Watch an episode of Нескучная классика “The not boring Classics” – a Russian talk show -- where the host Sati Spivakova meets with the prima donna Майя Плисецкая Maya Plisetskaya. The show host attempts to avoid professional talking to attract the young viewers and make it interesting for the audience.

Born in 1925, Plisetskaya joined the Bolshoi Theater in 1943 and rose to prominence almost immediately. The secrets of her glittering career are not only hard work, determination and passion (cf., in her first season in the Bolshoi she performed more than twenty important roles), but also in her unusual gifts -- a huge, powerful jump and remarkably flexible back and arms. She also got a kin theatrical flair and created the heroines that reflected her dramatic style.  After the short training with Агриппина Ваганова Agrippina Vaganova, she developed her own peculiar language of ballet to convey powerful emotions in terse gestures and departed from the pure academic techniques that characterized Leningrad’s classical ballet school.

At Лиля Брик Lilya Brik’s party in 1955, she met her future husband, composer Родион Щедрин Rodion Shchedrin. He wrote the score to a number of her ballets. Among their joint works are  Конек-Горбунок The Little Humpbacked Horse” (1956), Кармен-Сюита “Carmen Suite” (1967), and Анна Каренина “Anna Karenina” (1971). In Shchedrin’s ballets Чайка “The Seagull” (1980) and Дама с собачкой Lady with a Dog” (1985) that were staged by Plisetskaya herself, she performed in her notably free-form dance, in a modern style.

Until 1959 she was not allowed to tour with her troupe just because of the fact that her parents were accused and called “enemies of the people.” However Khrushchev’s bureaucrats found it useful to have at their disposal an iconoclastic Maya, the glory of the Bolshoi Ballet, and put her on service for USSR’s global propaganda. In the 1960s Plisetskaya enjoyed every privilege that Soviet society had to offer, yet she might have felt a pressure from the politics of her day, at least in retrospect. Her personal history made it impossible for her to disengage from the system but her rebellious strategy to handle the humiliation of being treated as “non-exportable” was contempt and defiance. 

She was a perfectionist who could spend years rethinking a role (for example, the star-crossed heroine of  Ромео и Джульетта Romeo and Juliet”). Plisetskaya’s Умирающий лебедь  “Dying Swan” by Camille Saint-Saёns became famous throughout the world. In her memoirs Я, Майя Плисецкая she wrote that working on this performance, she visited the zoo and watched swans’ plastic, head movement and wingspan. She redefined the role of Odette/Odilen in Лебединое озеро "Swan Lake" choreographed by Михаил Фокин Michel Fokine. Ballerina danced “Swan Lake” for more than 800 times.

Unlike any other Soviet dancer of the period she worked abroad. Yet her collaboration with Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart became possible only in the 1970s, her fourth decade on the stage. Maya Plisetskaya’s dance in Ravel’s Болеро “Bolero” choreographed for her by Maurice Béjart is a stunning theatrical experience. Costumes for Plisetskaya were created by Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier. In 1971 at the Festival d’Avignon Nadia Leger introduced Plisetskaya to Pierre Cardin. Ballerina became his muse for decades.

She was still dancing the “Dying Swan” on pointe and in tutu until her seventies. A genius of dance, a virtuoso ballerina, Plisetskaya was dancing onstage at her 82 (the world-famous miniature “Ave, Maya”). Maya Plisetskaya has died of a heart attack in Germany at the age of 89. The legends of her life are rich and varied, while her mesmerizing style is inherently unsolvable and embodies what the world considers Classical Ballet.

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