Maya Mikhailovna Plisetskaya is a Russian ballet dancer, frequently cited as the greatest ballerina of modern times.
Maya Plisetskaya was born in Moscow into a prominent family of Jewish artists. She went to school in Spitzbergen, where her father worked as an engineer. In 1938, he was executed during the Stalinist purges, while her mother, a silent-film actress, was deported to Kazakhstan.
Thereupon Maya was adopted by her maternal aunt, the ballerina Sulamith Messerer (1908-2004), who later founded the Tokyo Ballet (1960), defected to the West (1980), and received the highest civilan honours of Great Britain and Japan.
Maya 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.
Maya's most acclaimed roles included Odette-Odilia 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 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 Bejart.
In the 1980s, Plisetskaya and Shchedrin spent much time abroad, where she worked as the artistic director of the Rome Opera Ballet and the Spanish National Ballet of Madrid. At the age of 65, she finally retired from the Bolshoi as a soloist. Since 1994, she has been presiding over the annual international ballet competitions called Maya.