Upcoming Events: The Adventures of Little Sharp-Ears

REEEC is excited to announce several upcoming events surrounding the production of The Adventures of Little Sharp-Ears, based on the Czech opera by Leoš Janáček. Please see below for more details.

Operatic Expressions of Eastern European Folklore
October 17, 5:00-6:00 PM followed by Lyric Theatre performances 6:00-7:00 PM
Location: Uncorked- Stage 5, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Enter the mystical world of Eastern European music and folklore with a special sneak peek performance of Lyric Theatre’s The Adventures of Little Sharp-Ears (score by Leoš Janáček). Beloved arias from the pens of Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and more will inspire the interface of Czech and Russian literature, culture, and music. Sarah Wigley (Director and Clinical Assistant Professor of Voice, University of Illinois) and David Cooper (Associate Professor Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Illinois) will discuss the importance and legacy of Janáček’s work.

The Adventures Little Sharp-Ears
November 15, 7:30 PM
November 16, 5:00 PM
November 17. 3:00 PM
Location: Krannert Center for Performing Arts (tickets required)

Music and lyrics by Leoš Janáček
Andrew Megill, conductor
Sarah Wigley, director

Join Sharp-Ears the fox and her friends grasshopper, mosquito, and frog as they wind their way from the farmyard through the ever-changing forest. This enchanting children’s story, filled with beautiful music and the sounds of nature from the pen of Czech composer Leoš Janáček, portrays a family-friendly, fantastic journey, exploring the relationship between humans and animals and the renewal that the natural world offers.

Sung in English.
Recommended for ages 6 and up.

Pop-up Library
November 17, 6:30-9:30 PM
Location: Lobby of the Krannert Center for Performing Arts

Come explore the Music and Performing Arts Library’s extensive collections in the lobby of Krannert Center! The Pop-up Library will offer items from its collection related to performances on November 17, 2019, for you to browse and borrow. Please bring your University i-Card or Courtesy Card to check out materials. Applications for University Courtesy Cards will also be available.

National Treasure: The Art of Joža Uprka from the George Drost Collection
November 5 – December 1
Location: Spurlock Museum

Visit the Spurlock Museum for a special exhibit of paintings by Czech artist Joža Uprka (1861-1940). Uprka’s artwork chronicled Moravian village life and the traditional costumes of the region, combining elements of Romanticism and Art Nouveau. This event is free and open to the public thanks to the generosity of George Drost, a renowned collector of Uprka artwork.

New Faculty Highlight: Robert Geraci

REEEC would like to warmly welcome Robert P. Geraci to the University of Illinois! Professor Geraci joins us from the University of Virginia, where he taught Russian and European history since 1996. In addition to his extensive teaching experience, Professor Geraci also served as the Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Russian and East European Studies (CREEES) from 2008-2011. At Illinois, Geraci is Research Associate Professor in the International and Area Studies Library and will serve as an affiliate faculty member of REEEC.

Professor Geraci is a historian of imperial Russia who has written extensively on national and imperial identity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In particular, his 2001 monograph, Window on the East: National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia, explored the meaning of a multiethnic, multi-confessional state in the Kazan region, and is a foundational text for understanding the limits and contradictions of imperial policy before the Revolution. In 2013, Window on the East was translated into Russian, illustrating its wide scholarly reach beyond English speaking audiences. Professor Geraci likewise has published numerous articles and book chapters on Russian Orientalism, national minorities, and most recently, on the Pale of Jewish Settlement.

Professor Geraci is currently working on a book manuscript entitled, Imperial Bazaar: Ethnicity, Nationality, and Commerce in Russian Eurasia. Focusing on several distinct regions within the Russian empire, this manuscript will examine the nature of urban trading and national divisions among the entrepreneurial classes from Peter the Great until the 1917 revolutions. Professor Geraci plans to conclude by focusing on the post-Soviet period, to illustrate the ongoing power of tsarist-era cultural stereotypes in fueling ethno-national conflict in the 1990s. The manuscript will connect commercial activities, economic nationalism, and ethnic identity across multiple centuries, and add important scholarship to the historiography of Russian empire.

Professor Geraci is excited to begin his work at the University of Illinois, and is especially open to meeting with REEEC students to hear about their research.

“Coming Home: The Many Faces of Sasha Velour in Smoke and Mirrors”

sasha-velour-1.jpgBy Alejandra Pires

On the pleasantly warm evening of September 14th, 2019, a large crowd gathered in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to welcome Champaign-Urbana’s beloved “native son” back home. But this homecoming was an altogether different kind of experience, for Sasha Velour was radically changed. The denizens of Champaign-Urbana were treated to an evening of visual spectacles, with Sasha leading us through her journey. Videos, songs, costumes, make-up—all integral parts of Sasha’s performance, and all parts of Sasha herself. Throughout her performance, Sasha revealed and peeled away the various layers of her self-expression, peppering her acts with anecdotes of growing up in Champaign-Urbana, from her first taste of drag as a teenager messing around with theater props at Uni High, to her first full-fledged drag performance at the now-defunct C-Street Bar. She’s come full circle, and we’re all witness to this fabulous process.

