Acclaimed Soviet-Russian choreographer Igor Moiseyev, whose National Dance Ensemble was founded in 1937 and went on to represent Soviet culture internationally during the Cold War years and afterward, died Friday in Moscow after a history of heart disease. He was 101.
Moiseyev was born in Kiev to a Russian nobleman father and a Franco-Rumanian mother. He went on to study in Moscow, initially in theater schools as an actor, moving in the same circles as experimental director Meyerhold; at one point a film career looked possible before Moiseyev moved as a classical dance student to the Bolshoi Theater school, joining its permanent company in 1924.
He became one of the theater’s ballet masters in 1930, choreographing successful works in the next five years, including “The Footballer,” “The Red Poppy” and “Salambo.” However, wider political factors meant he could not expect to rise to become the Bolshoi’s artistic director, and in 1937 — at the height of the Stalinist purges — his proposal to form a national dance company was approved. Based loosely on old Russian folklore musical and performance motifs, Mosieyev adapted the result into a fully balletic form, renowned for the energy and color of performances.
His status, later confirmed by the company’s numerous post-WWII international tours, (which continue to this day), came with official approval, and his tours included a variety of Soviet cultures, including the majority of the USSR’s ethnic groups, which proved popular at home and politically neutral. Moiseyev even managed to establish his own teaching school in 1943, at the height of the war.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, international perspectives opened up as the company became something of an international calling card for presidential visits abroad and other events. In 1955, the company debuted in France and England, and three years later in the U.S.
In later decades the company toured the world, deriving programs of national dance from most countries it visited.