It was anything but quiet Thursday afternoon at Selby Library, when a group of young dancers and musicians from Eastern Europe filled the normally hushed atrium with the sound of stomping boots, slapping hands, accordion music and thundering shouts.
The Golden Gates, a youth cultural exchange group from St. Petersburg, Russia, gave library patrons a taste of the old world with a hastily scheduled performance of traditional folk dance and music.
The 15 performers, ages 15 to 20, are the most recent group assembled by Russian native Vitaliy Bezrodlov, now a resident of North Carolina, who has been organizing tours around the U.S. with different students every year since 1993. The goal of the exchange is not only to share the culture, dance and music of Russia with a world-wide audience, but to make a “people to people” connection between countries politically or socially at odds — not only the U.S. and Russia, but also the homelands of the various student dancers, who come from Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
“It’s especially important right now, a difficult time when there is a lot of misunderstanding and propoganda,” Bezrodlov said. “This is the best way to let people know we really are and not to let the Cold War happen again.”
Observers got a look at different dance styles — from a percussive and progressively faster Siberian version to a more fluid and flowing Georgian one — as well as an introduction to the balalaika, a three stringed ukelele-like instrument in various sizes, and a bayan accordion. Audience participation was encouraged, either by joining in for a quadrille (circle dance) or supplying the correct response to a “What’s this music?” game. (Answer: The Russian variation from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.”)
The Golden Gates dancers, who receive no government funding, were sponsored by the Friends of the Selby Library and the Sister Cities Association of Sarasota. Vladimir, Russia is one of Sarasota’s nine sister cities.