Russia’s most celebrated ballerina has died

The composer Rodion Schhedrin has reported the death of his wife, the legendary dancer Maya Plisetskaya, aged 89.

She died of heart attack in Germany. ‘The German doctors did their best, but she could not be saved,’ said Shchedrin.

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Born into a Jewish family whose father was murdered by Stalin in 1938, Plisetskaya first danced at the Bolshoi when she was 11. She inherited Ulanova’s title as prima ballerina assoluta in 1961. Among the roles she created were Moiseyev’s Spartacus (1958), Grigorovich’s The Stone Flower (1959), Aurora in Grigorovich’s The Sleeping Beauty (1963), Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite (1967), written especially for her, and Bejart’s Isadora (1976).

Her supremacy was inviolable. She once received a half-hour standing ovation at the Metropolitan Opera.

Here she is, dancing at 61:

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  • Elisabeth Matesky says:

    Thank you, dear Norman Lebrecht, for honouring the great Maya Plisetskaya on the day, May 2, 2015, of her Earthly passing … I can think of no Tribute more moving than this wonder of a truly grande dame of the Ballet recreating ‘Le Cygne’ at the ‘young’ age of 61 ~ Madame Plisetskaya embodied such technique it was invisible, displaying platinum poise with utter immersion and expression of Music’s soul through her ballerina body, she was a human Swan ~ Without any doubt her legacy shall be continually admired, emulated (although never quite matched) and passed on to untold generations even light years away ~

    Deeply moved and saddened by her passing “through a glass darkly” …

    Accept my deepest sympathy and condolences to her husband and family,

    Elisabeth Matesky (American born Violinist)

  • Michael says:

    Pavlova (undeniably) and Ulanova (probably) are ahead of Plisetskaya in any discussion about “Russia’s most celebrated ballerina”, however formidable the claims of Plisetskaya’s many fans in her favour.

    Plisetskaya’s amazing performance in Bejart’s extraordinary Bolero in the late 1970s (which was one of a number of times I saw her) needs to be added to any list of her achievements.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    How wonderful thanks for this video.

    You never saw Pavlova, Michael, so how can you measure and why would you? Comparisons are odious.

  • Michael says:

    Thank you Elizabeth. The original post claimed that Plisetskaya was Russia’s most celebrated ballerina – I did not start any (odious) comparisons!

    Nor did I see Ulanova in the flesh, but from my extensive reading, studying and attending performances over 50 years I feel I am entitled to my own views about who are the most celebrated ballerinas. What I certainly steer completely clear from is who was the BEST ballerina as that is much more difficult and is severely affected by subjectivity!

    All three may in their various ways be considered Russia’s most celebrated (and possibly best) ballerinas, but I simply do not believe that there is any clear case to say that Plisetskaya was head and shoulders above all the rest, still less to claim that “[her] supremacy was inviolable” !

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