I had better write something before the second week of the holidays is over! The first week of the school holidays had long been booked out for The Russian Visit. When we went to Russia with Exeter Children’s Orchestra in 2010 it was always with a view to receiving a reciprocal visit in Exeter, and some of us had been planning it for about a year! We hosted a group of dancers ‘Dans-Capella’, as well as an accordion & bayan orchestra ‘Yaroslavichi’, all young people from Yaroslavl, Exeter’s twin city in Russia. There were a few accompanying adults too; dance tutors and musical director, as well as the Principal of Art School No. 1 – Yaroslavl’s top school for the arts, one of the venues we performed in when we visited.
The Russians were hosted in families from the orchestra, or families who had travelled to Russia with us in 2010, and that all seemed to run smoothly – a lot of people relied heavily on google translate, what a wonderful invention. One friend of mine even gleefully used it, along with copy and paste on her phone, to send texts to her guests *in Russian* – very impressive. I confess we didn’t have to use it that much – one of the girls who stayed with us understood enough English to relay everything to the other one, and between them they managed to gesticulate and use enough English to make us understand most things!
Over the first weekend they spent time with ECO in rehearsals and then on the Saturday night we got together with a couple of other families within walking distance for an evening meal – one of them was hosting the bass balalaika player so we had some fun playing with that!
On the Sunday they performed together at our Spring Concert – EYO managed to accompany some of the dancers, and the accordions played with ECO in one of their pieces – as well as separate performances from everyone.
On the Monday, the dancers spent the day at Exeter College, with the performing arts dance students there; they exchanged traditional folk dances – the English taught the Russians some Maypole dances, and the Russians taught the English a traditional folk dance as well. We also had a civic reception from the Mayor in the middle of the day – in Russia the culture is very different and everything is controlled by the city council, so this was a diplomatic effort on behalf of our Lord Mayor – even though ECO organised and paid for everything, she was wonderful at ‘officially’ receiving the group.
Back to the college for rehearsals in the afternoon, and tea laid on by the college catering students, then a performance at Exeter College in the evening. It was actually incredible to see the dancers ‘close up’, having seen them on the big stage the night before – a totally different experience.
Tuesday was a day trip for the Russians, down to Dartmouth then a boat ride to Greenway (Agatha Christie’s house). Tuesday evening was meant to be with host families; we’d planned fish & chips but then our girls wanted to explore the city instead, so they did – on foot – and got the bus home! They seemed to get on fine, although they did end up eating in McDonald’s, but I shouldn’t mock as I remember some of our party eating there when we were in Moscow (not us, I hasten to add )!
Wednesday was a partial day out – we visited the Norman Lockyer Observatory in Sidmouth. I confess to sleeping through most of it (well, these presentations happen in darkened rooms and I just can’t help it) but the telescopes were interesting. From there we went to a hotel in Sidmouth for a lovely lunch, then the Russians shopped in Sidmouth while we sat and had tea in the hotel After that we travelled across to Exmouth Community College, whose deputy head teacher was a member of ECO in his youth, travelled to Russia with them back in the 90s, and still plays the balalaika now – so he had offered to host a performance as well.
We were worried that we might not get much of an audience but we ended up with a full house which was brilliant. The dance and music was incredible all over again, too – we were just blown away by the accordions – videos don’t do them justice!.
Thursday was a day trip to the Eden project for the Russians, and then a Ceilidh for everyone. Excellent fun here – by now everyone had relaxed and made friends, even the adults – there was some vodka consumption in one corner No photos of this from me unfortunately!
Friday, their last full day in Exeter, was spent mainly shopping! The day was broken up by lunch, some gift giving, and an afternoon concert for the accordion players, and then we arranged for them to go and busk outside as well.
More shopping after that, and then a final evening with host families before setting off on Saturday morning for some time in London before going to Heathrow for an evening flight.
An amazing week really – as I have said in other places, I am so proud of ECO all over again, for being the sort of organisation that can pull off hosting such a brilliant week for people. It was very interesting to watch how the Russians relaxed as the week went on – from some tricky negotiations over the concerts/rehearsals on the first weekend to them being completely at home by the end of the week and not worrying about the details because they trusted us more (I felt). Host families were wonderful, as were key people playing organisational roles. Still, it was good to get to the end of the week and breathe a sigh of relief to send them on their way, in the knowledge that they’d had a brilliant time – there were tearful farewells between some families and their guests on the last morning, which just went to show how amazing an experience it had been.