Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea: dark Russian cabaret experiment Shànghǎi 上海

Text by Tatiana Pentes 2020

The Performance Text

Над розовым морем вставала луна, Во льду зеленела бутылка вина.И томно кружились влюбленные парыПод жалобный рокот гавайской гитары. Послушай, о как это было давно!Такое же море, и то же вино.Мне кажется, будто и музыка та же…Послушай! Послушай! Мне кажется даже! Нет, вы ошибаетесь, друг дорогой!Мы жили тогда на планете другой.И слишком устали, и слишком мы старыИ для этого вальса, и для этой гитары Lyrics Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea. Music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and George Ivanoff 1936. Avant-garde cabaret experiment – the A and B side of a record – Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) – and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem) is a sonic message in a bottle from 1936 Shànghǎi 上海 where high and popular culture fermented into a brilliant hybrid melange, in the ‘Paris of the East’.
Alexander Vertinsky Александр Вертинский by Josepho Shanghai cover of Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea musical score 1936.
Les Pierrots Dansants (2016-2018) video work Directed by Joel Stephen Birnie, 6:45mins, inspired by the enigmatic persona of Alexander Vertinsky
The influence of Soviet artist and seminal voice Alexander Nikolayevich Vertinsky Александр Николаевич Вертинский (1889 -1957) and hisBlack (dark) Russian cabaret genre reverberates through high and popular music performance culture to the contemporary times. A Russian of Ukrainian and Polish ancestry, Vertinsky was a prolific poet, singer, composer, cabaret artist, actor and romantic.
img_2516
Alexander Vertinsky Александр Вертинский by Josepho Shanghai cover of Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea musical score 1936.
Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев, Chinese born Russian Manchurian jazz composer and bandleaderSerge Ermoll and His Music Masters was managed by Dick Hamilton-Mills Vaudeville Entertainments, Shanghai located in Hamilton House and enjoyed residencies at establishments such as The Paramount Ballroom (1934-36), Ladlows CasanovaLido (1936) Astor House Hotel (1930), the big band at Cercle Sportif Français (1938-1943 French Club) signed with Dick Hamilton for exclusice cabaret the Arcadia club in the French Concession and the ‘Tower Nightclub’, level 9, The Cathay Hotel, Officer’s Club, Silk Hat (1945-1949) with trio at the [0]  invitation of Sir Victor Sassoon, “where Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard once twirled on the teak floorboards of a sprung dance floor.” This was reported in Asiaweek, in Forgotten Exiles: Memorial to the Exiles Shanghai Forgot.
Сергей Ермолаев Serge Ermoll & His Orchestra residency at the 'Tower Nightclub’, The Cathay Hotel, Officer’s Club, Silk Hat (Trio 1945-1949) Shanghai
Сергей Ермолаев Serge Ermoll & His Orchestra residency at the ‘Tower Nightclub’, The Cathay Hotel, Officer’s Club, Silk Hat (Trio 1945-1949) Shanghai
At the Arcadia club (1936) Sergei met the celebrated crooner, poet and singer/ composer Alexander Vertinsky, during his Shanghai sojourn. This serendipitous meeting at the Arcadia club 291 Route Amiral Courbet, in the French Concession, Shanghai produced the immortal A and B side of a record – Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) – music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and Ira Bloch, and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem), music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and George Ivanoff, [Registered with Melodiya Copyright Agency USSR 1972 & APRA]. Sergei claimed to have played with Whitey Smith’s band at Chiang Kai Chek’s wedding to Mei-Lie Soong, and held a residency at the famous demolished Majestic Hotel 1930.
Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea - Nad Rosavuim Morem - music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and George Ivanoff
Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – Nad Rosavuim Morem – music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and George Ivanoff

Над розовым морем : Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea

The moon rose over the pink sea. A green bottle of wine waited in the ice.Loving couples wistfully whirled around. To the mournful sound of the Hawaiian guitar. Listen, how long has it been! The same sea, the same wine. Seems like the tune is also the same… Listen! Listen! It feels like that! No, you are wrong, my dear friend.Then we lived on the other planet. We are too tired and we are too old For that waltz and for that guitar….

