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Festival and series of events focus on Russia

Nov. 5, 2010

KALAMAZOO--All things Russian will be explored in a series of November events sponsored by Western Michigan University Nov. 11-13.

A poetry reading in Portage and a Russian Studies Conference on campus will precede the 15th annual Kalamazoo Russian Festival. That popular community attraction will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, in the Fetzer Center at WMU.

The festival's main sponsor is the Kalamazoo-Pushkin Partnership, a citizen group formed in 1992 to help promote relationships between Kalamazoo and its sister-city Pushkin, Russia. Co-sponsoring the event this year are the Portage District Library and WMU's Department of English, Diether H. Haenicke Institute for Global Education and Lee Honors College.

Two events will precede this year's festival.

Local poet Judith Rypma, a WMU master faculty specialist in English, will present "A Tribute to Russia in Poems and Pictures" at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, in the Portage District Library, 300 Library Lane, Portage, Mich. The free presentation will feature Rypma reading her poetry that is set in Russia and showing slides of that country. Light refreshments and tea will be available.

Rypma also is coordinating a Russian Studies Conference that will be held on the WMU campus from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12, in rooms 1025 and 1028 of Brown Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Russian Studies Conference sessions

  • "Last Days of the Romanovs in Novel, 'The Kitchen Boy,'" by best-selling author Robert Alexander at 11 a.m., to be followed by a book signing.

  • "Civic Activism in Post-Communist Russia" by Dr. James Butterfield, Fulbright Scholar and WMU professor of political science at 2 p.m.

  • "The Need for Cultural Diplomacy is Growing" by Dr. Vyacheslav Moshkalo, counselor cultural attaché with the Russian embassy at 3 p.m.

Alexander is the author of a historical fiction trilogy composed of 2003's "The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar," 2006's "Rasputin's Daughter" and 2008's "The Romanov Bride." "The Kitchen Boy" was a New York Times Bestseller and is in film production while "Rasputin's Daughter" was a National Bestseller.

His work is "remarkably accurate and meticulously researched," says Rypma. "The fact that he manages to throw in plot twists and suggest alternative possibilities to historical events makes you re-examine everything you know about the period, but also demonstrates how remarkable prose can emerge in the hands of a talented, yet conscientious historian."

The Russian festival itself will take place in rooms throughout WMU's Fetzer Center and feature a variety of entertainment as well as an art gallery displaying Russian art, coins and currency; the sale of authentic Russian cuisine; tea served Russian style; and an area where children can listen to music and learn to play Russian games.

The festival is being co-directed by Helen Palleschi and Michael Stoline.

Kalamazoo Russian Festival highlights

  • A concert by the Chicago Cossacks from noon to 1 p.m. in Kirsch Auditorium. This ensemble of three musicians and one vocalist plays traditional Russian instruments and performs music as diverse as Russian, Ukrainian, Cossack, Jewish, Gypsy (Roma) and American oldies.

  • A concert by the Red Sea Pedestrians from 1 to 2 p.m. in Kirsch Auditorium. This Kalamazoo group uses a mix of common instruments and writes as well as performs music with Klezmer, Greek, gypsy, Celtic, jazz and American roots that fuses the traditional and modern.

  • A concert by The Kalamazoo Strings Go Russian from 2 to 3 p.m. in Kirsch Auditorium. This three-man group will perform an eclectic mix of Russian-themed music that includes traditional melodies and movie and Broadway standards plus Gypsy, jazz and Beatles music.

  • A second talk and book signing by Robert Alexander from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. in Putney Auditorium. He will address two more of his books in a talk on "Exploring the Romanovs in Historical Fiction."

  • A Russian play by students from the Marshall Academy in Marshall, Mich., and a music and dance performance by Russian embassy youths dressed in colorful traditional costumes.

Admission to the family-friendly Kalamazoo Russian Festival is $8 for adults and $5 for students with I.D. Children under age 5 are admitted free. Food is extra.

For more information about the Russian Studies Conference, contact WMU's Judith Rypma at judith.rypma@wmich.edu or (269) 387-2628.

For details about the Kalamazoo Russian Festival, visit russianfestival.org.

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Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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