Anya with tango dancer Zoya Altmark
A Third World country somewhere far away, tropics, hot and humid, beat-up old roads, intoxicating unfamiliar aroma of street food on every corner, a lot of weird people, dirty streets, everything screams DANGER! Yes, I am describing a very popular Discovery Channel TV show about hunting gemstones. A couple of brave guys go, let’s say to Burma among other places, with the mission to find precious gems and sell them in the west for a hefty profit. I am in a similar business, but I hunt talent, not for profit but for pure love of world class art and this time my mission took me to New York (for the most parts fits the same description…) I was met at the airport by a very petite and charming tango dancer Zoya. She was recommended by my reputable sources as the best tango dancer in New York. I was very surprised to find out that she is Russian. She invited me to an Argentinean Tango theater in Soho so I could handpick the couples for the Music Without Borders International Music Festival in May 2015. We took the subway and talked on the way. It turned out she was a figure skater while living in Moscow, then immigrated with her parents to Israel. Many years later she danced in Italy and then New York. Why tango I asked? “It was a love at the first sight,” said Zoya…and I did not feel like digging any deeper. Zoya and her dancing partners were my first significant find in New York, my gem number one!
New York has so much to offer on any given evening that every time I am there I feel like a kid in a candy store. We have been trying to build a relationship with Cuba (music relationship mind you) and have not been successful so far for various reasons that I choose not to disclose in this blog. One day during my stay in New York my Internet search announced that tonight, Melpaso Dance Company from Havana Cuba was to perform in the Joyce ballet theater, YES! I just had to go! Just a short taxi ride later and I was sitting in the last row that was rightfully deserved by the last-minute tickets buyers. With a little effort looking over my left shoulder I still could see a part of the stage and despite growing neck pain loved the performance; modern, fresh, young and VERY professional. The executive decision was made to meet the Artistic Director. I approached one of the musicians during the intermission, as I do feel most comfortable with the musicians because deep down I am still one… and honestly told him that I am an Artistic Director from San Antonio and would love to meet the Cuban Director. “San Antonio! I love your city!” “Sure, let’s go I will introduce you to him.” I followed him backstage to find myself face-to-face with a very good-looking Artistic Director from Havana. He was very polite and expressed interest in working with us in the near future. Mission Accomplished! Another gem in my bucket!
During my battle with neck pain at the Cuban ballet I received a text from another lead for a bandoneon player. There is no way I would allow any dancer to perform for Musical Bridges with a recording. And let’s face it, it is not Argentinian Tango without the fabulous bandoneon to take the lead. The text said, “Anya, you need to go to the corner of Broadway and 52nd street, building number 354, ring the bell and go to the 5th floor.” I felt the rush of the chase of a hunter on a trail of the sweet smell of prey. “They will play from 10-12 tonight, they are expecting you.” I take my leads seriously and headed that direction, on my own, at night … in New York armed with my passion to find that diamond in the rough. I rang the bell, took the elevator to the 5th floor and unexpectedly found myself in an elegant Tango nightclub surrounded by well-dressed people of all ages. To give you a better picture about my appearance…I was dressed in my hiking big city-safari outfit that can take any distance and any weather; needless to say I was not invited to dance. My vibe was one of rather…stay away…I am working here. I found no gems on the 5th floor of N 354 but had a lot of fun. My search continues.
Off to a new adventure! The Silk Road Project Education Program is my next stop. Queens, here I come! And that was spectacular, eye opening and educational for me and is a subject of another blog or rather, a dissertation…
Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project performers
As you have already figured out, just like in the treasure hunting TV show I have my own lead people. Among them is THE ONE AND ONLY FANTASTIC Cristina Pato. I met Cristina three years ago in San Antonio when she performed with Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project for Arts San Antonio. I just boldly approached her, “Do you play without Yo-Yo Ma?” “Sure!” she said. And that conversation changed Musical Bridges life once-and-for-all! Since then she has performed for us many times and feels that coming back to play for Musical Bridges is just like coming back to see her family. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Cristina. On stage she is a wild force of nature with green hair and a sexy vibe. In real life she is smart, practical and genuine. Cristina is a generous person, and this is the most important quality that I respect in people. She just performed for First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House, but it did not go to her head and she is still humble and a very personable human being–a joy to be around. Cristina gave me a few new fantastic leads for future artists. I trust her impeccable taste and am extremely excited to bring a bucket full of new precious gems to our future programing. During our creative breakfast in the West Village we have solved many of the World’s problems but most importantly we came up with the piece de resistance for Festival Grand opening night.
Shane Shanahan, Anya, Sandeep Das, Cristina Pato.
The real gems hunters from the show hunt rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. I hunt unique one-of-a-kind talent that shines on its own like a diamond in the rough. I am looking for world-class musicians with western education but at the same time connected to their ethnic background by an umbilical cord. I have a nose for talent and can smell it from far away. Needless to say, it is a very difficult task to find these people because they are truly one-of-a-kind. I believe that by introducing different cultures through music and dance to each other and the rest of the world is a great humanitarian mission and I am very proud to be one of a few in the world in this field of work. I am determined to find the best musicians for our mission and I spare no effort to do so. I am happy to report that my adventure in the jungle of dangerous New York City was extremely productive. I found a basket full of SPECTACULAR MUSICAL GEMS to bring to our Festival. Among others: World Class (FINALLY) Bandoneonist, Tango Dancers and Columbian Harpist–TOP NOTCH! A Cuban Ballet company and most of all Silk Road and San Antonio Favorites Cristina Pato, Kinan Azmeh, Sandeep Das and Shane Shanahan. Now it is my job to arrange these gems on the thread of the festival in the most spectacular one-of-a-kind pairings so these precious gems will brightly shine in the golden setting of the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
This time I nibbled on the Big Apple’s cultural scene and hardly made a dent. Will be back soon for more…