Maya Plisetskaya. An Incredible Story of Life.

On 20th of November ballet-lovers around the world celebrate Maya Plisetskaya’s anniversary of birth. Maya lived a long and full life, by making contributions into different aspects of art: to literature, music, cinema, fashion, and dance. Prima ballerina of Bolshoi Theater and famous all over the world dancer, she became a symbol of its era, a standard for copying and emulating.

In the family of Maya’s grandfather Mikhail Messer, there were 12 children who in one way or another linked their lives with ballet. Maya’s mother, Rachel M. Messerer, was the star of silent films. She attracted viewers and filmmaker’s attention by her characteristic appearance: dark hair and Eastern facial features, she always got the roles of Uzbek women. However, the actress had to leave her career because of husband and children. But Maya’s father, Mikhail Emmanuilovich, was far from the world of art and engaged in economic and diplomatic posts.

Maya with her parents

He was also involved in the production of films, where he met his future wife. In 1932 he was assigned to head the coal mine on Spitzbergen, and the whole family had to move. There he simultaneously held the post of General Consul of the USSR. It was on the Spitzbergen Island where little Maya first appeared on the scene. She played her first role in the opera “Mermaid” by Dzerjinsky. The small role was performed brilliantly, and since then, the baby couldn’t sit still and was dreaming about stage and performances in public. She was like preparing herself for a bright future and was constantly singing, dancing and improvising. And it was decided by the family council: on their return to Moscow to give a little fidget in Ballet School. Maya was eleven when security officers arrested her father, and after a year of detention, he was shot because of suspicion of espionage. A few months later they arrested his wife, Rachel, it happened right at the Bolshoi Theatre, when her aunt Shulamith was dancing in the “Sleeping Beauty.” Rachel received eight years in prison as the wife of an enemy of the nation. She, along with her newborn baby (younger son Azariah) was placed in the camp of wives’ traitors of the Motherland in Akmola. Aunt Shulamith adopted 12-year-old Maya to avoid sending Maya to an orphanage.

Shulamith Messesser, Boshoi star, Maya’s aunt

However, later Maya admitted that the aunt often humiliated her and demanded that the girl was grateful to her. Once Shulamith wanted Maya to dance with her son, but Maya rejected that opportunity as found her cousin to be insufficiently talented.

Maya’s first significant performance was held on the eve of the fatal day for the Soviet Union. Less than one day before the start of the World War 2 (The Eastern Front) the final concert of choreographic school was held on the stage of the branch of the State Academic Bolshoi Theater. The war changed the planned future that Maya wanted for herself. Thanks to the care of the energetic Shulamith - family was evacuated to Sverdlovsk. Maya and her brothers stood in queues for bread and potatoes that lasted many kilometers long. The whole year she lived without ballet dancing. She knew that Ballet classes were still going, and that kind of thought troubled her. She was already 17, and she could not wait: a little more time without training and she could say “bye-bye” to the ballet. Maya never gave up on her dreams, so she decided to do a desperate act: without her mother’s approval and permit — she somehow arrived in Moscow and was admitted to the Ballet School graduating class, and after a year of learning, she was immediately enrolled to the staff of the Bolshoi Theatre. In order not to lose the shape, the young ballerina became involved in every conceivable concert. The first success came to her in “Les Sylphides,” where she danced the mazurka. Each jump of Plisetskaya, in which she hung for a moment in the air, caused a storm of applause. Since then a lot of ballet-lovers went to “watch Plisetskaya” on purpose. Once after the show, the famous Vaganova approached her.

“Before I have met Vaganova, I loved to dance, but didn’t like to work hard. Now I began to understand how exciting, interesting and creative a daily work of ballerina can be.”- Maya Plisetskaya

The path to the top of her career can be compared to climbing the stairs: step by step Maya got her major parties. For example, in the ballet “Sleeping Beauty” she firstly was the Lilac Fairy, then Violante Fairy, and then Aurora. In “Don Quixote” ballerina danced almost all the female parts, and finally won the role of Kitri.

