“Dance is happiness . . . it is life.”
People’s Artist of Uzbekistan Viloyat Akilova hails from one of the great families of the Bukharan professional dance tradition—a tradition which defines one of the three major styles of Uzbek dance. The eldest of five children, she was born in Samarkand in 1937 to two young and ambitious performers. Her father, the highly-revered dance master Isakhar Akilov, People’s Artist of Uzbekistan, followed in the footsteps of his mother Davoro, a favorite dancer of the Emir of Bukhara. Viloyat’s mother, Margarita, also a People’s Artist, was a riveting soloist. In addition, Viloyat’s sisters, Gavhar and Lola, are celebrated dancers, as was her late sister, Zuleikha. The Akilov School of Uzbek dance, which grows directly out of the pre-Soviet, professional Central Asian dance tradition, has claimed a fourth generation as the legacy passes on to Lola’s two daughters.
As a small child, Viloyat toured the collective farms of Soviet Uzbekistan with her parents, becoming known as “Little Artist Akilova” among the workers for whom she danced. The Akilovs, traveling by way of a cart pulled by donkey or horse, would be welcomed by crowds of children eager to meet the young Viloyat. At age seven, Viloyat—already a seasoned performer—applied on her own and was accepted to the newly-opened Uzbek State Choreographic Institute in Tashkent. She went on to complete her high school education at the Institute while performing regularly with her father’s Shodlik ensemble. She later served as Shodlik’s principal dancer, but not before earning her college degree in Russian Language and Literature, at her father’s insistence. As Shodlik’s lead dancer, Viloyat won praise for her powerful technique, heartfelt expression and beautiful, supple hands—which were often the subject of the camera’s lens.
Upon her retirement from Shodlik at age forty, as was mandatory under the Soviet system, Viloyat made her way to Moscow to work and study with the great Igor Moiseyev. During her two years in Moscow, she created for his company an acclaimed suite of Uzbek folk dances, launching her career as a choreographer and earning her the title of People’s Artist of Uzbekistan—the republic’s highest honor. She next worked as a choreographer in Afghanistan for one year and, after returning to Tashkent, became founding Artistic Director of Zerafshon, a large ensemble specializing in Bukharan and Tajik dance. She remained in her position with Zerafshon until 1994.
Viloyat counts among her protégées several of the most beloved soloists in the country including, among many others, Merited Artist Feruza Salikhova and People’s Artist Rushana Sultanova. She is a master choreographer of all styles of Uzbek dance—Ferghana, Bukhara and Khorezm—and remains one of Uzbekistan’s most honored dance artists.
By Carolyn Krueger, 1995
From interviews conducted in Tashkent, 1994 & 1997.