Plisetskaya in 2011
|Born||November 20, 1925 (age 87)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Maya Mikhaylovna Plisetskaya (Russian: Ма́йя Миха́йловна Плисе́цкая), born November 20, 1925 is a Russian ballet dancer, frequently cited as one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century. Plisetskaya danced during the Soviet era at the same time as the great Galina Ulanova, and took over from her as prima ballerina assoluta of the Bolshoi in 1960.
Early life 
In 1938, her father, Mikhail Plisetski was executed during the Stalinist purges, possibly because he had hired a friend who had been a secretary to Leon Trotsky. Her mother Rachel Messerer-Plisetskaya (aka Ra Messerer), a silent-film actress, was arrested and sent to a labor camp (Gulag) in Kazakhstan, together with Maya's seven-month old baby brother. Thereupon Plisetskaya was adopted by her maternal aunt, the ballerina Sulamith Messerer, until her mother was released in 1941.
Plisetskaya studied under the great ballerina of imperial school, Elizaveta Gerdt. She first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre when she had just turned 11 years of age. In 1943, she graduated from the choreographic school and joined the Bolshoi Ballet, where she would perform until 1990.
From the beginning, Maya Plisetskaya was a different kind of ballerina. She spent very short time in the corps de ballet after graduation and was quickly named a soloist. Her bright red hair and striking looks made her a glamorous figure on and off the stage. Her long arms had a fluidity that to this day remains unmatched; her interpretation of The Dying Swan, a short showcase piece made famous by Anna Pavlova, became her calling card. Plisetskaya was known for the height of her jumps, her extremely flexible back, the technical strength of her dancing, and her charisma. She excelled both in adagio and allegro, which is very unusual in dancers.
Despite her acclaim, she was not treated well by the Bolshoi management. She was Jewish in an anti-Semitic climate, her family had been purged during the Stalinist era and her personality was defiant, so she was not allowed to tour outside the country for six years after joining the Bolshoi. It was not until 1959 that Nikita Khrushchev permitted her to travel abroad. Her ability changed the world of ballet, setting a higher standard for ballerinas both in terms of technical brilliance and dramatic presence.
Plisetskaya's most acclaimed roles included Odette-Odile in Swan Lake (1947) and Aurora in Sleeping Beauty (1961). In 1958, she was honoured with the title of the People's Artist of the USSR and married the young composer Rodion Shchedrin, in whose subsequent fame she shared.
After Galina Ulanova left the stage in 1960, Maya Plisetskaya was proclaimed the prima ballerina assoluta of the Bolshoi Theatre. In the Soviet screen version of Anna Karenina, she played Princess Tverskaya. In 1971, her husband Shchedrin wrote a ballet on the same subject, where she would play the leading role. Anna Karenina was also her first attempt at choreography. Other choreographers who created ballets for her include Yury Grigorovich, Roland Petit, Alberto Alonso, and Maurice Béjart with "Isadora".
In the 1980s, Plisetskaya and Shchedrin spent much time abroad, where she worked as the artistic director of the Rome Opera Ballet in 1984–5, then the Spanish National Ballet of Madrid from 1987–9. At the age of 65, she finally retired from the Bolshoi as a soloist. On her 70th birthday, she debuted in Maurice Béjart's piece choreographed for her and entitled "Ave Maya". Since 1994, she has been presiding over the annual international ballet competitions called Maya. In 1996 she was named President of the Imperial Russian Ballet.
She was forced to be a member of the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public by being threatened with having her passport revoked. When she traveled abroad in the 1960s, the Soviet secret police requested that she encourage the interest of Robert F. Kennedy, which she declined. (Coincidentally, Kennedy was born on precisely the same day she was.)
On her 80th birthday, the Financial Times summed up current opinion about Maya in the following words: "She was, and still is, a star, ballet's monstre sacre, the final statement about theatrical glamour, a flaring, flaming beacon in a world of dimly twinkling talents, a beauty in the world of prettiness." The following year, Emperor Akihito of Japan presented to her the Praemium Imperiale, informally considered a Nobel Prize for Art. Later in life while touring in the United States she joined the fight for women's rights.
Awards and honors 
Maya Plisetskaya has been honored on numerous occasions for her skills:
- First prize, Budapest International Competition (1949)
- Anna Pavlova Prize, Paris Academy of Dance (1962)
- Lenin Prize (1964)
- Hero of Socialist Labour (1985)
- Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (France, 1986)
- Triumph Prize, 2000.
- Praemium Imperiale (Japan, 2006)
- Order of Merit for the Fatherland;
- 1st class (20 November 2005) - for outstanding contribution to the development of domestic and international choreographic art, many years of creative activity
- 2nd class (18 November 2000) - for outstanding contribution to the development of choreographic art
- 3rd class (21 November 1995) - for outstanding contributions to national culture and a significant contribution to contemporary choreographic art
- 4th class (9 November 2010) - for outstanding contribution to the development of national culture and choreography, many years of creative activity
- Three Orders of Lenin (1967, 1976, 1985)
- Honoured Artist of the RSFSR (1951)
- People's Artist of RSFSR (1956)
- People's Artist of USSR (1959)
- Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (France, 1984)
- Great Commander's Cross of the Order for Merits to Lithuania (2003)
- Commander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain)
- Commander of the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas
- Order of the Rising Sun, 3rd class (Japan, 2011)
- Premium "Russian National Olympus" (2000)
- Prince of Asturias Award (2005, Spain)
See also 
- Miller, Jack (1984). Jews in Soviet Culture. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0-87855-495-5.
- Eaton, Katherine Bliss (2004). Daily Life in the Soviet Union. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-31628-7.
- They were sent to ALZHIR camp, a Russian acronym for the Akmolinskii Camp for Wives of Traitors of the Motherland, "enemies of the people"  near Akmolinsk
- Plisetskaya, Maya (2001). I, Maya Plisetskaya. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08857-4.
- Taubman, William; Khrushchev, Sergeĭ; Gleason, Abbott; Gehrenbeck, David; Kane, Eileen; Bashenko, Alla (2000). Nikita Khrushchev. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07635-5.
- Tolstoy, Leo (2003). Anna Karenina. Mandelker, Amy; Garnett, Constance. Spark Educational Publishing. ISBN 1-59308-027-1.
- Sleeman, Elizabeth (2001). The International Who's Who of Women (3rd edition ed.). Routledge. ISBN 1-85743-122-7.
- Crisp, Clement (2005-11-18). "Mayan goddess". Financial Times. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Maya Plisetskaya|
- Official website The Plisetskaya-Shchedrin Foundation
- The Washington Post's tribute to Maya's 80th birthday
- Video: Excerpt from Maya's "Dance Studies"
- Stellar ballerina's birthday 20 November 2010
- The Ballerina Gallery - Maya Plisetskaya
- le Gala des étoiles - Maya Plisetskaya
- A national treasure - Maya Plisetskaya