Are You Sure / That We Are Awake?

© 2017 Sheila Paylan

As I slowly descended a stone stairway from the Serednikovo manor leading into a lush forest, an épopée began to manifest right before my eyes. With a broad-winged angel in white to my left being escorted by a thorn-faced man in a tuxedo, and an overturned centaur with a human body and pixilated-mirrored horse’s head to my right offering to escort me, I carefully made my way down to the main stage lakeside where the musical band Air had been commissioned to perform the opening act. Nearly 4000 people gathered to officially launch a celebration the meaning of which would only bear its truth as the night, and subsequent day, unfolded. None of us in attendance could know the full extent of the experience that was to be borne. We only knew that we were in it together, and that it would be unforgettable.

Too many of us can count far too few occasions when reality is better than our dreams. Dr. Seuss said that’s when you know you’re in love and can’t fall asleep. I’d say some things are even better than falling in love. In one of my favorite stories of all time, Alice didn’t fall in love, she fell into wonder. And thanks to Rise Entertainment, a team of boundlessly creative and innovative professionals who have made it their mission to make dreams come true, I let myself fall through a rabbit hole more spectacular than I had ever imagined before.

Aptly called a Midsummer Night’s Dream, this event would have made William Shakespeare jealous and Mikhail Lermontov proud. Set on a private estate an hour’s drive out of central Moscow, each guest assumed their improvised role in an unscripted play to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the genesis of a fantasy world. We were invited to imagine that possibilities were endless and that the clock of history had been reset to start anew. The theme was Creation itself, a time when gods were seen, sorrows and doubts were unknown, and shame was never felt. At one with nature and one another, a garden of heaven was offered to us as a sanctuary in which to share and mutually enhance the miracle of being as free as we are willing to be.

No freedom is, however, absolute, and just as in the Garden of Eden, some rules do apply. For instance, no costume, no entry. On arrival, hair and makeup stalls were offered to anyone who managed to secure a seat. Most guests (called “Dreamers”) nevertheless arrived elaborately dressed and meticulously disguised, having prepared their costumes for weeks, if not months, in advance. Whether they reached the grounds by helicopter or taxi cab, once together, there were no class divides or limits other than our own to hold us back. The soundtrack to the night was thoughtfully planned with a line-up of world class electronic musicians including Ten Walls, Tosca, and Bedouin, as well as instrumental artists ranging from Benjamin Skepper playing electric cello to Jurgis Did rocking a ukulele, to create the perfect mood at different times and stages set in various corners of the estate surrounding the mansion and annexed dependencies. Actors and acrobats also performed to appeal to visual delights.

Lermontov, a twice-exiled Romantic writer touted as “the most important Russian poet after Alexander Pushkin’s death in 1837”, spent his summer holidays in the early 19th century at the Serednikovo manor where he and his guests indulged in carefree fun, lives of leisure, and probably polyamory. According to one foreign biographer, “He led such a wild, romantic life, fulfilled so many of the Byronic features (individualism, isolation from high society, social critic and misfit), and lived and died so furiously, that it is difficult not to confuse these manifestations of identity with his authentic self. Who Lermontov had become, or who he was becoming, is unclear. Lermontov, like many a romantic hero, once closely examined, remains as open and unfinished as his persona seems closed and fixed.”

Lermontov’s spirit undeniably lives on, not only through his works, but also in the joie de vivre that oozed out of every Dreamer’s pores on that magical midsummer night. With my head draped in peacock feathers and my ears morphed into elves, I danced in the rain with fairies, frogs, and other phantasmagores until well after the sun rose, pushing through walls of exhaustion to catch waves of exuberance. I thanked myself for having had the resolve to travel so far for just this one event, and the courage to go by myself. Despite not being able to speak a word of Russian, I was welcomed with open arms into a community of like-minded people, and together we entered a realm in which verbal communication was no longer strictly necessary. I left with epiphanies of subconscious dreams having come true coupled with the consoling conviction that the best was yet to come. And with that, the growing pain of learning that the fairy tales I was fed and devoured as a child are not true became soothed with the knowledge that I can now write my own, even better stories, and bring them to life.


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