Every summer Italians, in Italy and around the World, celebrate their country’s Republic Day. It dates back to 1946, when Italians voted to abolish their monarchy and install a republic. A lot of this was to do with the Italian monarchy’s collaboration with Mussolini and Fascist Italy before and during the Second World War. The Italian Constitution explicitly forbids any restoration of the monarchy – sounds like a good idea to me!

The Italian Embassy in Moscow organised a huge and very successful festival to celebrate Republic Day this year in Moscow. And Rock’n’Roll played a very big role in it – let us tell you about it. Or rather, let me get Alexey Kilikovsky to tell you about it. Last month I got him to write about another big Moscow festival where rock’n’roll was involved. This month he concludes his article, with a comprehensive review of the Republic Day festival and the part played in it by Rock’n’Roll. The rockin’ part centred on a rock’n’roll dance master class and social dance event, organised by my dance co-operative. It came about as a result of the Consul General at the Italian Embassy kindly inviting us to perform at the festival. Here’s Alex, to tell you more.

“Then, dolce vita going Along the merry Lungotevere Viola concerts and frivolousness Your smell of Roman holidays.” Those lyrics, from Matia Bazar’s “Vacanze Romane”, give an accurate feeling of our special rock’n’roll day at the Italy Republic Day festival in Moscow. On this day our dance co-operative had a performance to do at the venue for the festival, which was the famous Apothecary Gardens in central Moscow. The weather was sunny, but with a small wind, ideal for dancing in the open air. Though I am a Muscovite since my birth, this location was the first time I had visited it. It is a world famous centre for the study and display of plants and flowers from around the world. I should thank Richard for this occasion, because earlier my interest in plants mainly concerned the methods on how to prepare them the best way for lunch.

It was rather unexpected to find these plant miracles in the centre of Moscow. The Gardens themselves are paved with romantic paths winding among the hills, along with water channels, hillocks planted with flowers, shrubs and small trees. On the tops of some of these knolls were spots where the visitors could look at all that beauty. There were several glass pavilions with mini “jungles” inside, mimicking the vegetation of those different parts of the earth. And everywhere there were the warnings to protect the vegetation; “do not touch!”, “do not dig!”, “do not sit on the banks of the ponds!”, “do not throw coins in the ponds! “. I was even expecting, “Your fingers are being awaited in the water by the piranhas!”

In the basement of the central building there was a café of 12 cuisine varieties; I did not know why but the Russian one wasn’t present! It seemed to me the Korean and Italian ones were the most demanded.

A couple of interesting exhibitions especially attracted me at the festival; about ginseng tea plants and about beetles. The roots of ginseng were swaying in glass jars and resembled octopuses of cream colour. It turns out that nowadays they are being planted like all other crops, which is why a strange suspicion touched my mind – whether pesticides and fertilisers are used for the ginseng harvest or not? And how they might influence the healing properties of ginseng?

The beetle insects were in glass boxes, very varied there in sizes, colours and general impressions. These representatives of this dangerous world impressed the watchers, similar to the creatures of Stephen King’s “The Mist”. Among well-pinned unattractive spawns looking like alien scouts, there was a long slim stick insect which resembled something unknown to me. Aha! By reading the text about it next to its box, it turned out that in addition to gangling limbs and neck this mantis has got my Latin name – Alex. Wow! “We be one blood, thou and I”, to quote from Mowgli in “Jungle Book”. Having got out of this dark dungeon, I left for the performance stage to meet our dance class.

A huge lawn was reserved for tents and pavilions of Italian companies, master-classes and workshops. It was possible to try on and buy the best of Italian achievements well known in the USSR and Russia; for example, house slippers, slightly similar to Chinese ones (or Chinese ones are similar to Italian ones?). Also the coolest men’s shoes – their appearance was strong, reliable and solid and once you put them on they seemed to add to the features to the owner. I was moved by 6 plastic flowers planted on the outsoles of one pair (surely these shoes were not for wearing? It was an art object? To be kept in the anteroom?). Then there were the sunglasses that turned the wearer into a romantic, iconic and (of course!) erotic being.

Quite expectedly there was a Ferrari nearby, and everyone could touch it, glide it, kiss it, worship it, sit in it and take a picture. An attendant driver regularly rubbed it with a cloth after the guests had made contact with it. In the food court there were the most delicious items of Italian cuisine, mainly adjusted for the weather (ice creams, cakes, candies and cheeses). My friend OIga and myself ordered coffee, she told me that it was very good with some milk, but for me the paper cup could not help to feel the achievements of this particular Italian coffee brand. As far as I am concerned coffee must be served in a pre-warmed porcelain cup and is better tasted when the lucky coffee lover is sitting in silence in a good location to unwind, to enable one to concentrate on the particular aroma and taste.

In the meantime nearby the stage several couples were dancing to the Italian group La Banda. Like the name of the band, their songs were simple and uncomplicated; a little bit of romance, a little bit of love, a little bit of missing someone, a big bit of Italian. La Banda-style – some kind of spaghetti western in dance music.

Finally, our time had come. Richard announced the beginning of the rock’n’roll class. Some of the large audience wanted to join the class, some were happy to watch the dancers and listen to the music. So some of us danced with our own partners mainly. Having shown the main steps and a couple of movements, Richard invited all the guests to the social dances. Soon he called Olga and me to join him and Tatyana on the stage, where we luxuriated as celebrities, as if for the first time. Then Richard demonstrated and danced the famous Stroll line dance and this time many more people joined the lines to participate.

After the Stroll we returned back to the lawn in front of the stage. The rock’n’roll dances did not stop, as a young Italian man named Mathew Lee appeared on the stage and played his set, which was heavily weighted in rock’n’roll. With his keyboard synthesizer he made an impression, as if there was a whole band on stage – a kind of “L’homme orchestra” but with a singer too! I got a feeling as if he had 8 fingers in each hand; and as if for special cases it seemed as if he had been using the toes on his feet. He played Great! He easily re-mastered boogie woogie style tunes and rhythms into the rock’n’roll style, even the classic Rossini’s “Tarantella”. Many of the songs he played were so fast that even my feet, though well trained by ballroom dancing and Carolina shag, could not keep up with the rhythm all the time. It sounded as if he used every joint of his fingers while playing!

Finally, he took a sad song about departing and performed it so joyfully that there was nothing left of sadness. He was a great success with the audience and his talent confirmed the final words of Richard; “Everyone of us is different, but there is something that unites us all and this is rock’n’roll!” You can see a photo of Mathew Lee with this article, surrounded by our dance team.

The Italian group Matia Bazar was the next band on stage. They are a very famous band in Italy and I already knew a lot about them. They were the final act of the day i.e. top of the bill. However, they currently have new personnel making up the group with new songs. In my opinion they are just shades of the previous line-up from a few years ago. Fortunately we heard a couple of their old songs (one of them was my favourite “Vacanze Romane”) and we danced to them in a kind of slow fox trot with great pleasure and happiness. The new songstress vocalist was of such a luxurious form (watch “Tinto Brass” movies to see what I mean) that the audience was mainly staring at her, rather than listening or dancing.

Finally the Italian Consul General came on stage, happy and cheerful and in a very individual style thanked the audience for their participation during the day. It was great to spend time in such an unusual place, in such an unusual environment! Thanks, Richard.

And Thankyou Alex, for another well written piece! One of the many things Italy is famous for is their Italian style, be it in clothes, cars or classy women – nice to know they can also produce stylish rock’n’roll!

Richard Hume