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New York Daily News
June 8, 2003
Culture celebrated, Russian-style
Heritage Week will last nine days

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz with painting by Russian-born artist Romain de Tirtoff - known to world as Ert - on exhibit at Borough Hall for Russian Heritage Week. The artist is recognized as one of the top designers of the 20th century, and displaying his works, said Markowitz, is a "wonderful way to celebrate and honor our Russian Brooklynites."

Think Ert, Tchaikovsky and ballroom dancing on the Boardwalk at Brighton Beach.Add health checkups, ballet and lots of food, and you'll have some of the elements of Russian Heritage Week, which begins Saturday and runs until June 22.

The nine-day celebration highlighting the cultural and economic contributions of immigrants from the former Soviet Union is sponsored by the Daily News and produced by the Russian American Arts Foundation and Firebird Productions, in cooperation with Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York.

It has been estimated that more than a million Russian-speaking people live in the tristate area - 300,000 to 500,000 of them in Brooklyn and Queens.

"It's a significant community," said Mark Handelman, president of the New York Association of New Americans.

During the 1980s and '90s, the association resettled thousands of Russians, many of whom came as refugees seeking religious freedom.

Like so many starting anew in New York, Russians frequently arrived with little knowledge of American culture or the English language. New York Association of New Americans was one group that helped them make the transition.

Russians have had "a major impact on the life of the city in a positive way," Handelman said. "A lot of people with technical and professional backgrounds have come here, and they've done quite well. They have been a boon to the city."

Levy Park festival

As part of Russian Heritage Week, the association will hold its sixth annual festival in Asser Levy Park on Sunday, June 15.

"There will be booths, Russian foods, entertainment. It will be a great time for everybody," Handelman said.

The Brighton Ballet Theater will mark Heritage Week with the premiere of "The Nanny's Story," an original ballet set to Peter Tchaikovsky's "Children's Album" and choreographed by Edouard Kouchnarev.

Composed in 1878, "Children's Album" consists of 24 pieces, including "The New Doll," "March of the Wooden Soldiers," "Playing Hobby-Horses" and "Nanny's Story."

"Edouard took all of the music and created a story," said Irina Roizin, the president of Brighton Ballet Theater and Kouchnarev's wife.

The performance, slated for Thursday, June 19, will feature 70 dancers from Brighton Ballet, plus professional dancers.

"All of our teachers will be in this ballet, too," said Roizin. "Even our pianist is playing a nanny. It will be her first time on stage not playing a piano."

Orphanage to benefit

A portion of the proceeds will go to Tikva Children's Home, an orphanage in Odessa.

"We are going to tape the performance and send it to the children at the orphanage," Roizin said. "It will be a present to the children in Big Odessa from the ones in Little Odessa."

On Friday, June 20, Brighton Ballet will present its annual festival featuring all its students, who range in age from 3 to their late teens.

"Every year, we dedicate this festival to the children of the world," said Roizin. "We'll do dances from the Russian countries, from Spain, from Africa. We try to create a festival so that children will know about different cultures."

For adults who feel an urge to join the dance, there will be a ballroom competition Saturday, June 16, on the Boardwalk at W. 5th St., beginning at 10 a.m.

"Everyone is invited," said Marina Kovalyov, president of the Russian American Arts Foundation, who is coordinating the event. "Anyone who feels they can do ballroom dancing should come."

Competition dances include the cha-cha, samba, salsa, tango and jive/swing.

Music for the five rounds of competition will be provided by the 18-piece George Gee Swing Orchestra and the 12-piece Zon del Barrio/Nuyorican Diaspora Latin Orchestra.

Costumes are encouraged, and the first prize winner will get a four-day, three-night stay at SuperClubs Starfish Resort in Trelawny Beach, Jamaica.

For art lovers, the Russian Heritage Festival includes an exhibit of works by Ert, the father of Art Deco and one of the top designers of the 20th century, at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Born in St. Petersburg, Romain de Tirtoff called himself Ert after the French pronunciation of his initials.

"Ert was a creative force in so many different artistic arenas, and the same can be said of Brooklyn's incredibly vibrant and dynamic Russian community," Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said. "That is why this exhibition is such a wonderful way to celebrate and honor our Russian Brooklynites."

The exhibit is made up of pieces from the private collection of Mark Schachner, owner of the Mill Basin Deli.

"I love collecting his work because it is creative and ingenious," Schachner said, adding that he was pleased to have some of the pieces on view at Borough Hall.

Pride in sharing

"Usually, they are in a vault for security purposes. I take great pride in sharing these wonderful works with the public."

Public health will be the focus Sunday, June 22, when Coney Island Hospital, Maimonides Medical Center, the Visiting Nurse Association of New York and other health providers sponsor a community health fair at Asser Levy Park.

Representatives will distribute literature about services available to Russian-speaking patients.

The day will include free blood pressure checks and pulmonary function tests. Coney Island Hospital also will have a mobile van for people who wish to donate blood.

Marina Yankelevich, manager for the Russian Program for Visiting Nurse Service of New York, said the health fair is intended to serve as an outreach to the Russian-speaking community.

"If people get sick, they need to know where to go and what to ask," she said, adding that the association began developing a program for Russian-speaking clients about three years ago and now has more than 150 staff members who speak Russian.

"We want to let people know we are here, and we can help," Yankelevich said.

Food, fun and lots of dancing

Here's a schedule of Russian heritage week events. All events are free unless otherwise noted.

June 14: Ballroom dancing competition on the Boardwalk at W. Fifth St.: 10 a.m., cha-cha; 11:15 a.m., samba; 12:30 p.m., salsa; 2 p.m., tango; 3:15, jive/swing; 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., open dancing.

June 14: Jewish dancing under the stars, 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.: Klezmer music and demonstration of Jewish dances at the Shorefront YM-YWHA, 3300 Coney Island Ave.

June 15: New York Association for New Americans' sixth annual festival at Asser Levy Park, Ocean Parkway at Seabreeze Ave., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; cultural performances, arts and crafts, ethnic foods.

June 16: "Ert, the Father of Art Deco," an exhibit of 29 works at Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St., through June 27. Hours: Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Special evening hours on Wednesday, June 18, and Wednesday, June 25: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

June 18: Designer Norris presents her fall couture collection, inspired by St. Petersburg at the time of Nicholas and Alexandra; head designer and jeweler Roman Schwartz of Majestic Creations shows off his line. Rasputin Supper Club, 2670 Coney Island Ave. Dinner will be served at 7:30 p.m., followed by the show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 and must be purchased in advance. Call (718) 332-8111.

June 19: The Brighton Ballet Theater presents the premiere of "The Nanny's Story," 6:30 p.m. at the Millennium Theater, 1029 Brighton Beach Ave. Tickets are $20. Call (718) 769-6191 or (718) 615-1500.

June 20: The Brighton Ballet Theater presents its annual gala at 6:30 p.m. at the Millennium Theater, 1029 Brighton Beach Ave. Tickets are $20.

June 19-22: Russian fair at Kings Plaza Mall, featuring arts and crafts and foods from various republics. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on June 21 and 22, there will be performances of Russian, Ukrainian and Azerbaijanian dances.

June 22: Arts and antiques fair at Grand Prospect Hall, 263 Prospect Ave.; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

June 22: Community Health Fair at Asser Levy Park, Ocean Parkway at Seabreeze Ave., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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