At a time when the world was being reminded of troubles inside the Bolshoi Ballet company, the Soviet ballet world was getting on with the job of finding its best young dancers and choreographers in the all-union ballet concourse.
As the first rumors started of the defections of teacher Sulamif Messerer and her son Mikhail in Tokyo, the doors of the concourse opened wide in Moscow's Tchaikovsky Hall.
The competition is a stepping stone to the bigger, once-every four years international ballet competition to be held in the Bolshoi Theater in the summer of 1981.
At the international competition in 1973 years ago, a petite, snub-nosed teen-ager named Nadezhda Pavlova stunned the dancing world and danced away with the gold medal. Another winner that year: the fiery, blond-haired Alexander Godunov, the first Bolshoi defector, now dancing in the West.
This time, Miss Pavlova and her husband and partner, Vyacheslav Gordeyev (also a medallist in 1973), sat in the audience watching the semi-finals of the competition for best choreographer.
As they watched with dancers, teachers, students, and ballet-goers, it became evident the young choreographers here from around the country were not following the classical traditions of the Bolshoi, but were reaching out instead to modern , athletic, and strenuous dances. Some were more acrobatic than balletic.
One young choreographer had his dancer perform with a beachball painted to look like a globe of the world. Evilly he danced around the globe, in what looked like jeans and a T- shirt. Finally he threw a miniature red- painted model of a bomb at the "globe." The spotlight flashed, and the dancer fell backwards as if from a nuclear explosion.
The audience was left to guess whether the dancer represented the forces of capitalism destroying the world, or merely all forces of darkness. Whatever, it was a far cry from Prince Seigfried in Swan Lake.
Another choreographer started his presentation with the sound of bombs falling, honky- tonk music, and a girl and boy dressed in army shirts.
The dance was fast and furious. The girl kept doing cartwheels. Both fell backward from the blast of the "bombs." At the end they seemed to become foreign correspondents. She pounded on an imaginary typewriter while he pretended to operate a movie or TV camera. It certainly could not have been mistaken for "Sleeping Beauty."
In contrast, two dancers appeared in white powdered wigs and 18-th century court dress, and performed a classical pas de deux (duets and then solos by each dancer), to the music of a harpsichord.
On balance, however, the accent was on modernity -- slinky shiny leotards, acrobatics, body contact.
The choreographers were from such you felt when you first heard it. You can ruin your career by being analytical and editing."
In that dual role, she goes from producing in the studio to performing a few seconds later, and she finds that the two clash. "Sometimes I'm in the studio singing . . . . I've just left the chair in the control booth, where I was producing -- maybe some background voices or adding some other instruments to the track . . . . And when I'm on the other side [singing] I've got to go inside [myself] and let the love come from inside out, and not worry about whether we'll run out of tape."
She has just spoken about letting the love come from inside out. "If you are a real artist, you will always have the need and the ability to love . . . . Love is, well, first of all. There is no way you can sing love or love what you're singing unless you understand what it is you're doing . . . . Even if you don't have the same love -- whether it's love of children or love of animals or love of another person forever . . . . -- I think the ability [to love] is more important than the need to be loved."
She wanders briefly into a story about Judy Garland belting out a song on Broadway night after night and always breaking into a real sob on one particular note, the right note. "I think the great singers and great actors and actresses are able to come up with a perfect combination of real feeling, what they're really feeling, what the character is supposed to be all about. You have to be at once the person who listens to yourself and the person who does it so someone else can listen."
One of the songs that moves her most is one she sang to audiences as a protest song when she first began performing at a Washington restaurant called Mr. Henry's. It's a traditional black song, called "All the Pretty Little Horses." There are hundreds of variations, she says, but she did her own, based on a tune her grandmother used to sing and once she found in a schoolbook. It's about a young, pregnant black woman in the days of slavery, singing a lullaby that wishes for her unborn child the most beautiful thing she can think of -- "pretty little horses, dapples and grays, blacks and bays. . . ." But it ends with the death of hope that he'll ever have a life different from hers as a slave.
As she describes the mother and the song at length, her open, mobile face shifts like an actress's from one strong emotion to another. She is asked if, since her face is so expressive, she has ever thought of acting.
"Yeah, I want to act. I really do. At one time we were talking about doing a film on Bessie Smith, her life story . . . . At that time I was doing a lot of blues tunes that were associated with her, like 'Nobody knows You When You're Down and Out.' . . ."
So far, no Bessie Smith. But her next project does have to do with film. She and Eric Mercury are scoring the music for a film that Richard Pryor has written and directed, "Family Dreams." It stars Cicely Tyson as a teacher of special children, many of them orphans, who buck the board of education when it says their classes will be broken up for lack of money. "It's a very exciting movie, and it's a family movie, and it's a black movie," she says. "And we're writing some music that's beautiful and touching and fun, and you can dance to it. Then Eric is writing a script for a film that he will definitely be in, and if I'm lucky I will, too -- and get a chance to move my mobile face -- so we're just forgin' ahead."