Maris Liepa's Main Role


Leonid Zhdanov (1927–2010) took this photograph in 1971 during a performance of the ballet Spartacus at the Bolshoi Theater. Maris Liepa (1936–1989) danced the role of Crassus. Liepa’s professional dance career started in his native Riga, Latvia, but he completed his studies at the Moscow Ballet School at the Bolshoi Theater (now known as Moscow State Academy of Choreography) in 1955. He worked at the Opera and Ballet Theater in Riga and at the Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theater. In 1960, he became a soloist of the Bolshoi Theater. Liepa had leading roles in many classical and modern ballets, but he is best known for Spartacus, in which he originally danced the title role in the ballet choreographed by Leonid Yakobson. In 1964, Yuri Grigorovich became the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet. A new version of Spartacus (1968) was Grigorovich’s first big premiere in Moscow. Liepa was one of the dancers assigned the role of Spartacus. Grigorovich soon changed his mind, however, and asked Liepa to dance the role of the main anti-hero, the Roman general Crassus. This change largely determined the success of the performance. The role of Crassus, arrogant, conceited, and greedy for power and pleasure, became the pinnacle of Liepa's creative career. The influence of Liepa’s teacher, Alexei Yermolaev, was evident in Liepa's dance pattern and depth of interpretation. Many Bolshoi dancers have followed Liepa in performing the role of Crassus, but none is regarded as having reached his level. 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