LYRICS Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – Nad Rosavuim Morem
Metropole Hotel Shanghai 1937 window of Hamilton House Shanghai in www.hpcbristol.net/visual/ro-n0296
Metropole Hotel Shanghai 1937 window of Hamilton House Shanghai in www.hpcbristol.net/visual/ro-n0296 home of Hamilton-Mills Vaudeville Entertainment
The crucible of the Russian musical club scene in Shanghai during the 1930s ignited the Black (dark) Russian cabaret genre, that was derivative of the clubs in Berlin, Paris, and beyond, but here took on a local vernacular. Scholar Katya Knyazeva has documented a vision of Alexander Vertinsky and Sir Victor Sassoon at the Arcadia club 291 Route Amiral Courbet, in the French Concession, Shanghai, 1940 “Victor Sassoon and Alexander Vertinsky in the same picture! ” [2] This rich reservoir of archival photographs brings to life the dance floor and stage environments with two of the most influential men of the time. Knyazeva includes a delicious photograph of Larissa Andersen, the Russian dancer and poet, who was hired as a lead dancer in Sassoon’s ‘Tower Club‘. Vertinsky arrived in Shanghai from Paris in 1936 after his European and American tour. He had been touring European and US venues with his dark Russian brand of cabaret. His practise emerged from the music and art experiments of the European avant-garde, his sound was more infused with Chastushkas часту́шка – Russian ethnic ballads, than exposure to the Dadaist sound experiments of 1930s Cabaret Voltaire at the other end of the spectrum. As Paul French articulates in ‘Gypsies of Shanghai: the Roma Community of Late 1930s and 1940s Shanghai and their Role in the City’s Entertainment Industry’ [1b], Vertinsky brought with him to Shanghai the influence of 1930s French jazz manouche, the Hot Club Jazz trend, “the style was typified by bal-musette and Java waltzes that had their inspiration in popular café, or boîtes…” the music of the gypsy bands. “Typically guitar and violin were heavily featured as well as elements of Auvergnat bagpipe, East European hurdy-gurdy music, Italian accordion melodies and light opera blends followed by a distinctly more urban influence in jazz. The musician most identified with the rise of the gypsy and jazz styles was the Belgian-born Roma guitarist and composer Django Reinhardt.”[1c] Vertinsky’s exile from Soviet Russia freed him to explore experimental forms that were contained by Josef Stalin where classicism was favoured. Being Russian abroad produced a freedom. The free modern woman was taking shape.

We need only reflect on Marlene Dietrich’s incarnation as the vampish Lola Lola in Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel ) 1930 dir. Josef von Sternberg, a character redolent with dark Russian motifs, the transformation of Professor Immanuel Rath into a cabaret clown is more than a stylistic twitch. And later von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express 1932, where Dietrich’s Shanghai Lily is the embodiment of the independent woman, evoking the stateless taxi-dancer – “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”

Dietrich's incarnation as the vampish Shanghai Express 1932, where Dietrich's Shanghai Lily is the embodiment of the stateless taxi-dancer a character redolent with dark Russian motifs.
Dietrich’s incarnation as the vampish Shanghai Express 1932, where Dietrich’s Shanghai Lily is the embodiment of the stateless taxi-dancer a character redolent with dark Russian motifs.
Loose and free, ‘modern girl’ (modeng nülang), the Chinese counterpart of the flapper, garçonne, modan garu (Japan). As Andrew Field writes, women “whose relations with men are ambiguous, unstable, unpredictable and uncontrollable”.[1.1] The femme fatale, her supernatural force beguiling her lovers into deadly traps, must be destroyed to return equilibrium to the world. Continuing the flowery metaphors, Александр Николаевич Vertinsky cut the classic Tango Magnolia 1929 a Russian tango from his Paris tour, that now belongs to the steel repertoire of all Russian players of nostalgic songs, like Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Gorodaand was well loved by Red Army soldiers. This sound was to influence his work in Shanghai, where he elaborated on the this unique theme and reminisced. e0b15509-9a51-4335-a249-0123ee7686ee
Александр Николаевич Vertinsky cut the classic Tango Magnolia 1929.
Play Tango Magnolia The Arcadia club crowd were no strangers to international hits. One such Cockney classic tune and dance The Lambeth Walk from the 1937 musical Me and My Girl, theatre (later a film) was imbued with London working class culture by Lupino Lane, and introduced by Serge Ermoll and his Music Masters.
The Lambeth Walk musical score arranged by Сергей Ермолаев Serge Ermoll’s Orchestra Arcadia Club old Russian cabaret in Shànghǎi 1937 Palo Hits
The Lambeth Walk musical score arranged by Сергей Ермолаев Serge Ermoll’s Orchestra Arcadia Club old Russian cabaret in Shànghǎi 1937 Palo Hits

