Fifty years ago, the Moiseyev Dance Company of Russia embarked on its first U.S. tour. The troupe left the audience of the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York stunned and eager for more of the now-famous group’s theatrical, Russian folk dances. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of that first U.S. tour, the Moiseyev Dance Company is on tour again. It will make its Ann Arbor debut at Hill Auditorium Sunday.

Captivated by the traditions, dances and music of his country’s folklore, the late Igor Moiseyev – founder and choreographer of the company – studied the 180 cultures of the Soviet Union as a student. In 1937, he discovered a way to sustain the stories of these cultures by founding his dance company. In that year, 40 of the most talented dancers from around the country began what is now known as one of the world’s greatest folk dance groups. Moiseyev’s vision was not to simply recreate what was the thousands of Russian national dances, but to develop the artistic skill and talent that would hopefully motivate the creation of new ones. Within a few years, the troupe grew to 100 dancers and toured throughout the Soviet Union. During World War II, Moiseyev’s nationalistic dances were appropriately reflective of the political struggles of the time.

Their dances began as a way to preserve Russian traditions, but later fulfilled the necessity of embracing new ones – even those outside the country’s borders. Georgia, Siberia and Uzbekistan are only a few of the places the company drew inspiration. The company now has 200 dancers and has toured in over 60 countries and performed over 200 different dances. “The grammar of movement” is what he called the dexterity of his dancers’ craft. This dexterity results in classical ballet with an ethnic twist, which makes Moiseyev’s choreographing style uniquely versatile.

This cross-cultural dynamic will be on full display Sunday evening. The show will open with a harvest celebration scene in “Summer,” which reveals aspects of the civilians’ lives in the countryside. Following will be “Kalmuk Dance,” conveying the way of life of the Kalmuks – Russian nomads – and their relationship with nature and animals. “Sirtaki” – themes from a dance in a local Greek village – will close the first half of the show.

The second half of the show will exemplify the group’s current repertoire of multi-cultural styles, featuring themes from Romanian, Spanish, Egyptian, Venezuelan and Argentinean dances. Although the troupe has maintained its identity as a primarily Russian dance group – all are ballet-trained dancers – it is certainly not limited to one form of dance. The dancers’ capacity for high-energy dance gives them the ability to consistently tell stories through movement.

“Everything I’ve done, I love. If you’re not in love, you can’t create. And if you’re calm when you’ve created something, you can rest assured you’ve created nothing,” Moiseyev once said, according to his obituary in the New York Times.

Perhaps it is this strong affection for artistic creation that makes Moiseyev’s 101-year-old life story just as legendary and vibrant as the stories he attempted to tell through the choreography of his dance.

Moiseyev Dance Company

Sunday at 6 p.m.

At Hill Auditorium


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