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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Burns Revelers Enjoy Haggis, Poetry and Dancing

K. Michael RoseAnne-Marie King and Ian Baron dancing at the St. Andrew's Society's Burns Supper at the Marriott Aurora Hotel on Saturday.
Scots and Scotophiles, some in kilts and many in fine fettle, danced, recited and toasted the night away on Saturday in honor of Scotland's greatest poet, Robert Burns, who turned 246 last week.

Gathered at the Marriott Aurora Hotel on Ulitsa Petrovka for the St. Andrew's Society of Russia's annual Burns Supper, about 200 revelers dined on haggis, the Scottish national dish, and feted the poet with fine Scots whiskey to the sounds of his verse and live bagpipes.

The St. Andrew's Society formed in 1994 and threw its first Burns Supper 10 years ago, in January 1995. The supper is one of the society's three main social staples, and is traditionally popular with expatriates and Russians alike.

"The tickets are sold before the adverts go out," said Desira Rayburn, a guest. Her partner, Jamie Menzies, flew in from Edinburgh to treat partygoers to authentic bagpipe playing.

Guests were also entertained by visiting Scottish radio DJ Greg Summers, a ceilidh band, and the immortal Rabbie Burns himself -- impersonated by Christopher Tait, a professional entertainer from Edinburgh.

The supper, as tradition prescribes, started with The Selkirk Grace, a Scots prayer of thanksgiving. The highlight of the supper was haggis, a traditional Scottish meal of sheep's liver and oatmeal cooked in a sheep's stomach, impressed Burns so much during his visit to Edinburgh in 1787 that the poet wrote a paean of thanks to the dish, called "Address to the Haggis."

The haggis, imported specially from Scotland, was piped in, praised, ceremoniously sliced and toasted to. Some guests doused the dish, which is served with neeps, or turnips, and tatties, or potatoes, with Famous Grouse, one of four whiskeys presented by Maxxium, an importer and one of the event's sponsors. The diners feasted and toasted to (among other things) "bonnie lassies," or pretty girls, a must-have toast at every Scottish ceilidh and Russian prazdnik alike.

Kilted men and their ladies danced and learned how to dance the St. Bernard's Waltz, Scottish country dancing, Highland dancing and -- as the night progressed -- the lambada.

In the Burns Supper tradition, Tait -- bewigged and wearing a Robert Burns costume -- performed a recitation of "To a Louse" and "Address to the Haggis," replete with occasional Russian words for his Moscow audience. Late into the night, Tait reminded guests of the "perils of drinking and womanizing" by performing his favorite of Burns' poems, "Tam O'Shanter," a 15-minute romp that draws heavily on the folklore of witchcraft.

"It's not about telling a poem, it's about expressing a poem," Tait said, adding that he knows 12 Burns poems by heart. "It's about being Burns."

Last year, production company Screen Edge released "Robert Burns Live," a 35-minute film featuring Tait performing Burns poetry in the poet's cottage in the west Scotland town of Alloway. He said the movie sold well in North America and there were plans to bring it to Russia.

Love for Burns and Scottish music and songs transcends borders, and is not limited to English-speaking countries, said John MacGregor, a banjo player and singer from Dumbarton, near Glasgow. His band, The Glenhoulachan Midgie Club, has received a warm welcome at ceilidhs, or "parties" in Gaelic, all over the world, from Abu Dhabi and Kuwait to Romania and India.

The supper's organizers said that the last decade of St. Andrew's Society events has shown that there's a special bond between Scots and Russians, and revealed how many Scottish influences there are here.

Bryusov Pereulok in central Moscow, for example, was named after James Daniel Bruce, son of Scottish soldier of fortune William Bruce, while the Cameron Gallery at Tsarskoye Selo takes its name from its creator, Charles Cameron, an architect from Scotland.

"Moscow is famous in Scotland," said Alan McGregor, the St. Andrew's Society secretary. "There is something about Moscow in the Scottish press all the time."

Society officials said they were also pleased to see that Russia knows and loves Scotland and Robert Burns.

"Russian children, I think, know more about Robert Burns than Scottish children do," Tait said. During one of his previous visits to Moscow, he was reciting Burns for Russian television in front of the Pushkin monument when a Russian soldier approached him and joined in the recital.

Burns, who wrote of the underprivileged and poor in 18th-century Scotland, was considered a socialist poet in the Soviet Union, and his poetry was on the curriculum for students of literature in thousands of schools and colleges.

Members and friends of the St. Andrew's Society said they attach value not just to a time well spent, but also to giving back to the community.

"We started as a social group," said David Jenkins, the St. Andrew's Society chieftain and Marriott Aurora Hotel director of operations. "After the first two years, we put on a charity ball."

Since then many Russian organizations, including Tomilino Children's Village, the Nastenka Fund for children suffering from cancer, Kitezh, a village for orphans, and Maria's Center for underprivileged children, have been beneficiaries of the society's donations.

Last November, 400 guests at the society's St. Andrew's Day ball raised a total of $55,000 for charity, of which $20,000 went to Nastenka, and $5,000 each went to Maria's Center and Kitezh.

If "a $1,000 or $2,000 profit is made" during the Burns Supper -- primarily a cultural event -- the money raised would go to the Robert Burns Charity in Scotland, organizers said.

The society also informally promotes Scottish-Russian business relations and has already helped open a few doors to Scottish businesses in Russia, Jenkins said.

"Russia is a key market for Scotland," said the kilt-wearing Yury Andreyev, who represents Scottish Development International, a joint venture between the Scottish Executive and its economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise. Many companies present at the ball were introduced to Russia with his group's help, he said.

Energy and consumer goods are two main sectors where the countries' business interests intersect.

Organizers said the Scottish Tartans Authority, the organization that designs official family tartans, would come to Moscow this March. The authority has just designed a tartan for a famous Russian family of Scottish origin -- the Lermontovs, Jenkins said. Mikhail Lermontov, a Romantic poet of the early 19th century, was descended from 17th-century Scottish adventurer George Learmonth.

The city's season of Scottish festivities continues Feb. 12, when the Moscow Curling Club hosts its "Love Scotland" program of traditional Scottish music and dancing, spirits, sweets and curling.

For more about the St. Andrew's Society of Russia, go to: http://www.st-andrew.ru