Thursday, 20 May 2010
The Dance of Russia
Tolstoy’s War and Peace for me is remarkable as a set of epic scenes held together by a loose narrative and a somewhat tendentious philosophy of history. Those epic scenes, though, are incomparable, pushing to the heart of national consciousness, pushing to the heart of what it is to be Russian.
There is no better illustration of this idea than that depicting the dance of Countess Natasha Rostova, an aristocrat, French educated, a person who knows, or should know, nothing of deep Russia, not sophisticated, just enduring. Yet after the wolf hunt, when the party is resting in a peasant hut, after her uncle begins a folk tune on his guitar, she dances, a dance she has never been taught. At once all of the cosmopolitan sophistication disappears; at once she reaches by intuition alone into the ancient culture of her people. Tolstoy describes it thus;
Here was a young countess, educated by a French émigré governess. Where, when and how had she imbibed the spirit of that peasant dance along with the Russian air she breathed, and those movements which the French style should have squeezed out of her long ago? But her movements and the spirit of them were truly Russian, inimitable, unteachable.
It’s a sublime moment, beautifully captured in words, beautifully captured in image in Sergei Bondarchuk’s movie made in the days of the old Soviet Union.