舞影 Wǔ yǐng Dance & Cinema – Shadow Dance

Сергей Ермолаев Serge Ermoll - Russian jazz orchestra leader on the Back Cover - blue roses and red lettering 舞影 Wǔ yǐng “Dance and Cinema". Shanghai research by Katya Knyazeva at 318 Fuzhou Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China. at The Paramount  上海百樂門
Сергей Ермолаев Serge Ermoll – Russian jazz orchestra leader on the Back Cover – blue roses and red lettering 舞影 Wǔ yǐng “Dance and Cinema”. Shanghai research by Katya Knyazeva at 318 Fuzhou Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China. at The Paramount  上海百樂門
The cinematic trope expands, Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев appeared in the journals of the time and there is a wealth of press clippings that traverse his tribes and tribulations in the dancehall music spaces of the urban modern metropolis. He grew up in Harbin, his mother tongue was Russian, however he spoke Mandarin, Japanese and French fluently. In this magazine 舞影 Wǔ yǐng “Dance and Cinema” Sergei is surrounded by beauties of the day, Chinese singers, dancers, actresses? There is a star quality conveyed as a following in readership would demand. The text speaks of his presence/ integration in popular Chinese culture more widely, although his performance catered to the American, English, Russian, Jewish, European community of foreigners, many displaced and stateless. Sergei writes about his encounter after a show with Charlie Chaplin at the Paramount  上海百樂門 ballroom when Charlie visited Shanghai with Paulette Godard and her mother,1936 and attended a banquet hosted by Mingxing Studio – as the film The King of Comedy Visits Shanghai depicts.
Charles Chaplin & Sergei Ermollaeff Paramount Ballroom, Shanghai, China with Paulette Godard and her mother behind 1936
Charles Chaplin & Sergei Ermollaeff Paramount 上海百樂門 Ballroom, Shanghai, China with Paulette Godard and her mother behind 1936
A show was held “CHARLIE CHAPLIN. A VISION” A major retrospective exhibition of the King of Comedy, Yuz Museum, West Bund Shanghai, 2018 that details his sojourn. During Sergei’s Paramount residency he writes of Warner Oland approaching him after a performance to book his orchestra for the Samuel Kaylin’s soundtrack to the black and white Charlie Chan film with 20th Century Fox Film Company being shot 1935, poetic license? We will never know.
Cover - blue roses and red lettering 舞影 Wǔ yǐng “Dance and Cinema". Shanghai research by Katya Knyazeva at 318 Fuzhou Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China. at The Paramount  #上海百樂門.
Cover – blue roses and red lettering 舞影 Wǔ yǐng “Dance and Cinema”. Shanghai research by Katya Knyazeva at 318 Fuzhou Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China. at The Paramount  上海百樂門
Sergei’s entrepeneurial hoodzpah mixed well with Vertinsky. Star crossed Russian performers, they made beautiful music together with Ivanoff and Bloch. On stage Vertinsky performed as the figure of the “Russian Pierrot”, derivative of the sad Clown from Commedia Dell’Arte, that emerges from improvised theatre. Hence the lyrics Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem) evoke mournful, soulful, laments memorialising love, loss, and nostalgic sentiments – Recordando – memories, evocation of days gone by. Was this a longing for an idealised place, an imagined space, rememberance of things past. The musical style is defined by a chanteuse performance accompanied by solo piano or violin phrases and long silent intervals. Singing these lyrics was Vertinsky, a tragic Russian Pierrot clown figure with a naive magical quality, full of pathos, frightening, beguiling, quite a deceptive harlequin. He is always sad, by way of his rejection and the infidelity of his lover.
‘Recordando’ Tango arranged for ‘Pepipito’ #milongo by Sergei Сергей Ермолаев 1936 for piano accordian performed at Paramount Ballroom 上海百樂門 1935-1937
‘Recordando’ Tango arranged for ‘Pepipito’ #milongo by Sergei Сергей Ермолаев 1936 for piano accordian performed at Paramount Ballroom 上海百樂門 1935-1937

