Maya Plisetskaya overcame terror legacy to redefine ballet

Sun May 3, 2015 8:40am EDT
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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Maya Plisetskaya, a star of Russia's Bolshoi ballet who overcame a legacy of Stalinist oppression to redefine her art and be feted as the greatest ballerina of her generation, has died in Germany aged 89.

Plisetskaya died of a heart attack in Munich, Russian media reported on Saturday evening, citing the director of the Bolshoi theater Vladimir Urin. Her death was "a huge loss not only for Russian culture, but also for the whole world of ballet", he told RIA news agency.

Plisetskaya had lived since 1991 in Munich, where she moved with her husband, composer Rodion Shedrin, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In a career spanning six decades, she gained international fame for a fiery, emotional style that contrasted with the more demure performances traditionally expected of ballerinas.

Under Joseph Stalin her family were branded "enemies of the people", her father falling victim in 1938 to one of the regime's bloody purges while her mother was sentenced to several years in a labor camp.

Plisetskaya was also disadvantaged by growing up Jewish at a time in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the Soviet leader was gripped with paranoia about imaginary 'Zionist' plots.

"Endless suffering and humiliation fill my memory," she wrote in her 2001 autobiography.

"What drove her past all obstacles and hazards were her unbending determination and her refusal to do things any way but her own," dance critic Robert Gottlieb wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2001.

Plisetskaya was born in Moscow in 1925, spending part of her childhood in a Russian mining colony run by her engineer father on the barren Norwegian Arctic island of Spitsbergen.   Continued...

Russian dancer Maya Plisetskaya poses for photographers after arriving to Oviedo, northern Spain, October 19, 2005.  REUTERS/Alonso Gonzalez