Sunday night at the Hotel Bulgaria in central Sofia. Until the next electricity cut arrives, it is cabaret time. A succession of competent, Westernised acts unwind before a small, mute audience who have paid five levs each for the right not to applaud. On come four muscular, blond-rinsed girls, who go through a mixed routine, from rough-hewn disco-dancing to some Isadora Duncan stuff. They are well-drilled, energetic, and a long way from tickling the erotic; there is also something not quite right about them. Then, abruptly, one girl goes up on her left foot and slowly raises her, right leg out sideways. When it reaches nine o'clock, she hoists it with her hand and sweeps it up to the implausible vertical, cocking her foot horizontally across the top of her head. All is suddenly clear: the girls are ex-gymnasts, as they now confirm by ball-juggling, running round with streamers on sticks, and so on. The act ends, the small Bulgarian public exercises its right to be unimpressed, and a Western observer draws an inviting conclusion. Sport is no longer state-coddled in Eastern Europe, so here are four gymnasts, deprived of coaching and steroids, earning their corn as a Sunday night cabaret act - a living demonstration of the switch from communism to capitalism. What sort of progress is this? Hard to tell; but it looks a neat image for the strange and extreme transformation Bulgaria is currently undergoing.
LRB 22 November 1990 | PDF Download