Paris — ``To live is to move. Without movement there is no life.'' As he said these words, Igor Alexandrovich Moiseyev, founder of the world's most famous folk dance troupe, cast an eagle eye toward the stage. ``Hands go first to the knees, then down toward the earth,'' he called out. The group of young girls rehearsing the harem dance from the suite of ``Polovetsian Dances'' stopped, looked up, and corrected their movements. ``Good,'' he said, satisfied, and we continued with our interview.
At age 81, tall and like a gentle, ambling bear, Moiseyev is very much involved with the running of the legendary company that bears his name. He follows the progress of the young trainees, selecting the very best for his own troupe. He travels extensively with the company, both around the Soviet Union and abroad. But he no longer sets out by mule to remote, mountainous regions in search of new dances as he did in his youth. The company visited America last summer and is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a nine-week tour of France.
The color and energy that pour from the dancers on stage during a performance are the qualities that have been evident in Moiseyev's own life. He was brought up in the country by an aunt who was a deputy schoolteacher. When she traveled to help out in some distant village, the young Igor went with her. He saw many regions of the USSR and was fascinated by the different costumes and customs of each area.
His father was a lawyer; when the family went to live in Moscow, Igor was enrolled, with his father's blessing, at a dance school. He proved so hard-working that he completed the syllabus in record time. At the age of 17, he was recommended for a place in the Bolshoi Ballet Company, where he danced leading roles.
Fortunately for the dance world as a whole, Moiseyev did not stay a classical dancer. ``Classical dance is bound by so many rules,'' he told me in Paris. ``It is obliged to be conservative.'' His love lay in the unrestricted movement of traditional peasant dances he had observed on his travels in the countryside.
At the age of 31, Moiseyev was permitted to found a new company of his own, one that drew on the rich cultural heritage of the USSR itself. Up to this time, folk dancing had been considered an amateur activity seen only at festivals and celebrations. ``Taking these local dances from the open air and putting them into a theater was like turning an unpolished diamond into a sparkling one,'' he told me. Moiseyev set off, pack on back, to find and collect dances from regions throughout his huge country. That was the time when he rode a mule up narrow, precipitous tracks that sheep and goats trod to tiny villages, situated like eagles' nests high in the mountains of Tadzhikistan.
``I took dancers from ballet schools, music halls, and amateur stages for my new company. We prepared for a whole year.'' World War II interrupted normal theatrical life, so they danced in the open air for soldiers, factory workers, and children.
Moiseyev founded his school in 1943. Today it takes 40 students - 20 boys and 20 girls from the age of 13 for a three-year course. The company in Paris consisted of 105 dancers and 34 musicians: ``We don't have star billing as in the ballet world, where the company is formed like a pyramid - the prima ballerina at the top and the corps de ballet at the base. Instead, a couple in my company may perform solo roles in one dance and will be back in the corps in the next. Each dancer is encouraged to find his own special talent.''
The talents were very much in evidence here, including the roller-smooth, speedy gliding of the ``Partisans,'' as Georgian horsemen in their black, angular, full cloaks swept across the floor like huge manta rays. (``The secret is to take tiny running steps and practice with a glass of water on the head,'' advised Moiseyev.) Then there was the precision drilling of 24 couples dressed in swirling skirts and blue baggy trousers for their Ukrainian dance. Harem dancers undulated with Eastern mystery in front of a yurt (tent) for their Tatar rulers. And a contemporary Soviet dance had blue overalled workers of a collective farm creating machines with their bodies, making tractors that tilled the soil and planted ``seeds.''
This dance came to a cast-of-thousands climax in what amounted to an Intourist travelogue. The whole company came on stage dressed in the different costumes of the 15 republics of the USSR. It was a colorful, cleverly coordinated, and different view of folk dancing.
The French audience reacted with enthusiasm. ``This is our eighth tour here,'' said Moiseyev with a smile. ``They like us.''