Dance company celebrates founder's 100th birthday

The Moiseyev Dance Company arrived last week with strict instructions from its 100-year-old founder.

By JEREMY LAST
October 23, 2006 08:21
4 minute read.
russian dance 88 298

russian dance 88 298. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The world-renowned Moiseyev Dance Company arrived in Tel Aviv from Moscow last week with strict instructions from its founder, 100-year-old choreographer Igor Moiseyev. Moiseyev, who formed the Russian group in 1937 after 13 years dancing at the Bolshoi Theater, has been unable to leave Moscow since 2001 due to a heart condition. But despite his age, the celebrated choreographer, who has twice before visited Israel, is still closely involved in each program of performances, and created a unique show especially to help Israeli audiences celebrate his recent 100th birthday. His dance company's short tour of Israel is being held over five dates in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv. "Mr Moiseyev made this program himself," the company's director, Elena Scherbakova, told The Jerusalem Post. "He wanted to show his lovely dances - both the classics and the newer, more modern ones." Each performance by the Moiseyev company includes fast-paced routines with up to 70 dancers performing on the stage at one time. Although some of the pieces are traditional folk dances, many tell a story, including one which depicts a group of men each trying to woo a young maiden. The first half of Moiseyev's Israeli show includes some of the Russian classics, while the second half showcases the choreographer's new pieces, which are inspired in part by traditional Mexican and Spanish dances. Moiseyev began his choreography career under Soviet rule, staging acrobatic parades in Moscow's Red Square. His work so impressed Soviet Prime Minister Vyacheslav Molotov that in 1936 the Premier invited Moiseyev to form a professional company intended to preserve and develop a tradition of Soviet folk dancing. The young Moiseyev traveled throughout the Soviet Union studying the country's many folk dancing traditions. His touring led him to organize a festival of folk dancing, and in 1937 Moiseyev created the world's first folk dancing company, which performed a unique stage-based folk dancing show at the Bolshoi in 1938. In the 69 years since forming his company, the exuberant Moiseyev has continued to choreograph the company's repertoire, which now includes over 300 dances that have been performed all over the world. The current trip marks the fifth time the Moiseyev Dance Company has performed in Israel, the first being in 1989, just as the Soviet bloc was crumbling. "When we came here in 1989, we intended to stay for just a few weeks but ended up continuing our performances in Israel for a month and a half because so many people wanted to see us. There were a lot of Russians in Israel already by then," Scherbakova recalled. Scherbakova herself is no newcomer to the folk dance scene, having begun as a dancer with the Moiseyev group back in 1969. The 54-year-old graduated from the Moiseyev Dance School, which, when opened in 1943, was the only school of popular dance in the world. After dancing for 23 years, Scherbakova became a teacher at the school, and three years later one of the company's directors. She said that none of the 70-strong company members or technical staff had any concerns about coming to Israel. "We have been in many different countries and difficult situations. We don't feel the war in Israel. We planned this tour one year ago, and we were sure we would have it. Everything now is fantastic for us," Scherbakova said. She added that she hoped that the performances would provide some cheer for Israelis following the conflict with Hizbullah over the summer. "We hope we will bring some happiness to the people - for us, that's the most important thing," she said. "I think it is important for the people of Israel." Her dancers are all graduates of the Moiseyev school and are an average of just 24. Scherbakova described how much they have enjoyed visiting Israel, especially time they spent in Jerusalem's Old City on a day off. Moiseyev has also said he is a big supporter of Israel, according to tour organizers. In a special message for his Israeli audiences, he said, "Israel is a holy land that gave to the world not just the religious traditions, but also a cultural excellence." On Thursday, the company kicked off its tour with a near-sell out performance at Jerusalem's Binyenei Ha'uma. Starting off slowly with just two dancers performing at the center of the stage, the show soon broke into a cacophony of color and movement, with dozens of dancers often seeming to defy the laws of gravity with their leaps and jumps. The convention center was treated to a series of mesmerizing routines which often saw all 70 members of the Moiseyev company on stage at the same time, constantly moving at breathtaking speeds. By midway through the show's first half, the audience was clapping along with each of the dances and applauding the performers even before the routines had finished. After two hours and numerous costume changes, the company left the stage to massive applause. Following its Jerusalem show, the group performed twice in Haifa on Friday and Saturday, and is due to finish its tour at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium tonight and Tuesday.


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