Maya Plisetskaya: A life in art

Even during the era of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, it seemed impossible that the mercurial talent of the great Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya could be contained by any walls. Now, long after the end of the Soviet Union, her life and work continues to unite and inspire admirers of high art in countries and continents around the world. 

An example to emulate for dancers starring in Swan Lake or Don Quixote, she is recognized by the whole world as the paragon of Russian ballet. It was thanks to her that the likes of Maurice Béjart and Roland Petit were able to bring their ballets to Russia. 

But even if she was half a century ahead of her time in ballet, Plisetskaya was not simply a ballerina – she was a woman of oustanding personality, a star that drew the most remarkable people of her time into her orbit. The stage – even one as great and grand as the Bolshoi – was simply not enough for her. 

Plisetskaya's artistic skill manifested itself very early in her life. As she herself recalled, back when she was too young to even go to school, she was once drawn away from her home by the sounds of a waltz from Léo Delibes' ballet Coppélia,playing from a PA loudspeaker.

But the most fascinating thing about this story is that her mother (who was a silent film star and a member of one of Moscow's most prominent stage actor families) found her surrounded by a crowd of fascinated onlookers who were enjoying little Maya's impromptu dance number.

The girl's aunt, the Bolshoi star Sulamith Messerer, gave young Maya her first ballet lessons and choreographed her first production of The Dying Swan when she was seven – and even at that time, Messerer praised the girl's incredibly flexible arms and her huge, dazzling dark eyes.

Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni once broke in backstage after a performance of Swan Lake, just to declare tearfully: "Actors are so poor: All we have is our facial expressions and gestures, but you, Maya, you use your whole body to act."

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