Kseniya Simonova’s mesmerising sand art performance was the highlight of the opening ceremony of the 2011 Amber Chess Tournament. Afterwards, the Ukrainian artist talked about her love of chess and her impressions of Monte Carlo, a “sandbox for adults”.
Simonova shot to superstardom when she won the 2009 edition of “Ukraine’s Got Talent” with her ability to tell evocative stories using only sand and light. Videos of her performances were rapidly seen by millions of people around the world, and she became an artist in very high demand (see the end of this article!). It was fitting, therefore, that the Association Max Euwe managed to arrange for her to appear at the last ever Amber Chess Tournament in Monaco. Macauley Peterson captured her performance for the tournament website:
Simonova comes from the Black Sea port and seaside resort of Eupatoria (Yevpatoria) in the Crimea. Yesterday, the town’s official website reported on her trip to Monaco. The introduction mentioned that Vladimir Kramnik, the son of a sculptor and a music teacher (though no longer the current World Champion!), was impressed:
The public received the most talented girl in Ukraine with enthusiasm and reverence. World Champion Vladimir Kramnik spoke particularly warmly about Kseniya’s art. After her performance, Simonova was spotted in the Champion’s company.
The site goes on to quote Kseniya herself explaining that the world of chess wasn’t foreign to her:
I really love chess. When I was child I played in a chess club, while the main thing for me today is the special aesthetics of the pieces. Each has its own psychology and character… In general, I don’t consider chess a game. It’s theatre. I hope that in the sand story I performed here I managed to convey that.
She also talks about the tournament setting, as the report notes, “not without irony”:
Monte Carlo is a kindergarten for adults. It’s got its games – walking around the casino palaces at night, going for a drive in or being photographed around sports cars, buying cigars. The centre of Monte Carlo, where the majority of the casinos are, is called a “sandbox for adults” by the locals. There are a great number of Russian-speaking passers-by. They say that Russians gamble and lose more than anyone else.
The tournament’s opening ceremony coincided with a carnival in Monte Carlo:
On the day of my performance I decided to go for a walk around the centre. An event called the “Venice Carnival” was taking place there, with a procession of people in themed costumes and masks… I had a long red leather dress on, sewn for me by my tailor in Ukraine. As a consequence, the passers-by thought I was taking part in the carnival and took more photographs with me than with the Venetians. It was funny and really cheered me up.
The impression of Monaco and the South of France that I took away was the following: geographically and in terms of climate it’s identical to my native Crimea. Why shouldn’t we turn our region into such an attractive and pleasant place? It really wouldn’t take much doing.
The ruling Prince of Monaco, Albert II (whose bobsleigh skills Garry Kasparov recently identified with some help from the audience), apparently “said flattering things about the Ukrainian talent and expressed the hope that there’d be another creative encounter with Kseniya Simonova”.
The article ends by mentioning that Simonova’s next engagement was to perform on the somewhat grander stage of the Sydney Opera House, accompanied by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra: 101 musicians from over 30 countries selected based on auditions uploaded to YouTube. The Grand Finale was streamed live on YouTube to make it perhaps the most watched classical concert in history, with the images also projected onto the iconic exterior of the building. You can see Kseniya Simonova’s performance, in the same Amber red dress, below (the video should start at the right spot when you press play, but if not you can fast-forward to about 1:47:18).
Finally, here’s where it all began, on “Ukraine’s Got Talent”. The following video, a wartime love story, has already been watched over 18 million times (the Russian words at the end mean “you’re always by my side”):