Belarusian roots of ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya

She dreamed of celebrating her birthday in style, stepping out onto the stage of her favourite Bolshoi Theatre, to see all those to whom she’d showed her talent for many years
She dreamed of celebrating her birthday in style, stepping out onto the stage of her favourite Bolshoi Theatre, to see all those to whom she’d showed her talent for many years. The ballerina personally developed the programme for the gala concert AVE MAYA, in which she never performed. In her long career she touched the lives of many. The famous Belarusian choreographer, Valentin Yelizariev, worked with the ballerina in 1976 on Anatoly Efros’ Imagination, based on Turgenev’s Spring Tides novel. Since then, Valentin and Maya met many times, connected by a true artistic friendship.

Juliet, played by Maya Plisetskaya

Being inspired for Adam’s movements by my son

Along with Efros, Plisetskaya and Smoktunovsky, you took part in the filming of Imagination in 1976. How did you find working with such great personalities?

I learned a great deal. The literary basis for the movie was Turgenev’s ‘Spring Tides’ but Mr. Efros cleverly invented a new title to illustrate how everything is possible in our imagination. This was an experiment, an attempt to combine ballet and drama.

At that time, our daughter was born and Ms. Plisetskaya brought us a parcel of toys and clothes from her artistic trip to Italy. Small kindnesses such as this are never forgotten. Since my student days I’ve been familiar with Rodion Shchedrin. I think it was he who advised Mr. Efros to invite me to perform. The year before, I had staged the ‘Carmen Suite’ for the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre; Mr. Shchedrin worked on its musical production. I believe he is a 20th century classic composer as good as Stravinsky — though underestimated. His music is complicated and, because of this, he is not as popular as he deserves to be. To perform the music, the level of artistry must be brilliant. It’s much easier to play Strauss’s waltz, which also makes the public happy.

Maya Plisetskaya: ‘I don’t like to repeat movements at all — not for any choreographer! I have my own identity, I feel differently. However, I wanted to do exactly everything suggested by Mr. Yelizariev’

She didn’t like to repeat her work

The choreographer and the ballerina last met at a competition in Japan, where the composer recollects a warm meeting after several years apart. Maya lived in Munich. She had a very narrow circle of contacts but Yelizariev was among them.

There were probably experimental works at that competition. Did Ms. Plisetskaya take any new ideas for her dance?

She was among the first to work with Maurice Béjart and Jerome Robbins and was sympathetic to their experimental pieces. She also had complete trust in those with whom she worked. Maya loved to say that she worked with a certain choreographer only once. She followed that rule all her life.

I was in touch not only with her but also her husband, the composer Rodion Shchedrin — staging ballets on his music. I saw how Maya was faithful to Rodion — as a person and an inspiration. It was wonderful to observe the way they idolised each other which I was lucky to see.

What sort of a person was Ms. Plisetskaya in her work?

Of course, she knew her own worth but was open with me. We co-operated very intensely and fruitfully. It seldom happens that there is compromise from both sides in an artistic process; some resistance often emerges from one or the other. She was able to achieve set goals, was skilful in her explanations and could combine in dance everything she saw and heard.

Only a few people remember that Maya had two brothers: Alexander and Azary who also had lives connected with the ballet. I was familiar with Azary. He worked in Cuba for a long time and then co-operated with Maurice Béjart’s troupe. Ms. Plisetskaya’s uncle, Asaf Messerer, staged the classic ‘Swan Lake’ three times at the Bolshoi Theatre. The Plisetsky-Messerer family is a significant dynasty which has enriched our culture. Maya has Belarusian roots: her mother was born in Vilno and her father came from Gomel.

Her parents’ fate was tragic. How did she manage not to become embittered with life?

We didn’t tackle this issue in our talk — discussing only artistic aspects.

Do you see any modern ballet personalities similar to Maya?

In art, it is difficult to compare as personalities differ. Ms. Plisetskaya is a uniquely creative individual.

In the meantime

One of your most famous performances is The Creation of the World ballet, staged in 1976. What does it symbolise?

While composing Adam’s party, I was inspired for many of the movements by my son. I watched how he was crawling and walking unsteadily. I needed that plasticity for my show. I’ve not watched the ‘Creation of the World’ for a long time. When I last saw it, there was a feeling that the performance was losing its vitality. There is an unwritten rule that, if a show is not staged once in two months, then it is slowly collapsing. My performances are now rarely staged.


Where does Imagination come from?

The movie-ballet Imagination was shot by director Anatoly Efros in 1976 and was based on Ivan Turgenev’s Spring Tides. A small extract was taken from the novel: Sanin’s memories of his meeting with Polozova. Maya Plisetskaya personally worked on the scenario and played the leading role. Fragments of Pyotr Tchaikovsky were performed. The ballet master was Valentin Yelizariev. The key roles are danced by Maya Plisetskaya (Marina Polozova), Innokenty Smoktunovsky (Dmitry Sanin), Anatoly Berdyshev (Sanin, a ballet role), Andrey Popov (Ippolit Polozov) and Tatiana Vedeneyeva (Gemma).

By Valentin Pepelyayev
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