One of Sasha’s recurring themes both in her performance and her interviews is failure. During a Q&A session from the day before, Sasha discussed how, in one of her earliest drag shows she performed a planned panic attack, incorporating anxiety and fear of failure into her show. In Smoke and Mirrors, she incorporates various “glitches” or seeming imperfections into the performance—a curtain getting stuck, messing up the cue. All planned; they’re all pre-filmed. During one of the interludes in the show, she explained to us, the audience, how she fantasizes everything going up in flames, the audience evacuating the theater. For Sasha, failure and disaster are the seed of the creative process.

And for Sasha, failure is an essential part of transformation. We could easily say that transformation and drag go hand in hand—put on a costume, change your gender. Sure, this is true enough, but it relies much too heavily on an overly simplistic understanding of gender as a binary, which is exactly the kind of thing that Sasha would implore us to eschew. As she showed us over and over throughout her show, transformations are never simple. They’re often fraught not only with failure, but also pain, frustration, and anxiety. Most importantly, transformation is never linear. Sasha illustrated this for us, showing us new iterations of past performances—like her iconic rose performance from the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race–slightly changed, but still recognizable and always intrinsically her own.

All of this failure and transformation lead to incredibly vulnerable performances, lending them a kind of rawness. Sasha is keen to lift the curtain on her show, metaphorically taking us backstage and showing us, over and over, that performance is itself a process. As she has said, “I want you to see the smoke and mirrors behind the scenes.” We are privy to the process of creation, both as she explains it to us, and as we peek into her dressing room during one of the filmed portions of the performance, which shows her applying her make-up and putting on a costume. She invites us to see her, quite literally, when she’s not fully ready. This vulnerability, becomes her defining feature, a recurring motif.

Ultimately, Sasha’s show is about authenticity. While drag may center around costumes and make-up, performances and stage personas, it offers an avenue for people to be their true selves. Drag allows precocious little boys to be the queens they always dreamed of being, of embracing their inner glittering demons proudly and openly, in defiance of any norms. Sasha’s show is very much about the veneer of drag, about the paradox of embracing that veneer and peeling it away to expose the flawed and fragile human underneath. This paradox is an ongoing process, a transformation that never really ends.

But most of all, this singular performance, in the middle of our favorite cornfields, is about coming home. Sasha spoke at length about her family, in particular her mother, Jane Hedges. Jane offered Sasha her unwavering support until her death from cancer in 2015. Not long before her death, Sasha had the opportunity to debut her now-famous “monster” act here in Champaign with her mother in the audience. We had the privilege of seeing this act again during Smoke and Mirrors, now changed. This personal story was one of the most vulnerable moments in the show. Although she was dressed in an outlandish costume with fake ears and exaggerated make-up, we were seeing her authentic self, laid bare before us.

Sasha is no longer the same monster she was those five or so years ago. She’s grown, experienced grief and loss, as well as the glories of worldwide fame, and the joy of seeing her creative work be validated. Nonetheless, she’s still as unmistakably monstrous as ever. And, as she herself mentioned, maybe one day we, too, will come home triumphant. And, I hope, maybe we, too, will be brave enough to be our authentic, monstrous selves.

Alejandra Pires is a PhD candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Her research focuses on the science fictional elements of Soviet culture, emphasizing attitudes toward technology, perceptions of reality, and radically transformative cultural events.

Sasha Velour Question and Answer Session: The Universal Language of Drag


By Maria A. Dorofeeva

On September 13th University of Illinois students from the Theatre Department and the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center were given the opportunity to attend a moderated discussion panel with Sasha Velour entitled, “The Universal Language of Drag.” During the panel, students asked Sasha a variety of questions, concerning her aesthetics, Russian influences in her work, and how her own artistic practices fit the international drag community at large.

A gender-fluid drag queen, multi-media performance artist and scholar of drag with close ties to Champaign-Urbana community, Sasha Velour came to national attention in 2017 when she won season 9 of the reality TV competition RuPaul’s Drag Race. Alexander “Sasha” Hedges Steinberg grew up in Urbana, raised by her parents Jane Hedges and Mark Steinberg, whose long-standing scholarly and personal interest in Russian history and culture left a lasting imprint on the performer. After graduating from Vassar College in 2009, Sasha spent a year in Moscow on a Fulbright scholarship, where she developed a project focused on different art forms in contemporary Russian society. During her year in Moscow, she came in contact with queer and drag communities in Russia, noting their marked resistance to contemporary art. This resistance sparked her curiosity, making her wonder, “What are the ways that the practices happening in queer spaces can be redeemed as art?” Following her return from Russia, this question continued to guide her own aesthetic practices.