Maya Plisetskaya as Kitri in Don Quixote

Her brilliantly performed role of Kitri became a discovery in the performing arts: ever since her style of performance became the accepted canon. From the first steps on the stage, people could see her bright individuality — an extraordinary expressiveness, passion, dynamics of dance. Her big victory became the role of Odette-Odile from the “Swan Lake”: good and evil, love and treachery, nobility and lowland character are brought in two images created by a dancer. Movements of unusually flexible arms and the body created the illusion of transforming Maya into the swan.

Maya Plisetskaya as Odette in Swan Lake

Odetta performed by Maya Plisetskaya will eventually become the world’s legend. Her hands are in “Swan Lake” was compared with the swell of water, with shimmering waves, with bends of swan wings. Critic of the French newspaper “Figaro” insisted that “she does it “not humanly”, and that when Plisetskaya starts undulating motion of her hands, you no longer know — hands it or wings, or her hands are moving into the movements of waves, by which swan swims.” Since 1953 ballerina could not travel abroad because of her repressed father and relatives abroad. The paradox was that the government led all distinguished foreign guests certainly to the “Swan Lake” with Maya Plisetskaya in the main party, but couldn’t let her go out of the country. The theater tried to stand up for it; they wrote a common letter in defense of the ballerina, but it had no effect…

But the times have changed. In November 1962, the Bolshoi Theatre came to Washington. On the occasion of its performance, the Soviet ambassador hosted a reception which was honored by the attention of Robert Kennedy, the brother of US President, a politician, and leader of the Democratic Party. Diplomat personally introduced him to Maya Plisetskaya. Because of the fact that the famous ballerina knew only a few words in English, he also served as an interpreter in a brief conversation.

“I know you, too. In the magazine “America” ​​I’ve read that you were born in November 1925. So do I. And what was the day when you were born?”- Maya Plisetskaya
Maya Plisetskaya and J.F. Kennedy

That is how Maya recalled that meeting many years later. It turned out that she and Robert were born on the same day and year. On the morning of November 20, she was awakened by a knock on the door at a hotel room. The messenger brought the ballerina bouquet of white roses and elegant box, tied with a wide ribbon. A magnificent gold bracelet with two pendants. But the surprises were not over. A little later, Kennedy telephoned personally. Maya Mikhailovna couldn’t understand him and painfully searched in the memory for a few English words she knew … On the way to the rehearsal, she was crushed into another messenger from Robert, who brought her a box of wine.

Robert Kennedy

Every year since then Maya and Robert congratulated each other on the birthdays. During the next meeting, after a couple of years, they hugged and kissed each other like old friends. On the next day, after lunch, Robert took her on a walk in New York and gifted her a present… an alarm clock from the famous “Tiffany” store — an apparent allusion to her being late for a meeting.
A couple of times Kennedy visited her while she was dancing on the stage. She was hinted that he was known as inveterate Don Juan.

“What was that? Flirt? Or not a flirt? Game or not a game? Call or not a call? There was something that attracted us to each other. We were interested in one another.”- Maya Plisetskaya
President and Mrs. Kennedy arrive at the Capitol Theater on November 13, 1962.

During another visit of the Bolshoi Theatre in New York (was 1968) Maya didn’t have the chance to meet Robert. He called her and said that he was going into the election tour of several states. He asked her to leave the evening of June 11 available for their meeting. And on 5 June he was assassinated in Los Angeles. A day later, a friend of Maya Plisetskaya died.

In that day Soviet ballerina was appointed to participate in the concert at the “Metropolitan Opera.” It was written “Sleeping Beauty” on the poster. But before the performance, the representative of the theater informed the audience: “In a sign of mourning of Robert Kennedy, to honor his memory, Maya Plisetskaya will dance “The Dying Swan.” The whole hall stood up in unison.

Maya Plisetskaya dancing Dying Swan 1959

To open something new — her everlasting, maybe, the main passion. Once, in the late 1960s, it doesn’t matter what it took her — she danced Carmen at the Bolshoi, and it was an event in the world of choreography. The ballet “Carmen Suite” was made to Plisetskaya by Alberto Alonso. A husband of Maya, a composer Rodion Schedrin, originally handled the immortal music of Bizet.

