MOSCOW — She stands like a steel reed on the stage of the Bolshoi Conservatory, her tiny figure encased in gold lame, her mouth marked by a single streak of scarlet. Only her hands move, now flaying a violent chord, now lulling the violin almost to sleep. At intermission, the audience is ecstatic; fans rush the stage, shower her with flowers, even kneel at her feet and kiss her hand. At performance's end, after three encores, she is flooded with roses, tulips and carnations--more than 50 bouquets in all.
"I have no words to describe my feelings," Nina Beilina tells the packed audience filled with former students, youngsters, and middle-aged lovers of Beethoven and Mozart. Beilina means it. She isn't a Moscow regular but an emigre who left 14 years ago, thinking it was for keeps. Now, she is back and performing for the first time on the very stage that was closed to her in the 1970s--after all, she was a woman, a Jew, an outcast.
Beilina, 50-ish and now a comfortable Manhattanite who teaches at the Mannes School of Music, is only one of dozens of exiled musicians, artists, writers and theater directors now traveling back to visit the audiences that they never meant to leave behind. Over the past two years, under Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policy of \o7 glasnost,\f7 Moscow has allowed and even encouraged such visits. "Before, they considered us traitors, but now we are considered victims of the regime," said Beilina.
The list reads like a Who's Who of Moscow: rebel writers Vladimir Voinovich and Vassily Aksyonov; outspoken theater director Yuri Lyubimov, who has not only visited but gotten back citizenship and his job as artistic director of the famous Taganka Theatre; dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova; musicians Vladimir Ashkenazy, Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, singer Galina Vishnevskaya, who recently toured Moscow and Leningrad with the National Symphony; sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, who once tangled with deposed leader Nikita Khrushchev over the meaning of art; and painter Mikhail Chemkyakin, whose works now fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars in New York and Paris.
The current visits are the outgrowth of a trend begun in 1986, when a select few Soviet cultural figures with travel privileges began spreading the word abroad that major changes back home were paving the way for the resurrection of the Soviet Union's rich artistic heritage and the return of its living representatives. Those contacted early on included Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya, Lyubimov, Neizvestny and others. "They need people for agitational and propagandistic reasons," scoffed Lyubimov at the time. But the director, who defected in 1983 to escape artistic suffocation and--like many other artists--was later stripped of citizenship, lived to eat his own words.
Little more than a year ago, Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze announced that the "stigma of class enemy" should be lifted from Soviet emigres and visas should be issued to permit free travel in a campaign to improve relations with expatriates. For many, the offer was irresistible.
After five years of difficult exile, during which Lyubimov divided his time between New York and Europe, he was invited back to Moscow in 1988 to direct productions of "Boris Godunov" and "Living," the latter his long-banned play about a peasant who runs away from a collective farm. His citizenship was restored several months later, in May of 1989, and in December he had back his old job as leader of the Taganka. Now he has a Moscow apartment but maintains dual citizenship--Israeli and Soviet.
Vladimir Voinovich, now living in Washington, was forced out of the country in 1980 and stripped of his citizenship for the raucous and unorthodox lampooning of Soviet society in "The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin," a banned novel that he sent to the West for publication. Now, the novel has been published in a Soviet journal with a circulation of 3.5 million readers. Unlike Lyubimov, Voinovich, Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya, he has not had his citizenship restored--and because he considers it revoked illegally he will never ask. But ask him where, or how, he would prefer to live, and his answer is clear.
"I would like to live both here and there," he said. "My roots are there, my readers, my relatives, and my graves. It is my country and I never rejected my country."