Sasha stunned the audience when she entered the room, attired in a shimmering, feathered red gown, accented with splashes of hot pink and gold. Peruvian-born artist Diego Montoya is the visionary designer behind this and Sasha’s many other looks. In fact, as the performer herself pointed out, “Sasha Velour” is a product that draws on the collaboration of many different people. Sasha noted that Russian museums inspired many of her choices in drag performance attire, as did her love of historical men’s and women’s fashion overall, arguing that drag as such has stronger connection with historical, rather than high fashion.

In her talk, Sasha stressed that drag is “absolutely not a money-making venture.” In addition to her creative endeavors, including drag and comic-book writing, she worked several day jobs and sold props from her performances after the shows to support herself. Sasha stressed the importance of performing drag that stills feels authentic to you, highlighting the importance of “failure,” which she characterized as being of central importance to drag as an art form that embraces the accidental and the mistaken, a “stylized disaster.” Among her own failures, Sasha recounted an anecdote from one of her own early drag performances when the planned “Diamonds are girl’s best friends” song unexpectedly transitioned into one of Enya’s compositions, forcing Sasha to improvise and continue to lip-sync.

In response to how she gained the confidence to pursue drag, Sasha smiled and said, “Delusion,” noting that she still lacks confidence. Instead, she paints on a confident face and wears outfits that make it impossible for her to slouch. When asked about her reasons for entering the drag competition, Sasha laughed: “Queer spirit told me that applying to RuPaul drag race was a wise and calculated decision.” This decision changed her life by putting her in touch with the designers in the drag community – unavailable to her otherwise – while allowing her international opportunities to perform.

Sasha noted similarity in the international language of drag and queer audiences’ responses to her performances. She pointed out however that in Russia, which she characterized as a very gender-binary culture, performing drag acquires a revolutionary flair. Culturally sanctioned violence in Russia makes living there as a queer or more “gay”- presenting person unsafe. According to Sasha, because of the emphasis on the biological and visual differences between men and women in Russian society, a low-key misogyny prevails among drag queens there.

When asked about the future of drag, as she sees it, Sasha remained optimistic. She pointed out the greater queer visibility of our time that allows drag performers to engage in drag on their own terms. According to Sasha, “Diversity is always the ‘star’ of drag.” Drag’s diversity is what enables it to speak to fluidity within all people. Sasha noted the growing inclusiveness of the drag community as one of the leading trends in drag. According to her, contemporary drag is experiencing a shift from impersonation to realness, opening up spaces for trans, cis, and nonbinary performers, and for the drag queens who do not conform to mainstream ideals of beauty.

The question and answer session was an intimate conversation about Sasha’s aesthetic choices before her performance at the Krannert Center, Smoke and Mirrors, the following evening. For more about Smoke and Mirrors, please read the following post.

Maria A. Dorofeeva is a PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her dissertation, Fantasizing Manhood: Art and Sexual Politics in Spain, 1898-1939, examines the impact of visual culture on the formation of new masculine paradigms in early twentieth-century Spain.

New Directions Lecture with Morgan Liu: “An Uzbek Elite’s City within a City: Reflections on What Eurasian Power Can Do”

By Jamie Hendrickson

“If we want to understand power in Eurasia, we need to think beyond the realm of states.” With this assertion, Morgan Liu, Associate Professor in Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at The Ohio State University, opened his REEEC New Directions Lecture on September 16, 2019.

Liu argued that Eurasian power is marginalized and defined through its portrayal by outside interests, and then asked the question that was at the heart of his lecture: “Are there patterns in how power is legitimated in Eurasia today?” To explore this question, Liu noted that he would be looking at the kinds of actors involved in Eurasian power and thereby focusing on non-state formations of power that involve non-state actors and functions.

To do so, he started by summarizing what halal business associations are—halal meaning lawful or permitted in Arabic—and how they function throughout countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere in Eurasia. He then discussed the Andijan massacre in 2005 and explained that the Uzbekistan government had blamed the violence on the “Akromis” — which have been called Islamists, extremists, and terrorists by the state but, according to Liu, were in actuality a business circle that was providing state-like functions that rivaled the state. It is the events that transpired after the 2005 Andijan unrest in Uzbekistan that Liu focused on throughout his lecture, particularly the lives and actions of Uzbek and Kyrgyz peoples in their non-respective countries.

For non-state actors to take on state-like functions, Liu explained, a new and unique type of political ontology is created and maintained. This rhetoric is based on the notion of people working towards a common good when the political power in charge does not and transcending respective and marginalized ethnic identities through this process. This rhetoric, Liu argues, is used to aid and support non-state actors’ visions of forming new types of structural power—and it is exactly these new and developing forms of rhetoric that Liu is especially interested in for his research.

