Maya Plisetskaya, Maya Plisetskaya! Just the name makes the terpsichorean heart go chronically pitter-pat.
She is--sigh--the Duse of dance, the Bernhardt of ballet, the Magnani of Soviet romanticism, the Callas of classical choreography.
She was always fiercely flamboyant and brashly independent. The party line at the Bolshoi wasn't necessarily her line. Her epic disagreements with the current management caused her to be conspicuously absent when Moscow's presumed finest toured the United States last summer. Artistic glasnost apparently can only stretch so far.
But there she was at Shrine Auditorium Sunday night, fluttering her incredibly flexible wings and popping her huge, soulful eyes and sinking to the stage in final poetic spasms one more time as Fokine's "Dying Swan." A veteran of various cold wars, she had come back for what may well be--and probably should be--her last American stand.
Did I imply that she danced the "Dying Swan" one more time? Perish the thought. Plisetskaya couldn't be content to expire just once. That wouldn't be her style.
No. After the first heart-rending cadential collapse, the house went wild on cue. The Great Grell Groupies temporarily buried the beaming ballerina in 5,783 posies with dizzy streamers attached. Someone even delivered a bouquet of peacock feathers. The fans--some 6,000 of them--rose en masse and cheered and cheered and cheered as the automatic heroine feigned modest surprise that gradually gave way to mock-astonishment.
Soon she was tip-toeing a tenuous path through the strewn flora in order to undergo the pretty terminal agonies of the tutued fowl again.
And, yes, again. We stayed for two encores and, for all we know, she is still basking in passionate ovations, blinking away a furtive tear and re-moulting daintily on command.
In the semi-good old days, Sol Hurok often brought us highly popular balletic-vaudeville shows labeled "Stars of the Bolshoi." Cynics were tempted to call the less attractive packages " Scars of the Bolshoi."
The program sponsored by the Ambassador Foundation on Sunday was dominated, alas, by scars. Instead of employing a bona-fide orchestra, the producers insulted the audience and inhibited the dancers by reverting to the el-cheapo abomination of tape. The music was invariably too loud and often too slow.
Reinforcing the tawdry ambiance, production values proved non-existent, the costumes looked tacky or tattered or dirty, and few of the supporting artists came close to the first rank. The repertory, moreover, was dominated by shameless circus kitsch.
At this stage of her fabulous career, Plisetskaya is an understandably limited technician. She may be the greatest 62-year-old ballerina in the world, but that doesn't make it easy for her to compete with her own formidable ghosts.
Even though she chooses her repertory very carefully--droopy tragedy would seem to have become her forte--time has taken certain obvious tolls. The once supple back is stiff now. Speed and elevation are best avoided. The quasi-oriental undulations of the ubiquitous swan are now cloaked in strange, transparent arm-stockings attached to gloves.
Plisetskaya's port de bras remains marvelously, uniquely expressive. Her eyes still flash with defiance, still brood with pain, still glow with longing or tragic profundity. Even she can do only so much dancing, however, with arms and face alone.
In addition to the inevitable aviary rituals, she impersonated the wilting flower of Roland Petit's "La Rose Malade," a series of sentimental poses and languid lifts that trivialize the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony. As a surprise addendum. she offered a love duet from a controversial ballet of her own making, "The Lady With a Small Dog" (1985). The chief activity here involved rubbing her presumably vulnerable cheek against the virile visage of her amorous partner, to second-hand tunes cranked out by her offstage husband, Rodion Shchedrin.
Boris Efimov exuded quiet strength, deference and sympathy while supporting the resident assoluta. In the inevitable bravura of "Le Corsaire," however, he ignited formidable solo sparks. His partner here, the winsome if somewhat untidy Olga Ivanova, showed off some of the fastest fouettes in the West.
The rest was, to say it kindly, variable. A buoyant if unpolished danseur named Mark Peretokin provided the most engaging moments in the "Swan Lake" non-peasant pas de trois. The noble Alexander Bogatyrev, remembered from distant Bolshoi tours, joined a brittle, glacial Marina Leonova in the White Swan pas de deux and the "Sylphides" waltz.
A bland Erika Luzina and a miscast Alexei Lazarev remained stubbornly earthbound as Florine and the Bluebird. The same gentleman returned, this time with the fleet but accident-prone Maria Filipova, for a ponderous approximation of the "Fille mal gardee" duet in its archaic Soviet incarnation.