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"Hell has put our lives through one of its looms." Concert of Vera Polozkova and Alexander Manotskov in Amsterdam


On 25th May at the Schouwburg Amstelveen Theatre, the poet Vera Polozkova and the composer Alexander Manotskov performed a joint programme entitled "Hand luggage".

War and peace, past and present, cities and countries: the audience was treated to a three-hour emotional journey.

Everyone came that evening with their "hand luggage", with memories and reflections. The image of a person leaving and arriving, leaving home, trying to find his place is central to the work of Russian "cancelled" poets and musicians. This is confirmed by Vera herself, who left Russia with her three children at the beginning of the war and now lives in Cyprus.

The programme "Hand luggage" is about this. About what emigrants who left their home country managed to "take" with them.

Vera Polozkova: "We sing and read about what a person feels when the world cracks right under their feet. About war, about loss, about gratitude, about hope, about despair. About memory. About what remains yours when you lose everything. About what cannot be taken from you while you are alive."

Vera Polozkova, Instagram

There were hardly any empty seats in the 700-seat Schouwburg Amstelveen, but at the same time it felt like you were in a chamber-like atmosphere,  everybody was there.

"Hand luggage" is a dialogue between two authors, a composer and a poet. As Vera explained at the start of the evening, the programme is divided into three parts. The first is a hard, but necessary conversation about the war, about what is happening right now, "there is no way you can do without it". Several poems in this section were dedicated to the poetess' friends who are right now in Kiev and have chosen to stay in their country and defend it. Among them are Tata Kepler and Nastia Guz.

This part of the evening being over, the conversation about the war did not end, even if many of the following poems did not touch upon it directly, because "the hour has passed, hell has put our lives into one of its machines" (from a poem dedicated to Nastya Guz).

Before moving on to the second part, Vera joked that when Alexander wrote the first song to accompany her poem, during the pandemic, "there was no going back". Literally within a week, 12 more songs appeared, and "things were starting to look up for the tour": "But I said that only on one condition; If we read not only my lyrics, but also those of Sasha, which he has been carefully concealing from the public all these years.

In the second block of the programme, Vera read Alexander's poems and he read her texts.  They never agree in advance on what they are going to read. Therefore there is an unexpected trajectory of dialogue or, as Vera noted, "a complex architecture of friendly teasing".

The performance brought people together in one space, many of whom had lost their homes, confused, but here - gathered together and as if they were in a common home, at least for a while. According to Vera, "poetry and music are part of the grief process".

Alexander Manotskov, Instagram

In the third part, the audience was taken on a journey to India. As Vera said, "You know, it is very much like some fairy tale land, where there are some interesting conditions. For example, everything is allowed, but you can't lie. Or everything is allowed, but you must say right away what you think.  That little condition turns everything upside down."

After completing this "journey," Vera invited the audience to choose which poems they wanted to hear, and said that several of the texts she wrote in 2021 were prophetic. She didn't publish them then, because they seemed very scary to her.

Vera Polozkova
Photo from personal archive

The poetess also read her earlier poems, written 15 years ago, that sounded as if they were from a previous era. One of her most famous, which contains a vow for the future (of course, it didn't come true, like all the promises she made to herself when she was 19, Vera says):

better than yoghurt in the morning

is vodka and grenadine.

Promise yourself to live without drama -

and live alone.

There were also poems for children from the book "Responsible Child." And a touching text, written for Christmas at the request of Chulpan Khamatova for the "Gift of Life" fund.

Someone from the audience gave Vera and Alexander gifts "with love from Ukraine. "Here we are, and Sasha and I are sending [a gift] with love to Ukraine. We love you very much and send a big hug , today and every day," Polozkova said. Then along with Oleksandr, she sang a song to the verses "Plivi, ribo, plivi" by Kharkiv poet Serhiy Zhadan, whose poignant and tender finale was the standout moment of the entire concert.

By: Veronika Dulova
Cover photo: from personal archive

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