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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Celebrating the British Connection

In 1768, British Lord Charles Cathcart looked over the cultural landscapes of his own country and Russia and found common ground.

The emissary said as much in his report to the court. Peter the Great, after all, had studied sailing in an old English dinghy. A generation of young Russian aristocrats were studying under the iron fists of Suffolk nannies. And, he added, Catherine II wouldn't have it any other way.

"Russia is now, by the empress's firm, determined and declared opinions, and will be so by all her institutions, decidedly English."

Almost 500 years have passed since the first English traders formed their opinion of Muscovy, and not all observers would have echoed Cathcart's assessment. At different times, Russians have embraced and rejected England's traditions.

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II's upcoming visit to Russia, the British Council is putting that relationship in the spotlight, with a four-week docket of performances and activities that aim to reestablish the ties that struck Lord Cathcart.

Acclaimed director Max Stafford-Clark is bringing over "The Man of Mode," a bawdy Restoration comedy about two friends scrambling to win an heiress' hand. London chef John Williams comes bearing lofty English fare like Smoked Eel Parfait with Jellied Quail Leg and Horseradish. Westminster Abbey is sending 22 boy choristers. United Distillers has donated whisky.

At the cultural festival's kickoff, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said Russia and England should aim to reestablish the links lost since 1917.

"Of course, in the history of any two nations, particularly European nations, there is friction, and some annoying military tension," he said. "Through this exchange, we are returning to where we belong. We aim for the natural condition of unity, partnership and alliance between two great nations."

Playing on the Shakespeare title "Measure for Measure," Kozyrev added, "Let's hope our cooperation will develop not just measure for measure, but that every step a partner makes will be reciprocated by two steps on the other side."

"Britain in Russia," a small exhibit, focuses on the highlights and nimbuses of the Russian-British relationship beginning with the sixteenth-century Muscovy trading company. Designers David Elliot and Marsha Lebon, who created the exhibit for the British Council, spent five months combing through archives to piece together a timeline. They uncovered some insightful links -- Russia's turn-of-the-century passion for Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley; Mikhail Lermontov's Scottish heritage; a Siberian community designed and planned by a Welsh manufacturer.

Ever since Ivan the Terrible proposed to -- and was politely put off by -- Elizabeth I, Russian nobles had sensitive links with the British throne. When Bolsheviks shot Nicholas II and his family, they ruptured the closest court relationship between Russia and England in history, since the Empress Alexandra was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

The exhibit is located in the foyer of the Maly Theater, where the classic comedy "Man of Mode" will open on Tuesday night. "The Card" -- the first British musical ever staged in Russia -- will follow on Oct. 15, and a highly acclaimed production of "As You Like It" opens Oct. 19.

Other aspects of British culture, of course, are less high-minded. Williams, ma”tre chef de cuisine at the Berkeley Hotel in London, has a personal mission with British Food Week -- to prove to the world that his national cuisine goes beyond steak and kidney pie.

"It's not spicy or pungent, just flavorful," he said. The hearty dishes that traditionally bore up the British diet have given way to more delicate tastes, like Small Lobster Fricassee with Cardamon, he said. "The old style was simple. Now what we're doing is complex, a little more refined."