Sandstorms, opium, lions, snakes—plot devices in The Pharaoh's Daughter read like a list of clichés about Ancient Egypt. Though 19th century ballets set in the Far East (ahem, Bayadère) tend to emphasize grandeur over cultural accuracy, the dancing is dependably show-stopping. In this clip, Bolshoi Ballet principal Maria Alexandrova performs Princess Aspicia's Act II solo from Pierre Lacotte's 2000 version (after Petipa's 1862 original). With no visible effort—or springs attached, that I can see—she jumps with stunning ballon in the first sissonnes. When the music changes meter, she développés crisply and then enveloppés slowly for a playful contrast. Lacotte choreographed some devilish transitions in and out of pirouettes but, as the 30 seconds of solid applause confirm, Alexandrova retains her regal poise throughout.
Alexandrova was grappling with a serious injury in the midst of the Bolshoi's acid attack scandal in 2013. Though typically media-shy, she decided to open up in the HBO documentary Bolshoi Babylon and in a rare interview with The New York Times. As a revered artist—a principal with the Bolshoi for over a decade—when Alexandrova speaks, the world listens.