The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
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Information: Petur Gorgiev Iliev, teacher of Bulgarian dance.
Petur was born in Gabra (Šop region), Bulgaria, into a family of musicians and dancers. Petur, is the son of a dance choreographer and singer of traditional songs. His father, Georgi Iliev, a noted musician and dancer, perpetuated traditional Bulgarian music prior to its commercialization. Petur's mother was also a noted singer of traditional ballads.
Petur knew his profession would be "dancer" by age 6. With music and dance in his DNA, he had already performed for the President of Bulgaria. At that young age he fell in love with dance! At the age of 12, Petur participated in his father's amateur dance ensemble, Prosveta, listened to his mother, noted singer of traditional ballads, listened to the kaval tunes of his maternal grandfather, absorbed the customs and lore as practiced in Gabra (close to Sofia), and continued to develop his talent.
He graduated from the National School of Dance Art, where he recalls dancing the role of Khan Asparuh, founder of the Bulgarian State on the 1300th anniversary of its founding. Later he completed studies at the Academy for Music, Dance and Fine Arts of Bulgaria and performed with the Philip Kutev State Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances.
From 1979 to 1982, Petur studied at the National Choreography Academy of Bulgaria, and from 1982 to 1983, he was with Trakia, the Bulgarian Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dance. He joined the Bulgarian army and for a year in 1983, danced with the National Ensemble of the Bulgarian Army. From 1983 to 1986, he studied at the Bulgarian National Institute of Choreography.
From 1986 to 1991, Petur was with the Philip Kutev State Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances. In 1988, Petur began working as assistant to the chief choreographer in creating the dance portion to a totally new repertoire for the entire ensemble. To produce the latter, Petur undertook several ethnographic expeditions into Bulgarian provinces to collect and document traditional dances in an effort to understand how these dances might accurately be used in ensemble works. Also in 1988, Petur became the Director of the Chervena Zvezda, a children's group, and Red Star, in Sofia, a troupe of 40 children. He was an instructor at the Institute of Higher Theatrical Arts, Sofia, for a year beginning in 1989.
In July of 1990, Petur left the Kutev ensemble to teach Bulgarian folk dance throughout the United States and Canada. During 1990 and 1991, he conducted more that fifty workshops.
Early in his career as a dancer and teacher of dance, Petur was influenced by Jacques d'Amboise, who had established programs for underprivileged children at the National Dance Institute in New York. Petur was teaching ballet in Austin, Texas, and one of the moms wanted to create a program similar to that of New York. Petur received a fellowship to study with Jacques, following which he returned to Austin to create the "Believe in Me" program. Goals of the program included reaching out to children at risk who lacked opportunities for activities and attention outside of school, and to give them "meaningful training in dance." These children demonstrated their acquired skills as responsible participants in final shows performed on a big stage. Their faces beamed with pride and their accomplishments in dance influenced their attitudes, habits and aspirations. Later in his career Petur accomplished similar results with underprivileged children in Chicago.
As a teacher (and choreographer), Petur is currently much in demand. Besides teaching classes in Sophia, he also teaches Character dance for Pacific Northwest Ballet's summer intensive programs, appears as guest instructor at Kansas City Ballet School, and gives master classes to both ballet students and folkdancers at camps, seminars and festivals all over the globe. Petur explained that Character dance is for the stage, a theatrical representation of the spirit of a culture. Character dance requires technique and classical training. Folk dance is from the heart, for the community of dancers, and requires only one's joyful participation.
He lives half the year in Chicago and half the year in Bulgaria. Petur has taught Bulgarian dance extensively since coming to this country. He has organized the Iliev Dance Art Foundation to promote Bulgarian music, dance, and folklore. His studio offers intensive and comprehensive dance training in Sophia.
In 1997 Petur was chosen to lead Westwind of northern California into the next century. Petur has extensive training in a variety of dance forms including Balkan, Hungarian, Russian, as well as American idioms such as Tap. In his first two seasons Iliev has set seven new choreographies for Westwind. For his first Home Season, Petur brought musicians of international renown to the stage with Westwind, as well as guest performers, and his choreography, "Gypsy Fire," broke new ground.
Since 1999, his father, Giorgi, has joined him in giving joint workshops at the Slavonic Cultural Center in San Francisco, California, and the East European Folklife Center in Berkeley, California.
In 2018 Petur was featured on the west coast at Balkan Music and Dance Workshop in Mendocino, and at Balkanalia in Oregon.
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