Stalin's favorite Russian ballerina dies at 92

Sat Dec 20, 2008 1:04pm EST
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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian ballerina Olga Lepeshinskaya, who danced for decades at the Bolshoi Theater and captured the attention of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, died on Saturday at the age of 92.

Born in Kiev in 1916, Lepeshinskaya joined the Bolshoi ballet troupe in 1933 and for the next 30 years became known for her starring roles in "Don Quixote" and "The Nutcracker."

Stalin watched her perform at Moscow's 18th-century Bolshoi Theater several times and she was widely reported to have been his favorite ballerina.

She continued to dance at the Bolshoi into the 1960s.

"It is a huge loss for national culture, and for Russian ballet in particular," Itar-Tass agency quoted Vladimir Vasilyev, the former chief choreographer at the Rome Opera house, as saying.

Lepeshinskaya died in her Moscow home in her sleep and will be buried on Tuesday, Russian agencies said.

The government said President Dmitry Medvedev sent his condolences to Lepeshinskaya's friends and family.

(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Katie Nguyen)