Thursday, January 17, 2008

Russian Dancers

I recently attended a spectacular performance by the Moiseyev Dance Company. It’s a group from Russia that was founded by Igor Moiseyev in 1938. Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times described him as “one of the greatest choreographers in 20th-century dance.”

Moiseyev, as Ballet Master at the Bolshoi Theater, arranged a successful festival of national dance in 1936. The dance troupe grew out of that. Since its first performance, it has traveled to over 60 countries.

At the beginning of the performance, a short, silent film was shown highlighting Moiseyev’s life. It was amazing to see black and white video of two rapidly twirling circles of dancers in Moscow, identical to what we’d be seeing on a brightly lit stage 70 years later. It was amazing that he could begin his career during the height of Stalinism, yet escape the terror and continue to successfully produce his works. Most impressive was his evident vitality. The video of Moiseyev dancing over moving bars on his 80th birthday made the elderly viewers around me gasp in awe. He looked more pale and fragile at his 90th and 100th birthday celebrations, but he was still out in the public. “He lived a full life,” an old man near me whispered to his wife when it was announced Moiseyev died in November 2007 at the age of 101.

What a legacy to leave behind, a group of 65 strong, vibrant and talented dancers, dressed in colorful national costumes and bringing joy to the packed auditorium. The first half of the performance, which consisted of dances from various areas of the former Soviet Union was amazing. The precision of their movements was stunning, the difficult moves impressive, and the costumes gorgeous. I liked less the international parts of the performance. I just didn’t think the Russian women had the Middle Eastern exoticness to jut their hips out in an Egyptian dance, nor did the pairs have the Latin American verve needed for the Venezuelan dance. When they stuck to who they are and where they came from, they were stunning.

Watching the dancers of course made me recall my time living in Russia. I realized that living in Russia was like living in a bipolar society. Encounters with bureaucracy, depression, callousness and rudeness alternate with encounters of kindness, hospitality, genuine friendship and innocence. Both types were of an extreme I rarely experienced in other countries. The dances, switching between pulsing music, bright colors and rapid movements and simple tones and elegant, thoughtful movements, reminded me of that.

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