Maya Mikhailovna Plisetskaya (Russian: Ма́йя Миха́йловна Плисе́цкая; 20 November 1925 – 2 May 2015) was a Soviet ballet dancer, choreographer, ballet director, and actress, who held in post-Soviet times Spanish and Lithuanian citizenship. She danced during the Soviet era at the Bolshoi Theatre under the directorships of Leonid Lavrovsky, then of Yury Grigorovich; later she moved into direct confrontation with him. In 1960 when Galina Ulanova, another famed Russian ballerina has retired, Plisetskaya became prima ballerina assoluta of the company.
Her early years were marked by political repression. Her father Mikhail Plisetski who was a Soviet official, has been arrested in 1937 and executed in 1938, during the Great Purge. Her mother actress Rachel Messerer was arrested in 1938 and spent few years in prison, then in concentration camp together with her infant son Azari. Older children were faced the threat of an orphanage, Maya was adopted by her aunt Sulamith Messerer, and Alexander was taken by her uncle Asaf Messerer; these two relatives of Rachel were the principal dancers of the Bolshoi.
Plisetskaya studied ballet at the The Bolshoi Ballet School from age nine and first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre when she was eleven. She studied ballet under the direction of Elizaveta Gerdt and also her aunt Sulamith Messerer. Graduated in 1943 at the age eighteen, she joined the Bolshoi Ballet company, quickly rising to become their leading soloist. In 1959 during Thaw Time she started to tour outside the country with the Bolshoi, then on her own. Her fame as a national ballerina was used to project the Soviet Union's achievements during the Cold War. Premier Nikita Khrushchev considered her "not only the best ballerina in the Soviet Union, but the best in the world."
As an artist Plisetskaya had an inexhaustible interest in new roles and dance styles, she was tended to the stage experiments. As a member of the Bolshoi until 1990, her skill as a dancer changed the world of ballet, setting a higher standard for ballerinas both in terms of technical brilliance and dramatic presence. As a soloist, Plisetskaya created a number of leading roles, including Juliet in Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet; Phrygia in Yakobson’s Spartacus (1958); in Grigorovich’s ballets : Mistress of the Copper Mountain in The Stone Flower (1959); Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty (1963); Mahmene Banu in The Legend of Love (1965); Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite (1967), written especially for her; and Maurice Bejart’s Isadora (1976). Among her most acclaimed roles were Kitri in Don Quixote, Odette-Odile in Swan Lake and The Dying Swan, first danced as a pre-graduate student under the guidance of Sulamith Messerer. A fellow dancer stated that her dramatic portrayal of Carmen, reportedly her favorite role, "helped confirm her as a legend, and the ballet soon took its place as a landmark in the Bolshoi repertoire." Her husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin, wrote the scores to a number of her ballets.
Having become “an international superstar” and a continuous “box office hit throughout the world,” Plisetskaya was treated by the Soviet Union as a favored cultural emissary. Although she toured extensively during the same years that other dancers defected, including Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Plisetskaya always refused to defect. In 1991 she published her autobiography, I, Maya Plisetskaya.
She is also known as Maya Mikhaylovna Plisetskaya.
Plisetskaya died in Munich, Germany, on 2 May 2015 from a heart attack. Plisetskaya was survived by her husband, and a brother, former dancer Azari Plisetsky, a teacher of choreography at the Bejart Ballet in Lausanne, Switzerland. According to her last will and testament, she was to be cremated, and after the death of her widower, Rodion Shchedrin, who is also to be cremated, their ashes are to be combined and spread over Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that "a whole era of ballet was gone" with Plisetskaya. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko extended condolences to her family and friends: