Maya Plisetskaya died of a heart attack today in Munich. She was 89. The director of the Bolshoi Ballet, Vladimir Urin, said,
She died of a severe heart attack. The doctors tried everything, but there was nothing they could do.
Mikhail Shvydkoi, former Russian Minister of Culture, said,
I always thought that Plisetskaya would live forever. We were preparing to celebrate her 90th birthday. She was a great dancer, a great actress, a great woman, a great wife… her marriage to Rodion Shchedrin was an example of family happiness.
Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, wrote on Facebook,
A brilliant dancer with a rare combination of artistry, beauty, generosity and dignity. With such people it is especially hard to say goodbye. With her goes an entire era of ballet. Maya Plisetskaya is no longer with us but her legendary Carmen, Odette-Odile, Raymonda will remain forever. Condolences to Rodion Shchedrin and Maya Mikhailovna.
The Encyclopedia of World Biography states,
Her impulsive, dynamic, and expressive dancing in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s epitomized the highest qualities of the Soviet ballet. Recognized as one of the world's greatest ballerinas, she endowed her roles with unique individuality, combining the pure lyrical technique of the Russian classical heritage with the fire and magic of Soviet bravura.
In 1990 she still danced in roles which, though less demanding physically, enabled her to demonstrate her persuasive acting skills.
The sky is clear tonight but there are no stars… except one, exceptionally bright, the immortal star of Maia. I'll love you for ever.
I remember her as the ballerina who inspired me first to dance. I saw her first when I danced was in the ballet school in San Francisco when the Bolshoi came on tour. That neck, those arms-the excitement she generated was awe inspiring. I too thought of her as someone who was immortal. She would always be the fiery Kitri or the beautiful Swan. She was bold, she was beautiful. I only wish that there was an endless library of footage of her for all generations to see. HER performance went beyond the footlights with an energy that was extraordinary. Condolences to her husband.
I was surprised to hear of her passing as I've often seen her at Mariinsky performances always looking so strong and healthy. Sadly I never had the honour of speaking to her personally, but even catching her eye backstage she had a glow and a warmth in those eyes that let you know she was someone special.
I grew up watching Maja. They would show us her dancing at our school and the documentaries about her and all the Bolshoi stars. She was incredible, I wanted to experience the life she had, the life of a ballerina dancing all the wonderful classical roles. She was such a inspiration! When I watched her dance she took me into completely different world, she allowed me to dream.
I could never have imagined that I would be invited to dance on the same stage as her to celebrate her 75th Birthday. It was just unbelievable; such an honour for me. I'll never forget her DonQ and Black Swan: absolutely incredible, the energy, the passion and love.
I have a photographic book about Bolshoi at home, there are many photos of Maja but my favourite is one was with her standing in front of the audience surrounded by many red roses thrown to her. She was a legend. So sad for the whole world.
I saw here dance Swan Lake at the Paris Opera when she first guested there – I do not remember what age I was, but could it be around 1957 or 1958?Maybe later… I think I was a teenager. Her Odette-Odile remained a very major source of inspiration during my entire career as a dancer and even now. This was when she was at the absolute height of her powers. I never forgot those amazing arms, the way she went into arabesque penchée, the immense personality, carrying up to the Gods, and her huge breadth of movement. Her stillness as transformed back into a swan, before the arms rippled… She was a truly great dancer, and unique – her death indeed really brings the end of an era…
I was with her between 1987 and 1990 when she headed the Ballet del Teatro Lirico Nacional in Madrid and again at the Bolshoi, as well as many tours in Italy and Spain. She worked on The Dying Swan with me, she taught me the importance of proper warm-ups to avoid injury. I remember going to a party after a show in Spoleto where Maya, I and many other company members were all squashed into a cab! Like Alicia Alonso, Carla Fracci and Margot Fonteyn, Maya Plisetskaya is a ballet giant, impossible to replace.
Moscow, Winter 1963, Bolshoi Theatre: I saw Maya Plisetskaya dance for the first time. It was Don Quixote. I was stunned and confused. Maya came on stage with amazing energy, aggressive and flirtatious. Her dancing was technically perfect (turns, grands pas de chat, aplomb…) as you would expect from the great Russian school, but her port de bras, her way of connecting steps and her run were curiously contemporary! I expected her to be much more scholastic! It took me a bit of time to fully understand the magnitude of this ballerina, truly unique! During the next 2 years in Moscow I never missed a performance.
Over time, studying every morning with her uncle Asaf Messerer, we got to know well and often had a snack together in the theatre canteen during breaks talking about the theatre's tours when Maya wouldn't participate because she was considered a ‘rebel'. We talked of many interesting things about dance, art and life. It was a real privilege to be with her, an intelligent, strong and educated woman who came from a family of dancers (Asaf Messerer, Azary Plisetzky, Sulamith Messerer, Mikhail Messerer, her sister-in-law Loipa Araujo…).
I saw Plisetskaya many times in Italy and her sense of style off stage has always fascinated me. Her profile with her wonderful chin and her arms will remain forever in my eyes!
She was an incredible, fantastic woman. She had a a great sense of humour and a pretty sharp tongue, which all dancers were afraid of being caught by. She could make comments that would make you feel suicidal but they were precise. One of the reason why I became a dancer was seeing a film about her.
This is a huge loss for our country and culture in particular, because of the contribution that she has made cannot be overstated. I think that many more generations of ballet dancers will focus on her work, because she was really a unique person, adored by millions. Maya also made her mark in politics as much as culture where, through art, she could bring people together… She was an amazing person with a spiritual depth, who helped many people. This year has been tragic for the Bolshoi Theatre: first Elena Obraztsova, and just a few months later, Maya Plisetskaya. Two terrible, sudden losses.
Maya Plisetskaya: November 20, 1925 – May 2, 2015
Anna Maria Prina
Mosca, inverno 1963. Teatro Bolshoi. Ho visto per la prima volta ballare Maya Plisezkaia. Il balletto era Don Chisciotte. Rimasi sbalordita e confusa. Maya entrava in scena con energia strabiliante, aggressiva e ammiccante. La sua danza era tecnicamente perfetta ( giri, grands pas de chat, aplomb…) secondo la grande Scuola russa, ma i suoi port de bras, il suo modo di collegare i passi, di correre era “stranamente” contemporaneo! Mi aspettavo un'esecuzione molto più accademica! Ci misi un po' di tempo a capire fino in fondo la grandezza di questa BALLERINA, davvero unica! Nei 2 anni passati a Mosca non sono mai mancata a un suo spettacolo.
Nel tempo, poi, studiando ogni mattina con suo zio Asaf Messerer, ci siamo conosciute bene e spesso facevamo insieme uno spuntino al Buffet del Teatro durante la pausa chiacchierando delle tournées del Teatro che non vedevano fra i partecipanti Maya perché considerata “ribelle”. Parlavamo anche di tante cose interessanti di Danza, di Arte e della vita. Era un vero privilegio stare con lei, donna intelligente, decisa e colta che proveniva da una famiglia di danzatori ( Asaf Messerer, Azary Plisetzky, Sulamith Messerer, Mikhail Messerer, la cognata Loipa Araujo…).
Ho poi rivisto molte volte la Plisezkaia in Italia e la sua grande classe anche fuori di scena mi ha sempre affascinata. Rimarranno per sempre nei miei occhi il suo profilo con i meravigliosi mento e collo e le sue braccia!
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.