Petre Iliev was a founding teacher of the Believe in Me program in Austin, Texas. From Austin, he led his first group tour of American dancers traveling to Bulgaria to explore the richness of the dance traditions there. The group visited dance schools for ballet that included traditional dance forms as well as studing with the major choreographers of Bulgaria’s traditional folk dance companies, and dancing in his family in the village where Iliev was born.
Petre Iliev has a important impact on the dancing of the United States by bringing the rhythm and passion of Bulgarian dancing to his ballet and modern choreography. Here is an update of his further exploration of connecting folk traditions with contemporary dancing.
Iliev Dance Art Foundation, DANCE BULGARIA 2009, firstname.lastname@example.org
In April, 2008 through the initiative of Bulgaria-born dance teacher and choreographer, Petur Iliev, The National School of Dance Art in Bulgaria hosted a week-long intensive dance workshop, which gave aspiring young dancers from Bulgaria and the US the opportunity to study different dance styles with renowned master choreographers. The ambition was to give the students the opportunity to acquire fundamental knowledge of four extremely different dance forms: jazz, modern, Bulgarian folk dancing and classical ballet, and also for them to witness the creative process through which their teachers approach the creation of a complete choreography. 125 children from all the corners of Bulgaria, and 14 children from the US participated in the project. The six choreographers who devoted their time and expertise to the project were Daniel Duell (School of Ballet Chicago), Mariana Deneva (Bulgarian National School of Dance Art), Sonia Dawkins (Pacific Northwest Ballet-Seattle), Alex Bergeson (Pacific Northwest Ballet-Seattle), Hristo Ivanov (Bulgarian National School of Dance Art) and Petur Iliev (School of Ballet Chicago).
The first edition of this dance program enjoyed a tremendous success! Both students and teachers were very enthusiastic and worked really hard during the short time they had together. The students demonstrated talent, strong work ethic and a burning desire to learn and develop. During that intensive week they acquired new dance vocabulary and techniques, and participated in the short choreographies set by the teachers. The workshop ended with a concert, which showcased the new choreographies and demonstrated the students’ progress. It also included performances by the professional dance companies Pirin and Trakia from Bulgaria, and Prism from the US. The concert was held to a fully packed hall and the performances received long-lasting ovations. The workshop enjoyed tremendous interest from the media as well, and its participants were featured in several TV shows.
The whole endeavor became possible thanks to major grants from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, Ballet Chicago, The Bulgarian National School of Dance Art, and many American and Bulgarian private benefactors, including generous in-kind donations.
In addition, the workshop became the springboard for yet another fruitful Bulgaria-USA dance collaboration. Ballet Chicago awarded 14 full and one partial tuition scholarships for Bulgarian students to participate in their prestigious summer program, held between June 23 and August 7, 2008. Thus, fifteen exceptionally gifted and diligent young Bulgarians had the opportunity to train for six weeks at a prestigious US ballet center. All of them were students of the Bulgarian National School of Dance Art but came from different parts of Bulgaria. They were selected by the teachers of the workshop. The students’ families and private sponsors covered only their airfare, while members of the Bulgarian community in Chicago and supporters of Ballet Chicago took care of their accommodations and meals.
The Bulgarian dancers made incredibly good impression in the US. They participated in all the choreographies set during the summer program and presented at the final concert held on July 25 at Columbia College – Chicago. Two of the dancers, Nikolina Karageorgieva and Eliza Kaltcheva, received full tuition scholarships, which enabled them to continue their training at Ballet Chicago’s year-long comprehensive program. They are currently continuing their studies there.
Upon their return back home, all of the Bulgarian students shared their enormous satisfaction with their participation in the project. They were hopeful that the project will continue to exist and will develop further, providing aspiring dancers with the opportunity to train in different dance forms on both sides of the ocean. With this goal in mind, in July 2008, in Sofia, the international Iliev Dance Art Foundation was created, an organization which took upon itself the task of guaranteeing the continuation of Dance Bulgaria. Its members are currently preparing the second edition of the program, which will be held between March 31 and April 6, 2009 in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Excerpts from student responses received after the workshop and summer program
My trip to Bulgaria was an amazing experience. The cultural diversity between Bulgaria and the United States was an eye-opening experience for me. I loved learning Bulgarian folk dancing and found myself smiling at the end of every class. I felt I worked very hard and had a fantastic time. If given the chance, I would definitely go back.
Regan Bell, USA
This project changed my life completely. Meeting such an incredible group of teachers was a fantastic experience. They were highly professional teachers and incredible role models. Although we only worked with them for a short period of time, the memory will be forever with me and I am eagerly expecting the next opportunity to work with the incredible crew of Dance Bulgaria 2008.
Eliza Kalcheva, Bulgaria
It was a truly life-changing experience for me. It was amazing having the opportunity to work with such great teachers and choreographers. It has made me more aware of the world around me and the opportunities that may lie in store for me down the road. I know that I will never look at the world of dance or at myself in the same way again after this experience.
Kyle Johnson, USA
I know that this journey will be one of the most memorable events in my life. I loved it and I hope to be back soon. The part which I loved the most was holding hands with everyone in the circle as we danced, and we all laughed and enjoyed as much as we could.
Rina Shimizu, USA
Your country is beautiful and it was truly a pleasure getting to stay and perform there. It was also really great getting to know the people and learning about the culture of Bulgaria.
Madeline Koch, USA
This was undoubtedly a new and enriching experience for me. I got the incredible opportunity to get to know a new style of dance, such as jazz. It was a pleasure to try it out and understand why it is so popular and loved in the United States. The teachers also impressed me immensely. It was a true pleasure to work with everyone. The other incredible opportunity I received was immersing myself in the American culture – so completely different from the Bulgarian.
Nikolina Karageorgieva, Bulgaria
You were graciously helpful in meeting us at the airport, translating and taking us to delicious places to eat. Getting to meet the other students from Bulgaria was amazing. They were very welcoming, friendly and helpful.
Jessie Guerrero, USA
Although I loved the classes and felt the workshop was very beneficial, I think that the most valuable part about the week was meeting people and making friends with students our age who live in such a different culture. After the performance, I cannot believe how emotional all of us were. It was so difficult to leave all of the new friends that we had made. Saying Good-bye to them was the hardest part of the trip, but this also showed me how wonderful the experience was and how happy I was to be able to be there, even if only for a week.
Haley Holman, USA