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January 21: The Moiseyev Ballet

January 21, 2014
MoiseyevCoTrepak460Igor Moiseyev, founder of the Moiseyev Dance Company, was born in Kiev, Ukraine on this date in 1906. Several Israeli and American Jewish sources claim him as a “member of the tribe,” although most biographies and obituaries (he lived to 101) obscure this. Moiseyev danced with the Bolshoi Ballet from 1924 to 1939 and choreographed several works for the company. In 1936, after several years of staging elaborate, acrobatic parades on Red Square, he launched the Theater of Folk Art, which soon became known as the Moiseyev. His pieces applied balletic techniques to folk dances of the USSR’s many national minorities, with overlays of character and plot, and served as a spectacular showcase of pan-Soviet culture. Although Moiseyev never joined the Communist Party, he was extremely popular with both Stalin and Khrushchev, and his dance company became the USSR’s most international artistic emissary, with a debut in Paris in 1955, in London in 1957, and in the United States in 1958, amid the tensions of McCarthyism (thanks to the activism and acumen of impresario Sol Hurok). At age 88, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moiseyev choreographed Jewish Suite, a group of Jewish dances; earlier, he had created Pictures from the Past, a dance about a Jewish wedding and family life. To see a minute of the Moiseyev dancing in Paris, look below. “This is a company that lives up to its hype as a national treasure, potently demonstrating the Russian genius for dance. The sheer range of folk styles and the delirious flamboyance of the vocabulary are astounding. From the tiny, drilled stepping sequences that make the dancers look as if they were gliding on wheels to the giant Cossack-style kicks, wheeling jumps and proudly clicking heels, this is a folk tradition that aims far higher than a couple of mild circle dances and a merry jig.” —Judith Mackrell, The Guardian (London)