Russian festival bring the East to northeasten Ohio

Mark Haymond

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the 2010 Something Russian Festival brought smells, sights, sounds and ideas of Russia to northeastern Ohio at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Mogadore.

The performance tent was standing room only. Festival attendees wiped sweat from their brows in spite of the chilly rain outside. The dancers spun, stomped and whooped to ancient beats in ornate red, white and black costumes. Some dancers were children as young as three, learning the moves this year for the first time. Others, like Dan Simpson, a Kent State alumnus, have been at it for years. Dan’s mother, Rosemary Simpson, has been the director of The St. Nicholas Russian Youth Dancers, since its founding 25 years ago.

The dancers changed characters from dance to dance; one moment they paid tribute to teams of horses in the frozen forests, the next moment they waltzed as aristocrats in a medieval court.

For Paul Pappas, the big draw was the food.

“There is no way you can get chicken this good in the store,” Pappas said.

In the banquet hall, strangers sat shoulder to shoulder, filling every chair. Several children had powdered sugar beards, the result of eating Ponchikis, Russian fried donuts. Butter poured from Chicken Kiev, juices from the cabbage rolls. Pint bottles of Baltika beer sweated from the heat.

Craft booths surrounded the communal dinner tables. Handmade imports from Russia and crafts made by members of the local community came in all color, sizes and prices. Julie Gorsuch painted Ukrainian Easter eggs, called Pysanky. She learned the delicate art three years ago and seemed unfazed by the people who watched as she practiced her craft.

All was quiet within the church itself. Some attendees entered, and several sat at the pews and prayed. Some people purchased and lit red candles in memory of lost loved ones or prayer for the living.

The painted images that cover the wooden façade of the altar seem out of time, untouched by Renaissance sensibilities. Two-dimensional and flat, the iconography tells the stories of the New Testament in a way largely unchanged from the wall paintings of the ancient churches of Constantinople.

Orthodoxy is a faith of tradition; at the Something Russian Festival, that tradition was showcased in the food, the dancing, the artistry and the quiet corners of the church itself.

You can contact Mark Haymond at [email protected].