Prima ballerina assoluta – the best of the best – part 3


Now the rank has made people talk. Everyone wanted to see a prima ballerina assoluta on stage. But ballet is still European art, so for the people living in other parts of the world, this might be a bit harder.

And sometimes the prima ballerina assoluta retires and the stage feels empty. Someone else must take her place, right?


Alicia Alonso, the partially blind prima ballerina assoluta

Alicia Alonso is the first non-European prima ballerina assoluta. She was born in Cuba and began to dance as a child (training with a Russian teacher). She started to appear on stage at eleven years old, but at sixteen fell in love and married another ballet dancer. The young couple moved to New York because the stage from here was better than the one from their home country. In New York, Alicia gave birth to a daughter, but this did not stop her from dancing. Nothing could do this, not even a hurricane.

Alicia Alonso, prima ballerina assoluta

At only 21 years old, Alicia developed eye problems, which required multiple surgeries that did not heal her, and she became partially blind. During the surgeries, she had to bed rest but refused. Alicia wanted to dance. Even when the doctor prohibited her from dancing she refused, going every day to the studio. She danced in her head, she moved her feet while laying, she learned choreography without moving from her bed.

She replaced Alicia Markova in Giselle and a star was born. Critics loved her interpretation, and her handicap added another layer to the ballet blanc. She was promoted to principal dancer and everyone from the company came out with clever solutions to hide from the public that the ballerina had a handicap: they used wires, lights, and the other dancers guided her on the stage.

But Alicia wanted to fund a ballet company in Cuba. So, she returned and lead with a steady hand the new company established. She handpicked the dancers, and many talented ones had their dreams shattered by Alicia Alonso.


Maya Plisetskaya, the redhead prima ballerina assoluta 

I imagine that it must have been hard to replace Galina Ulanova. But for Maya Plisetskaya the new rank was a natural decision.

During her childhood, her father and mother were victims of the Soviet regime, and little Maya took refuge in dancing.

When dancers graduate the ballet school, they become part of the corps de ballet, but Maya was remarked and spent very little time in this position. She was very talented, and the authorities were aware of this fact, but she was also Jewish and not obedient. The company refused to give her bigger roles and even to tour outside of Russia.

Maya Plisetskaya, prima ballerina assoluta

So, she married a composer and used his fame to become known by everyone. When she was allowed to dance in Swan Lake, she gave her best portrayal and scored a win against the KGB. Khrushchev himself lifted the travel ban imposed on her. And she always returned to Russia.

She was the perfect cultural emissary, used during the Cold War by the Soviets after she was allowed to travel. She met the Kennedys (first lady Jaqueline Kennedy compared her with Anna Karenina which is a role that she would play) and became friends with the president’s brother. After John Kennedy was assassinated, all the theatres were closed, but the Bolshoi decided to pay its homage with the interpretation of The Dying Swan. It was very difficult for Maya to dance on that day and exited the stage with tears on her face while the audience remained silent in mourning.

She set a higher standard for all ballerinas, using the theatrical talent inherited from her family (her mother was a silent movie actress), and experimented using new techniques.



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