as well as Israel, the Baltic States and Russia. Once, we spent four days cruising the Volga River. When we sang the ‘Banks’ song, we were floating down the river, with people on the shore waving to us in approval and delight.
How did you end up in the Canaries?
S.: Our good friends live there, and helped in establishing the Association of Slavonic Cultures. They invited us to perform alongside world stars.
L.: Although the British, Italians and those from the Canaries accept us warmly, they can’t compare with Belarusian audiences, whose open reaction makes me cry. Our concert halls, wherever we travel, are always full. I must admit that it’s challenging to perform in your own homeland, since you have to meet audiences’ expectations. Moreover, you have to sing and dance in such a way that you inspire people to come to your concerts again.
This happened after our solo concert in Mogilev. As we left, people began to ask us when we’d return. Such comments are so precious, they inspire us greatly. When we tour Belarusian cities, we enjoy our roads and fresh air and our beautiful and grateful people, who come to our concerts as if they are on holiday.
S. It often touches our hearts to see audiences coming into our performances.
L.: I most enjoy performing in my native land, although it would be nice to visit Ukraine — my historical homeland. Negotiations are currently underway. There’s also a beautiful place between Mirgorod and Khorol.
How do ethnic Gypsies view your efforts? Have you ever given concerts to the Belarusian diaspora of Gypsies?
L.: We’ve never had this opportunity but our concerts in Nesvizh and Uritsk (near Gomel) have been attended by large numbers of Gypsies — even whole families. It’s lovely when they come up after a performance to thank us. Our costumes are stylised and we aren’t Gypsies. Moreover, the arrangement of our songs is modern, so we feel nervous performing to ‘real’ Gypsies. However, in all our years of performing, we’ve never had a Gypsy criticise us. Rather, they praise us.
N.: I remember one elderly Gypsy woman speaking to me in Gypsy language after a concert. When she learnt that I wasn’t a Gypsy she began to thank me. She was very grateful to me for promoting her culture. Praise from Gypsies, especially those who can sing and dance better than us, is hugely precious.
S.: They run onto the stage in the final moments of the concert and begin to dance with us! These are unforgettable moments at our performances, where there are Gypsies in the audience.
Gypsy music used to inspire famous composers, such as Franz Liszt, Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms. They say that Russian chanson also originates from Gypsy ballads, borrowing their dramatic effect and other characteristics. Do you have Belarusian songs in your repertoire or those of your own composition, of which you’re proud?
S.: We do have some. For instance, ‘Gypsies Have Come to Our City’, with lyrics written by Mikhail Gets. We’ve used this song to open several of our programmes and co-operate closely with Oleg Yeliseenkov, using three of his songs, with my own arrangements. One, entitled ‘Ravens’, was performed by Alexey Petrenko, a People’s Artist of Russia, at Yeliseenkov’s artistic meeting; we joined him in singing it. Now, we have this song in our repertoire, alongside another by Albert Mikhailov. He was once the Deputy Chairman of the Starye Dorogi District Executive Committee and approached us after a concert, offering his verses as a gift. I’ve composed music for them. We recently learnt that he had passed away, yet his songs remain.
L.: Natalia has written a song about our ‘Allure’. As far as Belarusian songs are concerned, of course, they are present in our repertoire. We perform these with our Belarusian pop performers: Alexander Tikhanovich and Yadviga Poplavskaya — at the ‘Slavonic Bazaar’ and at their artistic evenings. We’ve also sung with Victoria Oleshko, Iskui Obolyan, Nikolay Skorikov, Valery Skorozhenok, Vladimir Radivilov and other Belarusian singers. We respond eagerly to their proposals and try to return the offer.
Gypsies value their society, family, profession and faith. What about you?
L.: We agree that these are important values, but I’d also add friendship. How can you live without friends? To be sincere, I’d say that I appreciate all I’ve created. After I’m gone, ‘Allure’ will continue — as long as it works at full capacity, as today. I can say that work and home (and family) are equal in importance to me because we also work at home. Moreover, we work today, so that we can continue to work tomorrow.
By Valentina Zhdanovich