Three Iconic Parts of Maya Plisetskaya

Three Iconic Parts of Maya Plisetskaya

On November 20, Maya Plisetskaya would turn 96 years old. The part of the Dying Swan in her performance became a classic, but the ballerina danced other awesome roles too.  

Kitri in the ballet Don Quixote by Ludwig Minkus

Maya Plisetskaya first performed the part of the passionate Spanish girl at the age of 25. It happened in 1950 at the celebration of Stalin's birthday in the Kremlin. Initially, the ballerina was supposed to dance the variation of the Street Dancer from the same Don Quixote ballet, but before the concert, the commission strongly recommended to redo the performance. Eventually, Maya Plisetskaya danced the part from Don Quixote but to the jumping variation from Laurencia. As she later said, she "jumped twice”. The ballerina was mentioned in the newspaper articles about the birthday concert. 

And after a while, Kitri performed by Plisetskaya appeared on the theater stage. This debut was not flawless. In her memoirs, Maya Mikhailovna wrote that during this performance in the first act she lost her “balance and wound up on the floor at the end, perfectly in time with the music." The ballerina remembered everything, down to the smallest detail, including the final pas de deux, where she did 28 fouettés perfectly but "leaned off to the side” during the last four. “The final pose was not centered.”  

Despite the objective severity, with which Plisetskaya assessed her stage debut in Don Quixote herself, this part became one of her starring roles and brought her great public love. Violeta Mainiece, a ballet expert and teacher, wrote about this role of Maya Mikhailovna:

“In the signature role of Kitri from Don Quixote, she boldly burst onto the stage. With three jumps she lit up the huge auditorium of the Bolshoi Theater and even the Kremlin Palace. Maya - Kitri took them prisoner easily and did whatever she wanted with them. It was a catharsis, a celebration of soul and dance, a festival of the Spanish fiesta follies, love and the game of love. The audience rejoiced, bewitched by the vivacity, ebullient temperament of the Spaniard girl dancing. They gave her a standing ovation and shouted "bravo" and "encore". I’ve never seen anything like this in Don Quixote again. It is impossible to forget her Kitri."

Carmen in the ballet Carmen Suite by Alberto Alonso 

In 1967, the ballerina visited a performance by the choreographer Alberto Alonso, who brought his Cuban ballet company on a tour to Luzhniki. The action on stage captivated Maya Mikhailovna totally, she recalled:

“From the dancers’ first movement, I felt as if a snake had bitten me. I sat on a hot seat until intermission. This was Carmen's language.  Her movements. Her world.”  

During the intermission, she invited the Cuban choreographer to stage Carmen in the USSR. At that time, inviting a foreign ballet master to work at the Bolshoi was a real gamble. Nevertheless, they managed to get permission. Finding a composer was complicated too - Dmitry Shostakovich refused, admitting: “I'm afraid of Bizet.” However, Rodion Shchedrin, a composer and Plisetskaya's husband, agreed to create a musical accompaniment for the ballet.  

Carmen Suite premiered in 1967 and immediately received devastating reviews from the Minister of Culture Yekaterina Furtseva. She reproached the production with excessive eroticism; in response, Maya Plisetskaya suggested shortening the love adagio. Furtseva agreed to give the ballet a chance if the artists removed a lift in their adagio and Plisetskaya wore a longer skirt.  

This ballet rightfully became a real gem of the Bolshoi Theater; gradually, the public began to associate the hot Carmen image with Plisetskaya. Later, she called this part her dream come true:  

“Every artist has a dream. Sometimes it’s realizable, sometimes unrealizable. For me, this long-awaited dream, throughout all the years of my creative career, was the part of Carmen, but it had to be to the music by G. Bizet. You can dance all the opera Carmen through, it is so “danceable”, image-bearing, expressive, and plastique.”

Idol in the ballet Bolero by Maurice Béjart

The French choreographer staged the ballet to the music by Joseph Maurice Ravel in 1961. Maya Plisetskaya saw the performance 13 years later, in 1974, and since then she dreamed of dancing the main part in it. 

Plisetskaya debuted in Bolero on a foreign stage. When she wanted to transfer this ballet to the Bolshoi, she met fierce resistance from the head of the theater, Georgy Ivanov. However, we know that it was Leonid Brezhnev himself who allowed the ballerina to dance Bolero on the Moscow stage, and this happened the day before the premiere.  

Preparation for the role became a real challenge for the ballerina. Plisetskaya later recalled:

“Bolero came hard. All the movements were new for my body. Bejart had studied Eastern dance seriously - Indian, Thai, Persian - and something of that vocabulary entered his own. Plus, there was the diabolical inventiveness. Asymmetry. Absence of squareness. Polyrhythms... Even dancers trained on Bejart lost count. And for me, after all those Lakes and Beauties - think what it was like.”

The ballerina called this performance the most unusual in her career, Bejart spoke highly of Plisetskaya's dancing, and for the public this role became one of the vivid associations with the name of Maya Mikhailovna.