Mahmud Esambaev, Dancing Deity

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Half a century ago, Moscow saw and recognized the occurrence of a miracle - Mahmud Esambaev. The Chechen artist presented on the stage of the capital an original mono theatre of choreographic miniatures. They were dancing novels, dedicated to the culture of different peoples: the Indian ritual “Golden God”, the Uzbek “Chaban”, the Spanish “La Corrida”, the Tajik “Dance with knives”, etc. In his art Esambaev used his phenomenal natural qualities – a wasp waist, graceful step, an aquiline appearance, masculine grace of rare beauty. Grand Master of Dance strengthened his right to the epithets “unique”, “inimitable”, with which he went down in history of art.

The resounding success of Mahmud Esambaev helped to create an ensemble called “Dances of the Peoples of the World”, with which he traveled all over the world and won great glory. And wherever the tour took place, he gathered dances of different nations like an enthusiastic collector, rehearsed them with lightning speed and performed in the same country that gave them to him. They say that the artist timed his expressive gestures and movements with a stopwatch, perfecting them to brilliancy; he charmed the audience by the ecstasy of incredible force.

In ordinary life he was very sociable, a wit, an open-hearted and hospitable person. However, spending money with the Caucasus breadth for friendly feasts, he managed with two slices of mountain cheese a day and dreamt of eating plenty. He suppressed his appetite by willpower for his wasp waist (47 cm), he maintained all his life. Being tall, of noble stature and head jerked up proudly, he created images of unprecedented strength and beauty on the stage.

Admirers called Esambaev “stage magician” and his dance “divine”. His talent allowed this man of surprising natural gifts to express his art splendidly, giving the choreography an original pattern, an extraordinary plasticity. Esambaev won worldwide recognition, received every imaginable and unimaginable awards, became the holder of numerous honorary degrees. Fifty years of creative life affirmed the right of the great Master of dance to the epithets “single”, “inimitable”. He remained such in the history of art.

...”As an awl comes out of the bag, so I jumped out of my Chechen people. I turned out to be of talent,” Mahmud Esambaev wrote about himself in his autobiography. The world-famous choreographer Igor Moiseyev briefly expressed the meaning of his art: “He gave himself to closer relations between people, the aim of his work, the basis of his views were good, friendship, beauty”. Another outstanding choreographer Yuri Grigorovich said that “every performance of Esambaev on stage, each of his miniatures is a little finished ballet»....

Mahmud Esambaev was born in the mountainous Chechen village of Old Atagi (Starye Atagi). Since the age of three he danced at weddings delighting adults. It was worse with sciences, and his father had each time to accompany his son to the threshold of the school, with a stick in hand. Being born a dancer, he devoted himself to stage in defiance of his father’s will, who considered his son’s choice unworthy of a real man. As a teenager, Mahmud began to dance in the Chechen-Ingush State Ensemble. But soon the World War II began, and the 19-year-old dancer joined the artistic team, which performed in front before front-line soldiers.

In 1944, on Stalin's orders, the Chechens and Ingush were deported from their homeland to Central Asia, and the family of Esambaev found itself in Kirghizia. Opera and Ballet Theatre in Frunze (now Bishkek), after a short training course, took on the talented young man in its troupe, and for several years he was a soloist in classical performances.

When, after Stalin's death, the exiles were “forgiven” and returned to their homes, Mahmud left the classical ballet, and began to create original etude-dances. The first works on the stage in the Philharmonic Hall in Grozny was an Indian ritual dance “Golden God”, the Spanish one “La Corrida”, and the Tajik “Dance with Knives”.

The young performer had the courage to show his program in Moscow, and was enrolled at once in the touring group “Stars of the Soviet Ballet”, with which he traveled all over dozens of countries. From every tour, he brought home a new folk dance, taking in the diverse world art. Triumphal success inspired Esambaev to create his own dance group.

In his book Esambaev told that first he made himself dance costumes of anything. Whereas during his world-wide fame, well-known couturiers made clothes for him for free, and kings and presidents gave him expensive national dress. Driving around the globe, being accepted in the highest circles of many countries, Mahmud under no circumstances did not take off his Astrakhan hat, which he called “the crown”. According to Chechen etiquette, the hat is a symbol of honor and dignity, it should not be taken off. Through all his life and work Esambaev proudly carried the high name of “Chechen konah” (Knight).

The “stage magician” was going to give his countrymen a luxurious house-museum in Grozny, full of treasures he had collected from around the world during tours. But he had no time. The fire of the Chechen war did not spare the house. A painting by Picasso perished together with it, as well as Esambaev’s unique costumes - one of them was adorned with more than a thousand diamonds. But the master of dance himself was sorry most of all about the archive, consisting of newspaper and magazine clippings in many languages.

Today the house-museum of the great artist at Red Front Street is rebuilt - in the exhibition represents relics extant in Moscow, in the homes of friends and relatives. The town square, one of the main streets of Grozny are named after Mahmud Esambaev, there is a monument to him in the center of the city.

... The last years of his life Mahmud Esambaev passed in Moscow. He died in January 2000 and was buried in the Muslim tradition at the Danilovsky Cemetery. His wife, a Christian, performed a will of her husband, despite the fact that Russia's government proposed to bury the great dancer at the memorial Novodevichye Cemetery, where they bury the outstanding people of the country. The name of Mahmud Esambaev is ever recorded on the plate in the gallery “Artists of the Russian Federation” at the concert hall “Russia”, near the Kremlin.

Tatiana Sinitsyna, writer