(photo credit: Leonid Yurik)
Every Saturday afternoon, the Tel Aviv promenade between LaLaLand and Ben Gurion's Cheech Beach becomes a haven for folk dancers. Couples reaching across generational gaps gather together to watch and participate in one of Israel's oldest traditions. Their levels vary as much as their ages. Some are decked out in proper dance gear while others wear jeans and t-shirts. Overall, this happening, which seems to occur almost spontaneously, is undoubtedly joyous.
Almost every culture has its own traditional folk dance. Whether performed casually or rehearsed, in lines or circles, couples or individuals, a country's indigenous dances are a vehicle through which a people can convey their music, stories and movement. In the past two decades, spurred on by the success of Riverdance and similar acts, folk dance has become a respected spectator event. However, the transition of folk dance from town halls to stages was started many many years ago by a man named Igor Moiseyev, or, as his peers lovingly called him, "the boss."
Born in Russia in 1906, Moiseyev dedicated his life to the dances of his homeland. Upon completing his training as a dancer he joined the Bolshoi Theater Ballet Company, where he performed for fifteen years. Half way into his career with the prestigious ensemble, Moiseyev was asked to choreograph an original work for the troupe. In 1930, he created his first piece, Footballer, a critically acclaimed work, which used the sport's familiar visual elements to convey the political unrest of the time. For Moiseyev, the events of 1930 began a choreographic journey, which would continue until his death in 2007 at 101.
In 1936, Moiseyev became artistic director of a new company, which would later become the Igor Moiseyev Ballet. Over the past 72 years, the company has performed extensively throughout the world. Although his roots lie in Russian folk dance, Moiseyev explored beyond the borders of his home, creating pieces which drew on Mexican, Spanish, Argentinean and Indian folk dances. In all, he created over three hundred works.
WHEN MOISEYEV passed away, many wondered what would happen to his company. Would things change?
Shortly before his death, one of Moiseyev's star dancers, Elena Shcherbakova took over the reins as director of the company. The two enjoyed many years of artistic partnership, a relationship Shcherbakova spoke of with great warmth in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post.
"I'm very privileged to have worked with him," she said. "It was always a pleasure to rehearse together. He was one of a kind. He knew exactly what an artist is capable of and he always achieved his goals. He introduced strict discipline, which was very important for successful work but he also was very humorous and funny when he felt that dancers were tired and needed some encouragement. We never rehearsed half-heartedly; that was impossible with him. I cherish all his remarks and advice."
Once Moiseyev was gone, Shcherbakova could have changed the structure of the company significantly. However, that is not how things are done in The Moiseyev Ballet. "Everything stays the way it was with Igor Moiseyev. We are not changing anything," she said. "Mr. Moiseyev set the future development direction of the company in his lifetime. We have created an art commission since Moiseyev's death, which includes the majority of our teachers. Each one of us is in charge of a certain part of the repertoire. We are fully qualified to continue his work for new generations. I'm not an artistic director, I am the company's manager and teacher and my task is to keep it going the way it has always been."
"The way it has always been" is quite a show, which Israeli audiences will have to catch during the company's short stay in Israel this November. Moiseyev's cast of over eighty dancers will perform four times: twice in Tel Aviv, once in Haifa and once in Jerusalem.
The Moiseyev Ballet will perform November 3, 4, 5 and 6. For more information see www.moiseyev.ru.