Maya Plisetskaya

When I was only about two or three years old, my father had an 8mm film of the famous Russian ballerina, Maya Plisetskaya. It was a compilation of Plisetskaya dancing Dying Swan, Bach’s Prelude, Raymonda pas de deux and the Carmen Suite.

Oh, she was simply the perfect embodiment of a ballerina for this little girl who had fallen in love with ballet when she was only two and performed her own Swan Lake to the family in the living room. I begged my father to play the film ever so often. I could not get enough of her beautiful arm movements in the Dying Swan, her graceful lightness in the Prelude where her partner was wearing black and nearly invisible against the dark background, her crystal clear footwork in Raymonda, and her explosive technique in Carmen Suite.  But above all, it was her charisma that made me fall in love with her ballet.  I could not take my eyes off her, however little she might have been doing. I spent hours in front of our bathroom mirror trying to copy her arms and facial expressions. My mother still laughs about the time her three-year-old daughter copied Plisetskaya’s seductive move in the Carmen Suite!

There are people who command the audience’ s attention and will not let go of it once they have it. Plisetskaya is definitely one of those charismatic people. Whether you like them or not, you cannot take your eyes off them. There are many talented dancers all over the world, but truly charismatic dancers are rather rare.

I was so very lucky to have seen Plisetskaya perform live. She was certainly getting on a little bit by then; she was way over fifty when I saw her for the first time! But such thoughts never occurred to me then. It is only with hindsight that I think just how old she was at the time and it fills me with even more awe.

I was really privileged in that my mother valued quality and made sure that she showed me the very best dancers in the world as much as she could afford. I learned so much from watching them on stage, especially how they could command the audience and have the crowd at their feet admiring them!

Another thing I learned from them was their musicality. Really wonderful dancers are all so very musical. They never ever look as though they are dancing to music. They become one with the music. It looks as if their dance, their bodies, are making the music. They breathe the music.

Plisetskaya is one of those dancers whose movements, even down to a blink sometimes, seem as though they are the elements that make the music. She does not dance someone else’s choreography; each move she makes seems to be born from her.

Just a few years ago I went to see her eightieth birthday tribute gala. I was a little worried that she would be so old and frail and betray my image of the strong charismatic ballerina that I knew. How mistaken I was! The moment she walked onto the stage (in a pair of very high heeled shoes!) I could not take my eyes off her. She was still the same monstrously charismatic ballerina who captured my heart all those years ago. She even performed a small piece, although not on pointe, that was choreographed for her by Maurice Bejart, using two Japanese style fans, one red, one white. Oh, the movement of her arms! The musicality! Her artistry! But above all, her eyes! Those were the eyes that pierced through me when she shook my hand when I was a very little girl. Her handshake was firm. Her hand felt large and warm. She looked into my eyes and smiled. It might have been at that moment that I knew I wanted to be a dancer for sure. I went home, all the way from Tokyo to my house, which was good two hours away, without touching anything at all with my right hand lest her handshake would be dirtied. I refused to wash my hand that night and my mother had great difficulty trying to convince me that a handshake cannot be washed off. To this day, I can feel her handshake. And I feel so very proud that I am still involved in ballet even if I am no longer a dancer myself. No matter how small my part in the world of ballet might be, I am still living in the same world as this woman with such talent and such charisma.


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