Plisetskaya: A Sketch for a Portrait


Voznesensky’s portrait of Maya Plisetskaya is one of the thirty-three-year-old poet’s rare excursions into prose. It appeared recently in a slightly longer form, in the Soviet drama magazine Teatr (June 1966). Voznesensky’s sketch expresses, among other things, the impatience of many Russian intellectuals with the traditionalism of Soviet ballet, where Plisetskaya is an outstanding exception. It also mocks the notion, often maintained in conservative circles, that “genius”—given the proper social and material conditions—can somehow be taught.

In her name is heard the splash of applause. In Russian it rhymes with weeping willows, Elysian fields, and Advent.

There are geographical poles, climatic poles, magnetic poles.

Plisetskaya is the magical pole.

She spins the audience into the furious vortex of her thirty-two fouettés. Witchcraft: she catches you up and holds you fast.

There are ballerinas of silence—snow-flakes that melt. This one is an infernal spark. When she dies the world burns.

Even her silence is the furious roaring hush of expectation: the tense moment of stillness between lightning flash and thunder clap.

Plisetskaya is the Tsvetayeva1 of ballet.

Her rhythms are precipitous and explosive.

THERE ONCE WAS A LITTLE GIRL called Maya or Marina—it doesn’t matter which. She was already as fearful as a wild animal, and just as fearsome. The force of destiny had already declared itself in her. They raised her on gruel and milk pudding, bound her up in braids ’till it hurt, crammed her with ABC’s. The silver coin she played with rolled, edge gleaming, under the dusty belly of the sideboard…

Even then she was tormented by her gift, as yet obscure to her, but nothing to be trifled with.

What can I do—poet and first on earth of us.
Here, where black is gray
Where inspiration’s bottled in ther- moses—
Such immeasureableness in a world of measures…

Every gesture of Plisetskaya’s is a frantic cry. Her dance is a query—an angry, reproachful “How dare you?”

What to do about weightlessness in a world of weights? She was born the most weightless of all. In a world of heavy dull objects. The most airborne in an earthbound world.

It seems to me that the décor of Raymonda is oppressive. The clumsiness of the production maddens.

So she dances in solitude and despair—the dismay of genius before mediocrity. This is the sense of her every role.

Her quick blood spins her round…. This is no mincing salon ballerina, but, for the first time, a real woman crying out from the center of her being…

There is not enough fire for her in this lukewarm world…This is how she loves: no half-measures. Nothing in whispers. No compromises.

A woman journalist from abroad asked her: what do you hate most of all? She answered, mischievously: milk pudding.

This is not just the tear-stained pique of childhood. As for all artists, everything is serious. So naturally the most hateful thing is milk pudding. It stands for everything insipid, vulgar, standardized, and deadly to…

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