Thousands of Kazakhs have come to the Old Square to watch the Norouz pageant on a cavernous stage. There are Fire Dances, featuring men with spears dancing in gold lame, Kazakh opera and folk singers, and a series of elaborately staged dance acts representing the respective traditions of their Central Asian neighbors: Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks.
Then in a jolting leap of the geographical fence, dozens of Michael Jackson look-alikes take the stage, dressed in black and white and wearing top hats. Striking all the familiar poses, they conclude Almaty's Norouz spectacle with a dance-at-your-seat rendition of "Billie Jean" that leaves the audience cheering.
That day the top hats vanquished the spears. And a tip of the former to you, Michael Jackson. What will Norouz in Kazakhstan be without you?
-- Ricki Green