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The fourth annual Russian Winter Festival saw the biggest audience turn out on record and put the event as key to London’s top cultural offerings. Thousands upon thousands of people, statistically varied in age and ethnic background, both Londoners and non-Londoners, flocked to London’s iconic centre to enjoy a full day of fun, free entertainment and a taste of Russian delights, both literally and metaphorically.

“This year the Festival has extended far beyond the boundaries of Trafalgar Square, London and even of Britain itself. This is evident when you look at the television broadcasts being filmed for German, Italian, Turkish, Japanese, Korean and Chinese channels and many others from around the world. The son of the Sultan of Brunei, Prince Azim has even been with us here today!”Sergei Kolushev, Chairman of RBCA, RWF Organisers

Thanks to the RWF Official Carrier, BMI, which transported on their Moscow-London route the acts of 2008 – on 13th January, London experienced a new and refreshing line-up of Russia’s stage prowess, carefully selected from a quite remarkable talent pool. Seeking to unite the young with the old; the future with the past; the east with the west, the Russian Winter Festival looked far a field for the creative spirit it brought to London. It held open arms to the varieties of culture, language and style to be found within the vast land mass of the Russian Federation, sure in the conviction that they would enthrall the London audience with their diversity of spirit and expression, just as their predecessors had done in the last three years.

The day began with a touch of festival essence – new Russian talent being nurtured in London. Two Russian London children’s groups, the Rosinka Choir and School Znaniye opened the day’s programme with a song and then two dance numbers with vocal content. The bar was then raised to professional level with the mid-Russian folk ensemble Slavanye, formed under the direction of Nadezhda Babkina, one of Russia’s biggest variety performers. The crowd was treated to a charismatic and energetic rendition of Russian folk numbers, both up-tempo and modern, and also more traditional ballads. An exotic display of national costume and Buryat artistic tradition followed, with a stunning performance from the Buryat National Ensemble Baikal. Organisers’ thanks goes to the Federal Agency of Culture and Cinematography of the Russian Federation, for their significant contribution in helping to arrange these two groups’ participation.

The festival promises surprises and the group that hit the stage next were certainly that – the Aquaaerobics Project fronted by Andrei Bartenev. Indicative of nightlife culture with a futuristic feel, the Aquaaerobics Project has already performed in Vienna and Amsterdam, as well as in Russia’s two great cities Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Complete with plastic guitars and fluorescent alien style costumes, they appeared in London for the first time, at the RWF and were met by rapturous applause.

Europe Media Group, Partner of the RWF 2008, invited the next performer to the event, Mark Tishman. Mark, winner of Silver Medal of the prestigious Star Factory show, broadcast on First Channel in Russia, soon made it clear how he had reached the dizzying heights of stardom. A singer of great talent with a stage presence of electrifying power, Mark sang even from the Square itself after leaping from the stage to be nearer to his fans.

“Your greatest event ever and I’ve been to them all!”Colin Greatorex, regular festival visitor

A more traditional feel was brought back to the Square with the Russian National Dance Show Kostroma who performed next. Having already danced a two hour show of tear- jerking beauty with impressive stage effects at the Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday, Kostroma once more showed their mastery of classical dance, incorporating a humourous take on Russian culture, both old and new. The Official Speeches that followed included words from Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, who made reference to the importance of Russian economic influence in London; Yury Fedotov, the Russian Ambassador to Great Britain who raised the importance of “people to people diplomacy” when political diplomacy fails; Vyaceslav Nikonov, General Director of Russkiy Mir, the organisation that promotes Russian culture and language at home and abroad and Vasily Vanovoi, famous Russian actor, who spoke a few words of thanks to the Russian performers and reminded us in the words of Pushkin to “(lit. Eat, drink and be merry) Delight in the time we have left”.

Sasha Revva from Russia’s comedy club joined Lieran Stubbings from event Organisers, RBCA on stage to present the second half of the RWF programme. He aimed for several world records, the first being the biggest karaoke in the world, with a crowd rendition of the song “Moroz, Moroz” (Frost, Frost)! Russian rock and pop then came into it’s own with the group Sankt Peterburg. One of the first groups to be worthy of the title ‘Russian rock’, Sankt Peterburg were formed in the eponymous city in 1967, making their entry onto the music scene only in 1970, but immediately vindicating the delay by almost overnight success. At the RWF they performed their new programme.
The retro ensemble of both Soviet and Russian era, Zemlanye, kept the audience buzzing with their 25 minute set that followed, before the girl group Kuba made their debut on Trafalgar Square. Kuba, born of Star Factory in 2004, consists of two students of the Moscow College of Jazz Music, Anna Kulikova and Alexandra Balakireva. The beginning of their surnames forms the name of their popular contemporary rock/pop group.

The RWF welcomed back with a magnificent stage show, complete with boy dancer entourage, Dima Bilan, brought by the Russian radio station, Evropa Plus. Already an accomplished and much loved performer in Russia, Dima’s pop sound always leaves Trafalgar Square wanting more. He performed officially for the second time at the event.

DJ Lupin of Dyagilev Moscow and Movida London, brought back to the RWF the club scene with his mix of club tracks, as the final band of the day prepared their last minute sound checks. Alisa, the legendary Russian rock band formed in 1983 in Leningrad (aka Saint Petersburg), managed by one of Russia’s biggest names in the music business, Konstantin Kinchev, and introduced by another RWF surprise, footballer Alexei Smertin, kept the crowds enthralled with their dialogue of contemporary reality and energetic performance.

Other Festival attractions included the return of the Moscow State Children’s Puppet Theatre, who entertained our youngest audience members on the North Terrace alongside the five gigantic traditional Russian Matrieshka dolls, brought in especially to promote the event. The Square was also once again filled with the waft of warming blinis (Russian pancakes) and pirozhkis (Russian pies), borsch (beetroot soup) and shashlik (Russian kebabs), all the more enticing in the romantic crisp wintery air, deepened with the incense of burning orthodox church candles. Festival goers had the opportunity to shop for Russian trinkets, souvenirs and T-shirts before the numbers grew and the atmosphere became more festive yet, with genuine Russian beer flowing from the pumps and tea urns steaming to the festival beat.

No Russian Winter Festival would be complete without the chiming New Year bells that yield a special theatrical surprise once the sun has set. The New Year moment 2008 heralded the lead into the New Year as it was known under the Tsarist calendar, with snow machines and projection of chilly Russian winter scenes, before Trafalgar Square was embraced in a huge Russian flag projected across the crowds and a rousing chorus of the famous Russian song ‘Kalinka’.

The Organisers of the RWF would like to offer their sincerest thanks to all the artists who quit their snowy climes to head for ‘foggy Albion’ as England is lovingly dubbed in Russian, to recapture for yet another year the atmosphere of Russian passion and fresh winter energy akin to the event.

The Organisers would like to offer their apologies for the regulation of access to Trafalgar Square at certain times of the day. This was due to health and safety considerations, given the vast number of visitors already present at the event. They would also like to say a huge thank you to the Mayor of London’s Office and the Greater London Authority for their significant support of the Russian Winter Festival.

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