Ariettas & spoken word poetry – displacement

These songs are composed of small ariettas or arias, a short song within a song accompanied by a solo voice, not unlike vocal chamber music, performed in an intimate setting. Unlike the opera, the cabaret is a locale of entertainment, wine cellar, tavern, small room, or club. The club scene locale is one that connotes a form of decadence, sophistication, and seductive permissive behaviour. The 1930s Shanghai club scene for, which these songs were created, for a Russian lanaguage émigré’ audience, tell the stories of those exiled from homeland, and played by foriegners or ‘aliens’ for foreigners Chuzie. Outsiders. In time this audience extended to the larger cabaret world, as the form became a genre. Yet, we can hear the influence of the urban, wandering, indigenous pop Chinese and Japanese rhythms, the Spanish Filipino tempo de habanera, and balalaika балала́йка Russian string and folk refranes. It is inflected with a spoken word poetry, the language lyrics of the songs are challenging to translate into English from the Russian poetry. Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem) narrate an inner pain of feeling to be an outsider or stranger, an alien. Shanghai was a city built on foreigners.
In Shanghai’s prime, no city in the Orient, or the world for that matter, could compare with it. At the peak of its spectacular career the swamp-ridden metropolis surely ranked as the most pleasure-mad, rapacious, corrupt, strife-ridden, licentious, squalid, and decadent city in the world. It was the most pleasure-mad because nowhere else did the population pursue amusement, from feasting to whoring, dancing to powder-taking, with such abandoned zeal…a popular Chinese saying aptly observed, “Shanghai is like the emperor’s ugly daughter; she never has to worry about finding suitor…”[1a] Stella Dong, Shanghai: The Rise and fall of a Decadent City, 2001, p1
As Stella Dong implies it is from this ignoble foundation, Shànghǎi 上海 was formed by its own “shanghaiing“, a treaty port with extraterritorial jurisdiction granted foreigners immunity from Chinese law. Opium brought by the British along with missionaries, the British East India Company, traffickers, and traders, was a corruptive commercial force upon the city. “Foreign Shanghai, the city that Occidentals designed but Oriental sweat and labour built…” [1b]. The treaty port required no passport for entry, this opened the doors for many of the world’s émigrés, a port of last resort for stateless Jews, and many Russians persecuted in the Bolshevik revolution and beyond. The treaty capital was just south of Harbin, the desired escape for those leaving European Russia after 1923. The Russian revolution and civil war ensured thousands of Russian émigré’s would make their way to the quasi-colonial Russian enclave of Harbin, founded 1898 by Tsar Nicholas II, a Russian city in China in the north of Manchuria, many were workers on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok. Unlike the other foreigners in China, the Russians inhabited a liminal space, some White (Tsarist) and others Red (Communist), often stateless, where it has become a cliché to say many professionals were reduced to getting by as bodyguards or taxi dance hostesses.

Shànghǎi 上海 place of refuge

Shànghǎi 上海 was a place of refuge for many European Jews escaping the Holocaust, no passport was required. Sir Victor Sassoon, the wealthy Baghdadi Jewish merchant, that built the Cathay Hotel and fostered much of the entertainment world that cultivated the cabaret culture was philanthropic to many of these émigrés. An online documentary The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu created by Prof Andrew Jakubowicz (UTS), structured around the seven flames of a menorah tells the stories of seven families whose refuge was Shànghǎi 上海. The documentary was exhibited at the China Cultural Centre Sydney 2015 in association with Jewish Refugees and Shanghai Exhibition. The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu was curated as an installation in Crossroads: Shanghai and the Jews of China, Curator Jane Wesley, Sydney Jewish Museum, and Carnivale, Performance Space, 2001 and the Australian National Maritime Museum, Creative Director, Tatiana Pentes and multimedia designer. The installation and online work was reviewed by Keth Gallasch RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001. Read online. It was published in VECTORS: Journal of Culture & Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular, Issue 1. Winter, 2005. [1c]
The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu by Prof Andrew Jakubowicz (UTS), seven flames of a menorah tells the stories of seven families refuge in Shànghǎi 上海  multimedia design Tatiana Pentes
The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu by Prof Andrew Jakubowicz (UTS), seven flames of a menorah tells the stories of seven families refuge in Shànghǎi 上海 multimedia design Tatiana Pentes
This online documentary was at the time one of the first interactive works to publish the research in an online form, where exploration of the surface of the screen and émigré objects triggers the apprehension of the narrative. These émigré objects and oral histories provided a rich primary source and revealed new light on this era. There was an experimental element to the creation of this documentary, a pioneering and innovative spirit. Jakubowicz’s family plays a pivotal part, his parents Polish Jews found refuge in Szanghaj, saved by Chiune Sugihara‘s visa, granted by the Japanese consul in KaunasLithuania, during the war they lived in Hongkew. “By the time when most German Jews arrived, two other Jewish communities had already settled in the city: the wealthy Baghdadi Jews, including the Kadoorie and Sassoon families, and the Russian Jews. The last ones fled the Russian Empire because of anti-Semitic pogroms pushed by the tsarist regime and counter-revolutionary armies as well as the class struggle manifested by the Bolsheviks. They had formed the Russian community in Harbin, then the Russian community in Shanghai.” [1d] There were many clubs and cabaret’s in the old Jewish quarter of Shanghai . 上海難民營 Hongkew known as little Vienna. “Like their Chinese neighbors, they did their best to survive in difficult circumstances. They established newspapers, synagogues, retail businesses, restaurants, schools, cemeteries, guilds, social clubs, and even beauty pageants. They practiced medicine, started hospitals, got married, had babies, and held bar and bat mitzvahs. They learned to cook in coal-burning ovens and to haggle with street vendors.” [1e] It is through this lens that we can understand the cabaret music, created and played in international city entrepôt of Shanghai, and Vertinsky’s Black (dark) Russian cabaret genre. This music was live performance held at tea dances, garden-cafe’s and kitchens. It formed an integral part of the nightlife of the city. So too, it is where the community drank coffee, caught up socially and where there were community events. The cabaret “…implies a certain type of atmosphere ripe with possibilities for innovation and avant-garde experimentation. Cabaret is an attitude, an underlying spirit, which gives body to decadence, improvisation, satire, and music.” [2]

