Costumes on display in Presidio exhibition

How can we prove Stalin loved the work of choreographer Igor Moiseyev? Well, Moiseyev’s still alive, isn’t he?

Even while he was liquidating the Soviet Union’s Jews, the dictator kept around the Jewish dancer and choreographer to plan his huge military parades and elaborate communist celebrations.

In fact, Moiseyev turned 100 in January — and, according to Judy Bretschneider, the founder and CEO of San Francisco’s Presidio Dance Theatre, the dancer still heads down to the studio for hands-on instruction and can “kick his leg this high” she says with her hands over her head.

As a young man, Moiseyev was given the task of coming up with choreography evocative of the Soviet Union’s many component republics. But he also created Jewish folk dances, and one of his wedding suites will be in the Presidio company’s May 26 performance. (However, since the group is largely comprised of children, the dance has been modified into a bat mitzvah suite.)

While fountain pens, gold watches and other traditional bat mitzvah fare have not been incorporated into the number, beautiful baby blue Romanian Jewish dance costumes — crafted in St. Petersburg, Russia, to resemble actual historical Romanian Jewish wear — are part of the show.

As actual traditional national costumes are too heavy for dancing (especially for a dancer sweating his or her way through a pas de deux), the dance costumes are remarkably light and airy.

Members of the general public can get a close-up look of the Jewish costume — as well as colorful garb from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Hungary, Argentina, Iraq, and dozens of other nations and regions — at the Presidio’s Herbst International Exhibition Hall. The free exhibit, at 385 Moraga Ave. at Arguello Boulevard, runs until May 9.

And, quite the contrary from stage outfits (often designed to look impeccable from across the orchestra pit but only fit to be worn during a theatrical performance or into a coffin upon close inspection) the outfits on display in the “Dancing Across Cultures” installment are painstakingly handcrafted. A traditional Palestinian dress handknit in Hebron, for example, took one full year to create.

More than 100 dancers, most of them children, will participate in the upcoming dance performanceMay 26 at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon St.

In addition to the work of Moiseyev, Bretschneider is eager to highlight other stellar Jewish figures in the dance world. She noted that she is always on the lookout for an ace choreographer of classical Israeli folk dance.

For more information about the Presidio Dance Theatre or the “Dancing Across Cultures” installment, visit www.presidiodance.org or call (415) 561-3997.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.