Right off York Street and 14th Avenue, there's a portal to the Old World. I had to make it down some narrow stairs and through a maze of hallways, but when I finally found Izba Spa, I was transported directly to St. Petersburg. Intricate hand-carved woodwork covered peeling paint, Slavic music blared from an old TV, and I could hear Russian-accented voices arguing over plumbing problems.
"You take banya before?" Dmitry Mayster asked me.
"No," I replied, adding sheepishly, "What is banya, exactly?"
"You now. Go take sauna. I show you."
Mayster came into the sauna shaking wet oak limbs over the hot rocks. After a few minutes, he proceeded to gently stroke them about my face and body to help increase my circulation. When it was over, he poured honey all over me to draw out toxins, then washed me in freezing cold water. Hmmm, I thought, is this my punishment for not knowing what a banya was?
"Banya is good for metabolism, stress reduction, for relaxing," says spa owner Leonid Vyssokov. "In Russia, banya is very popular. Many families go to public banyas together on Saturday. It's old tradition. Very big in Russia."
I can see why. After it was all over, I needed a nap -- or maybe a shot of vodka.
The spa, at 1441 York Street, is celebrating its tenth year of bringing Russia to Denver. A two-hour basic banya treatment and full-body massage is $100. For details, call 303-321-1239 or visit www.izbaspa.com. -- Jerri Theil
A Shimmying Spectacle
That fat cherub is back, and he's got a cure for anyone who fell heartsick last weekend. Cupid's Revenge: A Post Valentine's Day Burlesque, tonight at La Sala, will spotlight the go-go gals of Burlesque As It Was as they bump and grind away the blues with their signature campy choreography and risqué routines.
"We perform a traditional style of burlesque," explains the troupe's Honey Touché. "We go for the glamour. It should be sexy, but it should also be a lot of fun."
The tantric teasers will boost broken spirits with five performances, including a fan dance, some fun and frolic with balloons, and Touché twirling her tassels to the Pink Panther theme. "We hope to offer something a little different and a little brighter for people who didn't get the Valentine's Day they really wanted," she says.
Resident DJ B:ll and the boogying betties take the stage at 10:30 p.m. at La Sala, 708 East 17th Avenue; admission to the 21-and-over event is free. For details, call 303-832-7622. -- Kity Ironton
Think you've got the filmmaking chops to be included in the Boulder International Film Festival? Then be sure to hit the Boulder Digital Arts one-year anniversary party, tonight from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Rembrandt Yard Gallery, 1301 Spruce Street in Boulder. The free soiree promises to be one of the best All-Star Weekend alternatives -- and not just because you'll get to meet and mingle with the festival's cast of directors and producers. Party-goers will shoot a collaborative movie during the gathering, then edit and screen it at the end of the night. What better way to get your talents noticed? For more information, visit www.boulderdigitalarts.com. -- Corey Helland
Scandals aren't the only thing worth keeping an eye on in Boulder right now. How about the debut of the Boulder International Film Festival, which is bringing 55 films to the Boulder Theater this week?
"We've been making documentaries for years now, and we looked at Boulder and said, 'Hey, why doesn't Boulder have a big film festival?'" says Kathy Beeck, a producer for Robin Beeck Films and a co-founder of BIFF. The four-day fest, she says, will have "everything from feature films, shorts and documentaries to experimental and student films."
An opening-night gala begins this evening at 7 p.m. with the premiere of Millions, by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting), and the films keep rolling through Sunday at the theater, 2034 14th Street. Visit www.biff1.com for schedules and tickets, which range from $10 for individual screenings ($8 for students and seniors) to $295 for a VIP pass. -- Richard Kellerhals
Shackles and Strength
The Slave Narratives give voice to history.
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They owned their slaves' bodies and babies, but slave masters never truly possessed their thoughts and words. Those stories were inherently the slaves' own, and Stories on Stage will bring some of them to life in The Slave Narratives: A Mighty, Mighty People. Based on the accounts of former slaves collected by the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s, the production features Hattie Winston (Becker, The Electric Company). Winston and Stories on Stage executive director Norma Moore were co-creative directors on the project. Explains Moore: "I sent the book of Mississippi narratives to Hattie, who's from Mississippi. She called me back a week later and said, 'I don't know if I want to do this, but I have to do this.'
"It's a lot of very intense stuff," Moore continues, "but there's a surprising amount of humor and passion. There's something so profoundly, well, mighty about these human beings, that they could find joy and humor in addition to the huge amount of suffering. I would have thrown myself into the river. The strength of these people, their courage, is incredible."
And their stories have meaning no matter what the color of a listener's skin. "I'm not black," says Moore, "but this is my history, too, because this country was built on the backs of slavery. We can't pretend we're not standing on the shoulders of those who came before us."
Five actors, including Winston, are flying in to join five Stories on Stage regulars, as well as singers from Denver's Spiritual Project and musicians directed by the Boulder Philharmonic concertmaster. Performances are at 2 and 7 p.m. today at the Stage Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Tickets are $20 each; for information, call 303-494-0523. -- Shara Rutberg