Shànghǎi 上海 modern

Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem) A and B side was an avant-garde experiment. Was this political satire? or perhaps nostalgic recollection, given the extreme conditions of the war, that separated many families and created a desperation to survive. Dark humour kept those that has suffered laughing when they should cry. The A and B side of this record evolved from the tension/ constraints/ freedom of the repertoire’s live performance in the cabaret clubs of 1930s Shanghai. Arguably, this cabaret attitude, spirit, was fertile ground for the decadence, improvisation, satire, and music that was produced. Was this collaboration innovative? It was indeed unique, the cultural collisions were unlike any other. The melting pot of Shanghai in the 1930s was a unique confluence of forces, the ‘yellow music’ of the old Chinese city, the International Settlement, French Concession, Japanese occupation, the British contingent, the American presence and influence on trans-Pacific cultural idioms.
Serge Ermoll (Sergei Ermolaeff) and His Music Masters play for Pathé Records Orient 1930s
Serge Ermoll (Sergei Ermolaeff) and His Music Masters play for Pathé Records Orient 1930s
Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев and His Orchestra performed live across many venues in the old city, bars, clubs, cabaret’s, so too he was a recording artist for Pathé Records Orient. Sergei’s music was featured in many wireless radio broadcasts. By the 1930s Pathé dominated the domestic Chinese record industry, pioneering the dissemination of Chinese language popular culture and a new musical genre the Chinese pop song. Andrew Jones refers to Sinified jazz music as yellow music (huangse yinyue) – vulgar, pornographic, petit-bourgeois – that was playing in the nightclubs at the time, condemned as seductive ‘decadent sound’ (mimi zhi yin). A hybrid form inspired by American jazz: Gershwin meets Chinese folk melodies, Tang dynasty love poems and the romantic cliché of Tin Pan Alley, were expressed in tunes like “Darling I Love You” (Meimei wo ai ni), see ‘Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age’, in A.F. Jones, Yellow Music, 2001 [3].
Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев and His Orchestra, the Astor House 礼查饭店 Hotel Ballroom/ Bandstand with peacock fan half shell and Pathe label collage – Peacock Hall the cities first ballroom, Shanghai, China,1930
Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев and His Orchestra, the Astor House 礼查饭店 Hotel Ballroom/ Bandstand with peacock fan half shell and Pathe orient label collage – Peacock Hall the cities first ballroom, Shanghai, China,1932.
The circulation of sheet music and gramophone records ensured this pop music was increasingly played in the nightclubs, bars and cafés greatly influenced by artist Li Jinhui’s idiom, that spawned stars such as ‘golden voice’ Zhou Xuan, Wang Renmei and Nie Er. Explore Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев and His Orchestra Чужие города Strange Cities: Sonic Archive of Musical Scores #Shànghǎi #上海. When African-American trumpet player Buck Clayton and His Harlem Gentlemen played the Canidrome Ballroom, Shanghai 1935, gramophone records had already inspired a rage of black jazz bands, and cemented Shanghai as the ‘jazz mecca’ of the East. Jones discusses their African-American provenance as catapulting them above the Filipino bands, Russian bands, and East Indian bands. Legend has it that Clayton ‘learned to drink vodka from White Russian refugees… and (fraternized with) low-class Russian hostesses and taxi dancers, part of Shanghai’s seamy nocturnal demimonde…”[4] “Imagine turning the streamlined Bakelite knobs of a wireless radio to the ether above Shanghai 1937. As the vacuum tubes begin to amplify signals broadcast from that distant world, what sort of sounds emerge?… the crash of gongs, the plucked strings of a sanxian, the rhythmic recitations of drum song, the hypnotic drone of classical sutras, the sharply nasal syllables of Peking Opera? The warble of a Chinese sing-song girl? The lilt of Hawaiian steel guitar? The propulsive swing of big band jazz? Advertisements? Anthems? String quartets?…” [5]. The gramophone, the phonographic record, the fascination with the technology of the sonic ‘apparatus’ is only rivalled by the visual one, cinema and film – the Cinématographe. Jones reminds us the Lumière brothers only revealed this new media device in 1896 at the Yu Yuan teahouse in Shanghai, China eight months after its unveiling in the basement of the Grand Café, Paris (travelling the speed of a steamship).[6] The site of the greatest love story of all time, inspiring the chinoiserie Willow pattern that tell the story of two lovers separated and envied by gods for their love.
Huxinting Teahouse 湖心亭茶館 231 YuYuan Lu Shànghǎi 上海 www.virtualshanghai.net
Huxinting Teahouse 湖心亭茶館 231 YuYuan Lu Shànghǎi 上海 http://www.virtualshanghai.net
Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem) A and B side are the songs and music of exiled Russians, nostalgically looking back to the motherland. Vertinsky was only granted the right to return to the Soviet Union in 1943. Ironically, Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge) had never stepped one foot in Russia, ethnically Russian and Manchurian born as was his mother Elizabeta, he was a stateless person with Chinese documents. When Sergei met soviet citizen Xenia Vladimirona, a Russian émigré from the Bolshevik revolution, working as a singer and dancer in the Hotel Modern, Harbin (married 1933), he could possibly gain citizenship. In 1951, Chinese born stateless Sergei entered Australia via Hong Kong with Xenia a soviet citizen. The wider material history provides the context for this archive tracing the arrival of western modernity in China. Leo Ou-Fan Lee traces this “flowering of a new urban culture in China” in his publication Shanghai Modern [6a]. Lee does this by investigating modern Chinese popular literature, film advertising, urban spaces, architecture, and fashion. He analyses the dialectics creating a unique Chinese modern culture, a melting pot of foreign influences of the west in the International Settlement of Shanghai, along with the impact of Chinese intelligentsia, commercialism, and traditional Chinese political and social culture. It is through this lens that we can interpret Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem) A and B side record produced by foreigners in China for a foreign audience, the songs lament their liminal space.
Danilevsky Sisters cabaret act Shanghai in Russians in Shanghai by Captain V. D. Zhiganov (1936)
Danilevsky Sisters cabaret act Shanghai in Russians in Shanghai by Captain V. D. Zhiganov (1936)

