PLISETSKAYA, MAYA (1925– ), Russian ballerina born in Moscow to a Jewish family. Her father, an engineer, was declared an enemy of the people during Stalin's era of political purges and was executed in 1937. Her mother, Rachel, belonged to the famous ballet family of *Messerer. Her mother, a film actress, was also arrested and sent to a work camp for several years. Maya, who at that time was a student in the choreographic college, went to live with the Rachel's family. In 1941 her mother returned to Moscow and in the same year Maya Plisetskaya had her first stage appearance in "Impromptu" to the music of Tchaikovsky. In 1943, after graduation, she joined the Bolshoi theater.
Her career can be divided into three phases. The first was dedicated to dancing. Her relative, Asaf *Messerer, put her into the corps de ballet, but Plisetskaya soon became a principal dancer in Cinderella, where she showed herself as a wonderful dancer and dramatic actress. This two-fold talent made her the unique dancer she is. Her style is very graphic and delicate, perfect in its movement and flawless in technique. Plisetskaya was noted for her fast spins and soaring leaps, staying suspended in the air for a long time, and her wondrous, breathtaking, expressive and fluid hand movements. Odette-Odile in Swan Lake is certainly one of her most prominent roles; she performed it around the world for over 30 years. The only major ballet role she did not perform is that of Gisele. She explained that something in her opposed this role. A role with which she fully identified is Carmen. The Cuban choreographer, Alberto Alonso, created a Carmen Suite for her in 1967, based essentially on Bizet's opera. Here came into effect her full dramatic power and her striving for novel experimentation.
In the 1960s, after a successful tour with the Bolshoi and thanks to the encouragement of Ingmar Bergman, Plisetskaya started her second career phase as a choreographer. Her first work in that capacity was a ballet based on Tolstoy's Anna Karenina to the music composed by her husband, the conductor Rodion Shedrin, and then came the Seagull (1980) and Lady with a Lapdog (1985) by Chekhov, also using the music by Shedrin. She performed as a prima ballerina in all her creations. Her thirst for creativity and her endless energy and temperament made Maya Plisetskaya a world famous ballet artist. Even in her sixties she was still assigned top female roles such as the Mad Woman of Chaillot, performed in 1992.
In the third phase of her career, she appeared in films as a dramatic actress. Most of her choreographic works were filmed and televised.
In addition to her long career with the Bolshoi Theater, Plisetskaya also danced with other companies, such as Roland Petit's company and Maurice Bejart's ballet of the 20th century. In 1983–84 she was an artistic director of the ballet in the opera of Rome and in 1989–90 she headed the ballet dance group of Teatro Lirico National Madrid.
Maya Plisetskaya held the title of National Artist and was the winner of two national prizes. She organized three dance competitions.
IDE, vol. 5:202b–207a.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.