Maya Plisetskaya in the Role of The Great Barefoot


This photograph was taken in 1977 by photographer Leonid Zhdanov (1927−2010) as part of the series "Great Dancers of the Twentieth Century. Isadora Duncan−Maya Plisetskaya." That year marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of American dancer Isadora Duncan (1877−1927), in honor of which French choreographer Maurice Béjart (1927−2007) created the ballet Isadora at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. By this time, the name and work of the “Great Barefoot,” the name given to Duncan by her contemporaries, had become almost a myth. Béjart's Isadora, choreographed for Maya Plisetskaya (born 1925), the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater and one of the great ballerinas of the 20th century, restored Duncan’s reputation. The premiere of Isadora was a great success. Plisetskaya recreated the style and spirit of Duncan's free dance, formed at the turn of the 19th–20th centuries without regard for the rules of classical ballet. Trained in Moscow, a student of Elizaveta Gerdt and later Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951), Plisetskaya came to the Bolshoi Theater in 1943, when Galina Ulanova was considered the model classical ballerina. Plisetskaya's bravura, life-affirming, and virtuosic dance contrasted with Ulanova's style of lyricism and emotion. Plisetskaya changed the aesthetics of the ballet during the second half of the 20th century, introducing a new understanding of beauty and forms of movement. At the age when most ballet dancers retire from the stage, she adopted a new style. She abandoned classical ballet in favor of modern choreography. Some of the best choreographers of the 20th century—from Kasian Goleizovsky to Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart—created works for her. Zhdanov, a Bolshoi dancer and then a professor of choreography for 50 years, was also a professional ballet photographer for most of his career. His pictures are spontaneous and capture on film the movements, moods, and emotions of the unposed dancers. The Reborn Art Foundation in Moscow holds this image and the rest of the Zhdanov archive.

Last updated: February 3, 2015