Cabaret, ballroom, cinema

Many of the displaced Russian émigrés formed part of the rich tapestry of the cultural and entertainment world of the city. High and low culture fermented into a brilliant hybrid entrepôt. “Cabaret is the unique and titillating genre in which artistic experimentation and expression meet social commentary, political criticism, and popular culture.” [7]
Александр Николаевич Вертинский crooner, poet, cabaret artist in the figure of Pierrot Ukranian stamp 2019
Александр Николаевич Вертинский crooner, poet, cabaret artist in the figure of Pierrot Ukranian stamp 2019
“By 1916, Vertinsky started to employ a scenic figure of Pierrot, with powdered face, singing miniature novellas-in-song known as ariettas, or “Pierrot’s doleful ditties”. Each song contained a prologue, exposition, culmination, and a tragic finale. The novice performer was christened the “Russian Pierrot”, gained renown, became an object of imitation, admiration, vilified in the press and lionized by the audiences.” www.wikiwand.com/en/Alexander_Vertinsky. [8] Vertinsky’s legacy still burns bright! Les Pierrots Dansants (2016-2018) video work a case in point, directed by Joel Stephen Birnie, 6:45mins, inspired by the enigmatic persona of Alexander Vertinsky it “draws inspiration from cinema artists such as Marcel Carné Les Enfants du Paradis, 1945, and the great Georges Méliès A Trip to the Moon, 1902. Les Pierrots Dansants (2018) visualises – through performance, animation, music and poetry – the fantasy realms of the theatre, the mime, and the silent screen. Starring: Simon Solberg, Fabian Barraza and Joel Stephen Birnie with Sarah Hyde-Page. Music by Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941). Vertinsky inspired dance work Les Pierrots Dansants (2016-2018) video directed by Joel Stephen Birnie, 6:45mins
Vertinsky starred in one 1928 silent film, shot in Nice and French Tunisia, Secrets of the Orient Geheimnisse des Orients (German-French) dir. Alexandre Volkoff and starring Nikolas Kolin, Iván Petrovich and Dimitri Dimitriev, and art direction by Alexandre Lochakoff and Vladimir Meingard. “A cobbler dreams that he is a prince, in this takeoff on an Arabian Nights style romance.”
Secrets of the Orient Geheimnisse des Orients, dir. Alexandre Volkoff, 1928
The demolished Majestic Hotel, designed by Spanish architect Abelardo Lafuente was the site of the Russian Ball c.1929. The Majestic ballroom was famous as the site of the wedding of Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kaishek and Soong Mei-ling 1 December 1927. The band playing was lead by Whitey Smith. This Russian jazz orchestra (below) played sets in the ballroom for the Russian Ball in 1929, as preserved in V. D. Zhiganov Russians in Shanghai (1936). What repertoire was the orchestra playing? The Russian community would have swayed to nostalgic Russian melodies, popular classical ballads, juxtaposed with the international idioms dancehall foxtrot, Charleston, tango, and rumba [9], influenced by the urban, wandering, indigenous pop Chinese and Japanese dance rhythms, the Spanish Filipino tempo de habanera, and balalaika балала́йка Russian string and folk refranes. The Russian Ball 1929 soundtrack would have required larger orchestral pieces for the size of the audience, an ideal location to infuse renditions of the more intimate chamber inflections of Vertinsky’s Black (dark) Russian cabaret music. This jazz orchestra is composed of sections: French Horn, Trumpet, Vibraphone, Bassoon, Guitar, Saxaphone, Trombone, Drums, Bass, Chimes and Banjo. The intruments reveal the jazz tenor of the times, and would have produced a contemporary eclectic sound that could accommodate popular and more intimate musical idioms of the day, like the incorporation of the piano accordian, that defines Argentine tango and Russian accordian tunes. Notably the absence of a string section, violins, violas or such, suggests this was a line-up that made dancehall popular tunes. How did these instruments arrive in Shanghai and emerge as tools of the trade? They were introduced by foreigners and integrated into the Chinese modern vernacular. There is