A treasured folk family tradition

The Moiseyev Ballet returns to Israel to present two works – Night on Bald Mountain and Jewish Suite: The Family Joys.

The Igor Moiseyev Ballet (photo credit: PR)
The Igor Moiseyev Ballet
(photo credit: PR)
At 16 years old, when Elena Shcherbakova entered the Igor Moiseyev School, she was inducted not just into a discipline of folk dance but also a family of artists. From the moment she first set foot in the company’s home in Moscow, she became part of a way of life founded by Moiseyev and treasured by all that came after him.
“The company is not just my workplace, it’s a part of my life,” explains Shcherbakova, artistic director of the Igor Moiseyev Ballet since Moiseyev’s passing in 2007. “I was brought up by the Moiseyev tradition, and I’m convinced that it must be preserved and developed for future generations.”
The Moiseyev Ballet will return to Israel to present two works – Night on Bald Mountain and Jewish Suite: The Family Joys. The company, which will arrive with more than 80 dancers, hundreds of costumes and extensive sets, will perform in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem.
Moiseyev was born in Kiev, the child of a lawyer and a seamstress. He lived in Paris until the age of eight and spoke fluent French until his death. He studied dance at the Bolshoi School in Moscow, going on to dance with the company for 15 years. Throughout his tenure in the ballet company, Moiseyev developed his style of folk dance, sincerely Russian and inspired by cultural and historical events of the time. In 1936, he was put in charge of a new company that eventually became the Moiseyev Ballet. He created more than 200 dances at the helm of his troupe, touring the world extensively.
“In 1943, during the Second World War, Moiseyev, supported by the government, opened the first school of folk dance. Since then, it has brought up young professional dancers. They pour new blood into the company and contribute to the high performance level. Only this year we have accepted 12 new dancers. All of them have become part of the Moiseyev family that lives by the rule of Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, ‘Give and don’t think of getting anything in return,’” says Shcherbakova.
Although Moiseyev is no longer alive to guide the company, his disciples continue to propagate his vision, and his legacy remains strong.
“The company stays relevant and popular due to the preservation of the original repertoire created by Maestro Moiseyev,” says Shcherbakova. “These pieces of work have been passed from one generation to another, and today we witness the seventh generation of Moiseyev dancers. Moiseyev created his masterpieces with a great deal of love, and they have become a part of the world choreographic heritage. When Moiseyev turned 100 years old, Maurice Bejart wrote, ‘I was astounded when I first saw the Moiseyev Ballet on stage. Igor, thank you so much for the insight! It helped me build my own choreographic self.’”
This program is perhaps the most personal one that the Moiseyev Ballet has presented in Israel. Jewish Suite: The Family Joys, the last ballet made by Moiseyev, invokes his earliest memories of community and family.
“He was inspired by Kasrilovka by Shalom Aleichem and by Chagall’s painting On the Outskirts of Vitebsk. It was a very emotional piece of Igor Moiseyev because he had spent his childhood in the small Jewish towns in the Ukraine. The dancers’ colorful costumes create the unique ambience of the Jewish wedding in the early 20th century shtetl,” Shcherbakova explains.
The second work, Night on Bald Mountain, was inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s tale.
“The music was composed by Modest Mussorgsky and the libretto by Moiseyev. The first scene shows a folk party, and the second the dance of demons. It’s an extraordinary piece because it combines classical ballet, rock ‘n’ roll and acrobatic elements. We have performed Night on Bald Mountain since 1983, and it has become a worldwide hit,” she says.
To pull off these two challenging dances, Shcherbakova insists that her dancers have not only technical mastery but also a rich imagination. Performing narrative ballets requires the dancers to act, move and communicate with the audience, abilities that are difficult to fake.
“I value beauty, wisdom and selfdiscipline in our dancers but, above all, I want the dancer to convey a message to the audience by every movement and glance. This is what turns a show into an ongoing festival for the audience and the dancers,” she asserts.
The Igor Moiseyev Ballet will perform on May 5 and 6 at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv (www.leaan.co.il); on May 8 at the Haifa Auditorium (www.barak-tickets.co.il); and on May 9 at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem (www.bimot.co.il).