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Angelina Vorontsova in the company's revival of "Cinderella." Photo by Stas Levshin, Courtesy Mikhailovsky Ballet.

Ella Persson remembers the rehearsals for her debut as Giselle. "I was in my first year with the company, and I started preparing with Mikhail Messerer during late evenings," the Mikhailovsky Ballet's Swedish-born coryphée says. "I was definitely not ready, but he gave me a chance to push myself and made me so much stronger, mentally and physically."

Under Messerer, the Mikhailovsky Ballet has carved a niche on the Russian and international stage by investing in coaching and dancers' growth. Unlike the older Mariinsky, St. Petersburg's second ballet company was only founded after World War I. But with a classically focused repertoire and productions that rotate onstage every month, it offers plenty of opportunities for talent to thrive.


Ballet master in chief Mikhail Messerer. Photo Courtesy Mikhailovsky Ballet.

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Ballet Stars

When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.

Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


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When I first saw this clip of Leonid Lavrovsky's Walpurgis Night, I didn't know what the ballet was about, nor did I care. I was completely transfixed by Maya Plisetskaya. From one-legged hops on pointe to a grand saut de chat, she springs off the ground effortlessly. But it's the Bolshoi ballerina's ecstatic abandon in the movement that I had to watch again and again (six times, in fact). From the way Plisetskaya eagerly devours space and throws her head back—her delight obvious even in the vintage footage—you know how complete her love of dancing is. The joy is infectious.

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Bogomolova and Vlasov in Spring Waters (1956) .

Spring may be 10 days away, but we’re anxious for its arrival—so we’re dedicating this #ThrowbackThursday to the Spring Waters pas de deux. Created by Russian choreographer and former Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer Asaf Messerer, this short concert piece sounds sweet and serene in name, but its surprising acrobatics capture spring’s energy rather than its mildness.

This first clip is from 60 (!) years ago. In costumes of white and gold, Bolshoi dancers Lyudmila Bogomolova and Stanislav Vlasov burst onto the stage like rays of sunshine. You can see how technical standards have changed in six decades, but this performance is hardly lacking. Bogomolova leaps fearlessly into Vlasov’s arms and radiates warmth in the slower partnering sections. Before their exit, he catches her, tosses her into the air and dashes offstage.

 

In this later clip from 1986, Maria Bylova and Leonid Nikonov’s technique is closer to what we are accustomed to. With higher legs come even more death-defying tricks. When Bylova runs to Nikonov from the corner, she takes a flying, head-first dive. At the end, holding Bylova with just one hand, Nikonov carries her effortlessly into the wings. This version seems almost more frenzied than the 1956 one, but none of the four dancers betray any hint of stress in Messerer’s challenging partnering. They dance like carefree lovers on a spring day. Do you have a favorite version?

 

Fun fact:

Asaf Messerer was Maya Plisetskaya’s uncle! Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Asaf Messerer and students including his niece, Maya Plisetskaya (left). Photo via Alamy Photos.

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

This weekend the ballet world lost a legend. Maya Plisetskaya, a star of the Bolshoi Ballet who danced ambitiously into her 60s, died of a heart attack at age 89 on Saturday. Dancer, choreographer, teacher and director, Plisetskaya was known for her tumultuous history with the Soviets and beloved for her artistry, power and fluidity of movement.


Following a legacy of Bolshoi-affiliated family members, Plisetskaya began her Bolshoi training at age 8 and stayed loyal to the company for the duration of her career. Though she has many other credentials - such as her stint as the director of the Spanish National Ballet and her time dancing for Maurice Béjart  - she will largely be remembered as a longtime face of the Bolshoi.


Check out our #ThrowbackThursday post from a few years ago featuring Plisetskaya performing The Dying Swan in 1986 (at age 61!) and the below video of her performing in Don Quixote in 1959!

 

 

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