photographic evidence that confirms the Banjo was played in the ballroom, a jazz instrument brought to the world from the US from West Africa #ngoni #xalam used in traditional “trad” jazz derivative of creole culture. This Russian jazz orchestra performs in a clam shell (Lafuente designed) marble ballroom, reflective of the Astor House ballroom [10] that survived the ravages of time unlike the Majestic. Its decadent forms embody the grand aesthetics of an elite settlement colonialism at its zenith. However, the music that played, at this time, to this cultural elite was produced by bands composed from the cities émigré minority communities, the Russians, Filippino and Jewish musicians, a case in point. The repertoire, sounds playing were the hybrid collision of multiple musical forms, a sonic avant-garde experiment and the soundtrack to the city.
Serge Ermoll & His Orchestra 1929 the demolished  Majestic Hotel image quoted in V. D. Zhiganov Russians in Shanghai (1936) from “Cosmopolitan Shanghai” by 陈丹燕 Chen Danyan (2005) and Lynn Pan’s, Shanghai: A century of change in photographs, 1843-1949
Serge Ermoll & His Orchestra 1929 the demolished (1931) Majestic Hotel image quoted in V. D. Zhiganov Russians in Shanghai (1936) quoted in“Cosmopolitan Shanghai” and Lynn Pan’s, Shanghai: A century of change in photographs, 1843-1949.
Russian Ball in the Majestic Hotel, c. 1929. Image: V. D. Zhiganov Russians in Shanghai (1936), quoted in “Cosmopolitan Shanghai” and Lynn Pan’s, Shanghai: A century of change in photographs, 1843-1949.
Сергей Ермолаев Serge Ermoll & His Orchestra residency at the 'Tower Nightclub’, The Cathay Hotel, Officer’s Club, Silk Hat (Trio 1945-1949) Shanghai
Сергей Ермолаев Serge Ermoll & His Orchestra residency at the ‘Tower Nightclub’, The Cathay Hotel, Officer’s Club, Silk Hat (Trio 1945-1949) Shanghai
Avant-garde cabaret experiment – the A and B side of a record – Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) – and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem) is a sonic message in a bottle from 1936 Shànghǎi 上海 where high and popular culture fermented into a brilliant hybrid melange. Alexander Vertinsky’s collaboration with Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) Сергей Ермолаев while in exile from Soviet Russia freed him to explore experimental forms that were contained by Josef Stalin where classicism was favoured. Being Russian abroad produced a freedom. The A and B side of this record evolved from the tension/ constraints/ freedom of the repertoire’s live performance in the cabaret clubs of 1930s Shanghai. Arguably, this cabaret attitude, spirit, was fertile ground for the decadence, improvisation, satire, and music that was produced. It was indeed unique, the cultural collisions were unlike any other. The melting pot of Shanghai in the 1930s was a unique confluence of forces, the ‘yellow music’ of the old Chinese city, the International Settlement, French Concession, Japanese occupation, the British contingent, the American presence and influence on trans-Pacific cultural idioms. These songs were produced in the context of the homegrown Chinese Shànghǎi 上海 modern experience in the city, one beautifully articulated in the avant-garde modernist literary works of 穆時英 Mu Shiying: China’s Lost Modernist “…that take the reader on a tour through the old dance clubs and cabarets of Shanghai’s Foreign Concessions…”[12a] and telescope for us the neon, cinematic, jazz culture of the times.
Black Peony, 1933 (黑牡丹; Hēi mǔdān). “The rouge on her lips goes through my shirt and imprints directly on my skin—and my heart is tainted red” and “Take me, for example, I’m living in the lap of luxury, if you take away jazz, fox-trot, mixed drinks, the fashionable colours of autumn, eight-cylinder engine cars, Egyptian tobacco … I become a soulless person. So deeply soaked in luxury, carpe diem, I am living this life of luxury, but I am tired.” 穆時英 Mu Shiying: China’s Lost Modernist, 2014. [12b]
