By Nancy T. Lu
Maya Plisetskaya, a legend in the world of ballet, is gone. But ballet fans and followers privileged to have watched her perform will keep a lingering vision of her lyrical beauty in interpreting Fokine’s “The Dying Swan.”. She first performed this in 1943, drawing raves.
The former prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet arrived in Taipei with the Ballet del Teatro Lirico Nacional of Spain back in 1989. She, then in her 60s, was under contract as the company’s artistic director for two years.
On this Taipei visit, she gifted her admiring public with such hauntingly beautiful and dramatic poetry written all over her physical being, notably her arms. The “Dying Swan” choreography did not require highly technical skill. But it still demanded a lot of the ballerina.
There was hardly any need for a stretch of the imagination to catch a glimpse of mortality expressed so dramatically on the stage of the National Theater in Taipei. Bathed in a pall of gloom, the celebrated dancer in white articulated with her every move and gesture the intense sadness and pain of the dying swan in the three-minute classic ballet piece.
Plisetskaya did it once, twice, thrice but differently each time. She harnessed her then 45 years of experience on the ballet stage to dazzle a public that was undeniably full of expectations.
Her stage presence was electrifying. The excited crowd filled the theater with thundering applause. Even after her third appearance, they still refused to let her go.
Only the day before, Plisetskaya with head held high amazed everyone at a press conference with her youthful aura and dazzling presence. Everyone noted immediately her utterly slim silhouette. She spoke very little and only in Russian through an interpreter. Finally she walked away with an almost girlish gait despite her calendar age.
The dancers in the Spanish dance company revealed that Plisetskaya, despite her fame and stature, treated everyone like her equal. Association with Plisetskaya, they said, also opened up the company’s opportunities to perform on the world stage.
Plisetskaya, one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century, died of a heart attack on May 2. She was 89.