But to successfully form these non-state institutions of power, Liu contended that agreements and connections must be established with the local units of organized crime. Thus, a system is created that performs ‘good’ and ‘expected’ state-like functions that are intended to benefit the common people but does so at the cost of the state’s ire and the risk of illegality.

Liu then raised the question, “What kind of projects can elites accomplish as non-state actors?”

The life and actions of Kyrgyz businessman and politician Kadyrzhan Batyrov is a prime example of a non-state actor, whose patronage led to the creation of a new university, the University of People’s Friendship. Located in Jalal-Abad, the university fostered and enabled Uzbek and inter-ethnic communal flourishing under the then-current economic and political difficulties by providing teaching in the Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Russian languages. Batyrov served as the head of the University of People’s Friendship until 2010, when the campus was burned and looted by an estimated 1,000 ethnic Kyrgyz. This institution and its destruction holds importance, Liu argued, because the university claimed both to serve the common good and facilitate inter-ethnic communication while being run by a public member of the elite, i.e. its socio-economic viability received an institutionalized patronage that was eventually rejected due to a socio-ethnic dispute akin to what the institution was originally against.

With this Liu concluded that “structural power” can be created by both non-state actors and elites, carefully crafted into stability, and used to form social interdependencies. Structural power is thereby dependent on the type of human agency it receives. Therefore, even a single non-state actor or elite—like Kadyrzhan Batyrov, for example—is capable of recasting a city’s social interdependencies and economic capabilities by using the available culture, power, and social relations and forming those into a new type of political discourse. Liu closed the lecture by mentioning his interest in pursuing the possibilities of human agency in his future research.

Dr. Liu recently became the president of the Central Eurasia Studies Society (CESS) for 2019-2021 and is the author of the 2012 book, Under Solomon’s Throne: Uzbek Visions of Renewal in Osh.

Jamie Hendrickson is a graduate student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Putin, Trump, and Charismatics at the REEEC 2019 Fall Reception


By Danielle Sekel

Discussing Trump vs. Putin – straight outta Queens meets straight outta Leningrad – Dr. Tempest, associate professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, opened the 2019-2020 New Directions in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies lecture series with a dynamic exploration of the charismatic imperative in the 21st century. Before this lecture on Thursday, September 5, 2019 at the Levis Faculty Center, the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center community was welcomed to the start of another academic year through opening remarks made by Dr. John Randolph, director of REEEC, who recently returned from sabbatical. Dr. Randolph congratulated the many REEEC FLAS recipients and introduced new staff, graduate assistants, and affiliated REEEC faculty. Dr. Randolph also noted the creation of the Illinois Global Institute (IGI), which will act as the new organizational home for the international and area studies centers on campus and help REEEC maintain its competitive edge as a National Resource Center.

Dr. Tempest’s informative, timely, and thought provoking talk was entitled, “Trump vs. Putin, or the Dynamics of the Charismatic Imperative in the Twenty-First Century.” Drawing simultaneously on surprising similarities in upbringing and distinct differences in their leadership approaches, Tempest wove a compelling narrative concerning the nature of these two charismatic leaders at this juncture in history. Particularly insightful were questions about the nature of branding, and the ways that both leaders built, maintained, and utilized their own personal brands as a means to secure political power. Tempest likewise highlighted the “charismatic rituals of renewal and revalidation” of both leaders, whether the marathon but solitary “direct-line” press conferences of Putin or the more audience driven political rallies of Trump. Following his talk, attendees were given the opportunity to mingle and meet one another.

And with that, the 2019-2020 academic year is off to a strong start! We look forward to seeing you at any number of upcoming REEEC events, which can be found on our calendar.

Danielle Sekel is a graduate student in the Department of Musicology. Her research interests include Balkan music festivals in diaspora and modern interpretations of Bosnian sevdah.


2019-2020 FLAS Fellows

We are happy to announce that REEEC was able to fund seven graduate FLAS Fellows and four undergraduate FLAS fellows for the 2019-2020 academic year. This is a particularly strong group of scholars studying a wide variety of REEE languages. Please join us in congratulating the 2019-2020 FLAS fellows below!

REEEC FLAS Fellows, 2019-2020 

Graduate Students:
Elizabeth Absoch 
(Russian) – History
Justin Balcor (Georgian) – Musicology
Jacob Bell (Russian) – History
Melissa Bialecki (Ukrainian) – Musicology
Megan Carpenter (Russian) – REEES
Mason Conley (B/C/S) – REEES
Jamie Hendrickson (Russian) – REEES

Undergraduate Students:
Esraa Ahmed 
(Turkish) – Global Studies
Madina Azamova (Turkish) – Global Studies
Jackson Barnett 
(Russian) – Political Science, Slavic Studies
Jalie Merritt (Russian) – Slavic Studies