Red streets, green streets, blue streets, purple streets … City clad in strong colours! Dancing neon light—multi-coloured waves, scintillating waves, colourless waves—a sky filled with colour. The sky now had everything: wine, cigarettes, high-heels, clock-towers … 神女 The Goddess (1934) Chinese silent film released by the Lianhua Film Company (United Photoplay) [13]
Jazz band in 野玫瑰 - Wild rose - Ye mei gui, 1932, Dir. Sun Yu 孙瑜, stars Wang Renmei 王人美, Zheng Junli 郑君里, Jin Yan 金焰, Lian hua ying ye gong si - 联华影业公司 - Lianhua Film Company
Jazz band in 野玫瑰 – Wild rose – Ye mei gui, 1932, Dir. Sun Yu 孙瑜, stars Wang Renmei 王人美, Zheng Junli 郑君里, Jin Yan 金焰, Lian hua ying ye gong si – 联华影业公司 – Lianhua Film Company
————–
NOTES
[0] Taras Grescoe, The Man Who Changed the Face of Shanghai, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/travel/the-man-who-changed-the-face-of-shanghai-.html, 2014.
[1] Katya Knyazeva documents Alexander Vertinsky and Sir Victor Sassoon at the Arcadia club 291 Route Amiral Courbet, in the French Concession, Shanghai, 1940, a space of entertainment in her online journal “Victor Sassoon and Alexander Vertinsky in the same picture!“, 2017.
[1a] Katya Knyazeva, ‘Miss Shanghai: The Years of Infamy‘, in SECTION 4: ‘THE ENTIRE THING SMELLS FISHY’, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China, Vol.79, No.1  published by Earnshaw Books on behalf of the Royal Asiatic Society China, 2019.
[1b] Paul French, ‘Gypsies of Shanghai: the Roma Community of Late 1930s and 1940s Shanghai and their Role in the City’s Entertainment Industry’, in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China, Vol.75,No.1 [1c] Paul French, op cit, 2013.
[1.1] 穆時英 Mu Shiying: China’s Lost Modernist, (Ed. Trans.) Andrew David Field and Hong Yu, except for Five in a Nightclub by Randolph Trumbull.Hong Kong University Press, 2014. “…that take the reader on a tour through the old dance clubs and cabarets of Shanghai’s Foreign Concessions…” [1.1a] Paul French, op cit, 2013.
[1.1b] Paul French, op cit, 2013.
[1a] Stella Dong, Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City, Harper Collins, 2001, p1.
[1b] Stella Dong, op cit 2001, p1.
[1c] Andrew Jakubowicz & Tatiana Pentes, The Menorah of Fang Bang LuVECTORS: Journal of Culture & Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular, Issue 1. Winter, 2005.
[1d] Shanghai Ghetto https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Ghetto
[1e] Courtney Lichterman, The Hidden History of Shanghai’s Jewish Quarter As Hitler rose to power, the city welcomed refugees, June 2018, https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/shanghais-jewish-quarter-hongkou
[2] Yachinich, Katherine Anne, The Culture and Music of American Cabaret (2014). Music Honors Theses. 5. digitalcommons.trinity.edu/music_honors/5 kyachini@trinity.edu.
[3 – 6] Andrew F. Jones, ‘Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age, in Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age, Duke University Press, London, 2001, p21.
[6a] Leo Ou-Fan Lee, Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930-1945, Harvard University press, Cambridge, MAA, 1999.
[7] Yachinich, Katherine Anne, op cit. Eric Bronner, “Cabaret for the Classical Singer: A History of the Genre and a Survey of Its Vocal Music”, Journal of Singing: The Official Journal of the National Association of Teachers of Singing 60,no.5(2004):453.1
[8] Alexander Vertinsky wiki www.wikiwand.com/en/Alexander_Vertinsky.
[9] Prof Andrew Field, Building Shanghai’s Dreamworld: Architects and Elite Ballroom Designs of the 1920s and 1930s, Kunshan Duke University, Kunshan, 2019.
[10] Prof Andrew Field, op cit, 2019.
[11] Whitey Smith, I Didn’t Make a Million: How Jazz Came to China. Reprint, Hong Kong: Earnshaw Books, (1958) 2017.
[12a-12b] Black Peony, in 穆時英 Mu Shiying: China’s Lost Modernist, (Ed. Trans.) Andrew David Field and Hong Yu, except for Five in a Nightclub by Randolph Trumbull.Hong Kong University Press, 2014.
[13] 神女 The Goddess (1934) Chinese silent film released by the Lianhua Film Company (United Photoplay)
Opening titles 马路天使 Street Angel 1937 Ma lu tian shi Dir. Yuan Muzhi 袁牧之 stars Zhou Xuan 周璇 Mingxing ying pian gong si 明星影片公司 Mingxing Film Company #shanghaimodern #electriclights #neon

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s