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Culture news, 18.11.2005 13:34

Living legend

maja_plisetskaja Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and well into the 1980s, Maya Plisetskaya reigned as undisputed queen of the Bolshoi Theater’s ballet troupe.

To celebrate her 80th birthday on Sunday, the Bolshoi has concocted a glittering festival of dance that commenced Wednesday with three nights of performances on the theater’s New Stage and ending Sunday with a gala evening at the Kremlin Palace. On hand throughout the festivities is the great ballerina herself, together with her husband of nearly half a century, the distinguished composer Rodion Shchedrin.

“Everything that I feel here, at home in Moscow, cannot be put in words. I am absolutely excited about people’s attitude toward me, I do not even know how I can express my feelings of gratitude and happiness for all that,” Plisetskaya, who lives with Shchedrin in Munich, said when she arrived in Russia on Monday, Pravda reported.

Although Shchedrin was appointed honorary professor to St. Petersburg’s Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory last month, there are no special events to celebrate Plisetskaya’s 80th birthday in the city.

Festivities in Moscow began Wednesday with a classic that formed a fundamental part of Plisetskaya’s repertoire: Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”

The final festival evening on the New Stage, on Friday, will see a revival of “Carmen Suite,” a work that premiered at the Bolshoi in 1967 and brought with it perhaps Plisetskaya’s greatest artistic triumph. The score is Shchedrin’s arrangement of music from Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” and the dancing recreates the original work of Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso.

The final festival evening is at the Kremlin Palace on Sunday, Plisetskaya’s actual birthday, with stars from St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater, London’s Royal Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet and the Berlin State Ballet.

Born in Moscow in 1925, Plisetskaya seemed destined to embark on an artistic career: She had an actress mother whose sister and brother, Sulamith and Asaf Messerer, numbered among the leading lights of the Bolshoi ballet troupe in the years between the two world wars and whose second brother, Azary Messerer, was a well-known stage actor of the same era.

Like many others of her generation, Plisetskaya suffered enormously from the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s. At age 11, she witnessed the arrest of her father, which eventually led to his execution, and then found herself effectively orphaned with the subsequent arrest and three-year imprisonment of her mother. Nevertheless Plisetskaya retained a place among the pupils of the Moscow Choreographic Academy and, upon graduation in 1943, was immediately invited to join the Bolshoi’s ballet company.

But Plisetskaya’s real flowering on the Bolshoi stage only took place following the retirement in 1960 of the theater’s great mid-20th-century star, Galina Ulanova.

In the early 1970s Plisetskaya began to combine dancing with her own choreography. First came a setting of Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina” with a score by Shchedrin.

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