Maya Plisetskaya and Alexander Godunov, Carmen Suite, 1974

The success of “Carmen” was doubted by many people. However, since then, the “Carmen Suite” is just as famous in the world as “Carmen” opera itself.

Maya with her husband Rodion Shchedrin

Maya met her second husband — Rodion Schedrin — met while visiting Lilya Brik. Ballet dancer and composer did not seem to be very interested in each other at first. Plisetskaya was even seven years older than Shchedrin. Only three years after they met, they began to meet and later spent their vacation in Karelia. In the fall of 1958, they got married. “He extended my creative life for at least twenty-five years”- Plisetskaya about her husband. Rodion supported her and defended her interests against the Soviet government. It is thanks to his efforts Prima had the opportunity to travel abroad. However, despite the happy marriage, the couple never had children.

“Ballet provides among other things a great physique and excellent physical shape. After the birth of the child, a woman suffers many revolutionary changes. Many ballet dancers have lost their profession when having kids.”- Rodion Schedrin

The magical show entitled “Fashion from the 1950s until the XXI Century” — a joint venture of Maya Plisetskaya and her longtime friend and creative partner, Pierre Cardin, the author of the best scenic (and not only theatrical) costumes of the ballerina. With the master of fashion Plisetskaya met a long time ago, back in 1971, when she danced in the south of France in Avignon.
“Cardin has made me a lot of precious costumes and never asked for money.” — Maya used to say surprisingly.

Pierre Cardin called Maya his “muse”

It used to be that in 30 years, the ballerina must finish her career and retire, but Plisetskaya this tacit pension legislation. When She Danced “Carmen” at the Bolshoi Theatre, she was already 42 years. At 47 she performed the title role in the ballet “Anna Karenina.” And at 60, and even 70 Maya Plisetskaya continued to shine on the stage. Even at the age of 61, she danced “Dying Swan” in Tokyo.

Maya Plisetskaya at the age of 61 dances “Dying Swan” in Tokyo

A few years ago, when she celebrated her 80 anniversary, top officials of different countries congratulated her. Colleagues, friends, and fans have noted her extraordinary talent. “Queen of transformations” — the audience used to say about her. Maya Plisetskaya, passed away on May 2, 2015, in the 90th year of life of a massive heart attack. Farewell to a ballerina took place in Germany, and according to her will, Plisetskaya’s ashes will be connected with the ashes of Rodion Schedrin, after his death, and will be scattered over Russia.

Works Cited

“Alexander Godunov, Maya Plisetskaya, Carmen-suite, 1974.” YouTube, uploaded by magnumSuper, 13 August 2011.

“Kennedys Attend Bolshoi Ballet Photo.”

“Maya Plisetskaya.” Maya Plisetskaya, 1925–2015, 06 May 2015,

“Maya Plisetskaya, Age 61, Dances Dying Swan.” YouTube, uploaded by llee611838, 27 September 2009,

“Maya Plisetskaya and Rodion Schedrin.” Letters about Love: Maya Plisetskaya and Rodion Schedrin, 26 November 2015,

“Maya Plisetskaya as a Swan.” In Context: A Tribute to Maya Plisetskaya, BAM Blog, 23 February 2016,

“Maya Plisetskaya — Dying Swan 1959.” YouTube, uploaded by hookham, 20 October 2010,

“Maya Plisetskaya — Kitri Entrance in Don Quixote!” YouTube, uploaded by Yasmeen Hawary, 18 February,

“Maya Plisetskaya with Her Parents.” https://theenglishclubok/maya-plisetskaya-1.

“Maya Plisetskaya with J.F. Kennedy.” Maya Plisetskaya,

“Plisetskaya as Odette “Swan Lake” Act II Grand Pas Coda.” YouTube, uploaded by Gualtier Malde, 18 December 2007,

“Russian Ballet Dancer Maya Plisetskaya with Pierre Cardin.”

“Robert Kennedy.” Robert Kennedy Biography,

“Shulamith Messerer, Bolshoi Star, Maya Plisetskaya’s Aunt.”

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