Igor Moiseyev; Pioneer in Russian Dance

Russian dancer and choreographer Igor Moiseyev shares a tender moment with his wife, Irina Alekseevna Chagadaeva, 81, on his 100th birthday.
Russian dancer and choreographer Igor Moiseyev shares a tender moment with his wife, Irina Alekseevna Chagadaeva, 81, on his 100th birthday. (2006 Photo By Vladimir Vyatkin -- Associated Press)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 4, 2007

Igor Moiseyev, a Russian dance master who combined folk traditions with the art of classical ballet to build a dance company that became one of the most dynamic cultural institutions of the old Soviet Union, died Nov. 2 at a hospital in Moscow. He was 101, and no cause of death was reported.

Drawing on his boyhood travels throughout Russia and nearby lands, Mr. Moiseyev founded a dance troupe in 1937 that brought colorful rural dance traditions to new audiences around the world. He distilled various folk styles into an original art form, shaping far-flung traditions and historic events into spectacular productions of music and dance.

"We can preserve the history of the nation, its soul, its character," he said in a 1999 interview with National Public Radio, describing his artistic mission. "It is a spiritual portrait of the nation."

Mr. Moiseyev shaped every aspect of his company, beginning with a rigorous dance academy that admitted carefully chosen students at age 13. He choreographed hundreds of dances for his troupe, helped design its costumes and served as a de facto cultural ambassador for the Soviet Union and, later, the independent Russian nation.

"Moiseyev performances, representing a blend of popular and sophisticated dance arts, appeal equally to the uninitiated and the connoisseur," critic Alan M. Kriegsman wrote in The Washington Post in 1974. "The company brought something new to the Western stage -- folk dance and folk music, fused with the spectacle, the discipline and the form of classical ballet."

Mr. Moiseyev spent 15 years as a dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet and drilled his students on ballet technique before introducing them to the acrobatic and often subtle movements unique to his troupe.

At times, as many as 70 dancers appeared onstage at once, moving in precise unison. In "Partisans," Mr. Moiseyev's stylized tribute to Soviet soldiers in World War II, dancers wearing long cloaks glided across the floor as if on horseback, their feet unseen. His 1980 work, "At the Skating Rink," in which performers move and twirl as if on ice skates, took two years to master. In other routines, dancers made leaps across the stage, often wearing tall leather boots. (Mr. Moiseyev's company included two bootmakers who repaired the dancers' footwear.)

After touring remote outposts in the Stalin-era Soviet Union, Mr. Moiseyev took his troupe to Paris in 1955 and, in 1958, to the United States. Audiences were stunned by the dazzling virtuosity of his dancers and by the drama of the underlying folkloric sources. Every few years, he and his company returned on nationwide tours that built new generations of admirers.

In the words of New York Times critic Anna Kisselgoff, Mr. Moiseyev was "one of the great dance innovators of the 20th century."

Igor Aleksandrovich Moiseyev was born Jan. 21, 1906, in Kiev, the capital of modern-day Ukraine. His mother was half French, and he spent a few years in Paris as a boy. He later lived with aunts in rural Russia and traveled by bicycle and horseback to isolated villages, absorbing local traditions.

He entered the Bolshoi Ballet academy at 14 and was a soloist with the renowned company from 1924 to 1939. He soon rebelled against the Bolshoi's conservative ways, and by 1930 had begun to choreograph experimental works that reflected his interest in Russian folk life.

He became the choreographer for a Moscow folk art theater in 1936 and, a year later, founded the folk dance ensemble that was known as the Moiseyev Dance Company.

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