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Plisetkaya's 80th.

Few evenings of dance have been as deeply anticipated as the last night of the weeklong 80th birthday tribute to Maya Plisetskaya, one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century. Thousands of admirers gathered outside Moscow's Kremlin Palace on Nov. 20 and waited cheerfully for an hour and a half under the falling snow before gaining admittance. Then they sat through a two-hour jubilee of dancing by the ballerina's admirers, while sharing one desire--to see Plisetskaya perform Bejart's Ave Maya, the solo she had promised to dance.

Even as a product of the Soviet Union, Maya Plisetskaya grew into an international star, adored at home and abroad. Known as the defector who never defected, she was forbidden to tour for long periods and kept under close watch by the KGB. Her six-decade career stands in contrast to her childhood in a persecuted Jewish family during Stalin's Great Terror. Although she was from a respected ballet family, her father was arrested and killed, her mother sent to the gulag.

Known for her fiercely expressive, at times febrile, dancing, Plisetskaya was received with great enthusiasm during the festival's final evening. However, excerpts from Don Quixote, performed by a cast of international ballet celebrities, including the Bolshoi's own Maria Alexandrova and the Ballet National de Cuba's Viengsay Valdes, never seemed so long. Plisetskaya took to the stage during Don Quixote, appearing larger than life in a black Pierre Cardin gown with a green and violet train, only to introduce a young group of break dancers. "I would like to see a modern Don Quixote, not as it was danced 150 years ago," she said.

The evening soon struck a tone that seemed more cabaret than ballet, as the ballet dancers shared the stage with China's Sao Lin monks and the Russian Army's Alexandrov Dance Ensemble. A sequence with flamenco star Joaquin Cortes evolved into an intimate duet with Plisetskaya. At the end, he presented the prima ballerina assoluta with his reinforced shoes.

At last came Ave Maya. Plisetskaya commanded an atmosphere of eager silence. The movements of the three-minute solo are simple--a fluttering of the arms, which begins slowly and grows urgent, and an occasional bourree in parallel. Bejart had created a metaphor for her: These arms can still make this body fly.

After standing ovations and curtain calls, the diva repeated her performance of Ave Maya, and soared a second time. The evening was the culmination of a series of engagements for Plisetskaya and ballets presented by the Bolshoi in her honor. She may take to the stage again this month in London for a Covent Garden gala. Tributes in Tokyo and Paris are also slated for 2006.

In an open rehearsal before the festival, Plisetskaya told captivating stories of the birth of the 1967 Carmen Suite, choreographed for her in an innovative style by Alberto Alonso, who also attended the rehearsal. Together they told of their triumph over Soviet censorship, despite the culture minister's warning that "Carmen will die."

"I said Carmen will die only if I die," declared Plisetskaya, who went on to perform the role hundreds of times to universal acclaim.
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Title Annotation:Maiia Mikhailovna Plisetskaia's 80th birthday
Author:Fitzgerald, Nora
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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