The Costumer's Manifesto: An Ice Hole Ritual Performance with the"Walruses" This article I wrote for the St. Petersburg Press in 1995


I spent last Saturday standing around looking at a hole in the ice.Under normal circumstances, this is not a weekend entertainment I'd enjoy, but this particular hole in the ice, had a lot going on in it.Not only I, but about a hundred others, shivering and wrapped to our noses in fur and scarves, including both local and French TV crews, happily stuck around in the freezing wind for hours.You see, the Walruses, the Russian ice hole swimming society, was having their big yearly shindig and awards ceremony, and had invited the Theatre of Metaphysical Reality to perform for them after the ceremonies.

Ceremonies began quietly enough with the lady M.C. giving out awards to various chapters and members for outstanding service and/or swimming, but got more fun as new members tried their first dip to polite applause.Two Englishmen, were among this brave group that plunged into the black strip of water below the hardened surface of the lake, and swam about 10 meters to the end.They were asked what they thought of their first dip, and one said as he shivered beneath a towel, "I am really cold, and completely exhausted!"The other, "Bill from London", who looked as though he liked it, said "I was surprised at how black the water gets under the ice."Then an old gent in a swimsuit and crown of Neptune came with a naked toddler in his arms, and a bevy of bikini clad lady-walruses holding a cutout of a dragon.After dipping the tot in the water (the last of the new initiates) he symbolically set fire to the paper dragon of the initiates former fears, and then he and the ladies swam too.

The ceremonies went on getting stranger and more entertaining as they went on.There was a tug of war where the losing team ended up in the water, there were relay races, which "Bill from London" also took part in, and dips by groups of seniors and kids.There were skits where Baba Yaga resolved (in rhyming couplets no less) to adopt ice-swimming for health and beauty benefits, and she quickly emerged from the water as a buxom bikini clad redhead.A group of Rusaluchki (mermaids) in plastic home made costumes persuaded some studly young men to dip by throwing them in the hole before them.Two men dressed in the style of Alexander Nevsky swam in full costume with pasteboard helmets, their (tablecloth) capes floating behind them.And finally, to the tune of Mendelssohn's Wedding March, two recently married walrus couples, and their wedding parties swam the length of the hole together to receive champagne and group applause on the other side.

And then the "real" theatrical performance began (if this all wasn't theatrical enough for viewers already).The Theatre of Metaphysical Reality, (formerly the Theatre Metamorphose whose When the Sun was God was revewed in this paper in January) is a theatre group devoted to unearthing and reenacting ancient Slavic rituals.They were there to remind us all, that before the walruses, before the Tzar's ritual drinking from the Neva, and even before the orthodox Blessing of the Waters, Russians took the plunge, so to speak, as part of the worship of the Sun God.Wearing simple linen shifts, the company danced about with a huge sun totem, engaged in foolery with masks, and performed minor feats like catching a flaming arrow in mid air, as it was shot out of a bow.A bonfire was set, the men peeled off their shirts, shamanic drums were beaten, and the two lead players, Yuri Maykov and Konstantin Soylev ritually thwacked each others chests with flaming twigs.And then a bevy of linen clad women from ages four to forty, came rushing to the men who, after leaping into the water and splashing us spectators, arose and dipped the ladies in by their arms individually.The performance ended with the actors pummeling the audience with snowballs, and the walruses, spectators, and even film crews, wildly whistling and applauding this coldest theatre performance in history.

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