The lake covered with fog. And it seems that the wet air envelops you from head to toe. The contours are blurred. A swan is moving towards us. The sense of reality is lost.
It takes us some time to realise that these are not the wings but the arms with curved elbows and drooping hands.
Tiny steps with the feet, pas de bourrée… The flutter of wings.
A strong, beautiful creature is fighting for life. In defiance of all the misfortunes and sufferings. Determined to move forward.
The Dying Swan.
Performed by Maya Plisetskaya.
A phenomenon named Maya. This is what she was called.
Voznesensky said about Maya:
“…an infernal spark. When dying — it will burn half the planet.”
I am in Lithuania. At the lake near Trakai. Met Maya here before. Recalled those moments.
Slight wind in the face.
“Do you see that swan?“
I open my eyes, turn towards the voice. I see a man a bit too exquisitely dressed for an early hour.
The steam rising above the lake allows the sun to light up the water.
Very close to the shore, a swan is floating. Black, tufted.
“Looking for Maya Mikhailovna… She used to feed her pets.”
“Did you know her?”
“I know her husband, an avid fisherman. To talk to the maestro, I started fishing. We have many topics of common interest….”
“Are you a composer too?”
With an air of importance, my interlocutor raised his stylish beard a little.
“I am a theatre critic.”
I already anticipate an exciting conversation.
The Messerer family!
Her books have been read. So lively. Revealing. Such a destiny! What a background!
The Messerer family. Their strength, willingness, passion for art are amazing! How beautiful they are in the photographs of that time when they all were still together! The large Jewish family moved from Vilno to Moscow. The father of the family obtained higher education and was allowed to leave the Pale of Settlement.
The head of the family, Mikhail Messerer, Maya’s grandfather, gave sonorous names to all the children: Rachel, Emmanuel, Azariah, Asaf, Matthaniah, Sulamith. The grandmother, Sima Shabbat, of Vilnian tsadiks, sages, and righteous men. It was her who conveyed to their children the subtlety of perception, the desire for truth. And it’s not just a character trait; it’s a mission.
“Look how the swan…” the critic searches for words, “opens upwards.”
Maya Mikhailovna picked up on and depicted it.
“What do you mean?”
“As choreographed by Fokine, Anna Pavlova represented a swan causing pity, regret, and expressing humility,” he became thoughtful, paused.
Sulamith Messerer, Maya’s aunt, saw the magnificent plastique of the hands, the artistic nature of her niece. She created another version of the Dying Swan for her. And Maya danced it. From 1947 to 1977.
‘Her own’ swan. Every time different. Buoyant.
But where did she get it from? Reluctance to accept the system limitations, rejection of its restrictions. She always knew how it should be and didn’t agree to: it’s the custom!
“In 1937, her father was arrested. They came in the night, ruined her world. She has never seen him again.”
“This is when the rebel was born.”
“That’s right!” Maya said about herself: “The Swan is my external manifestation; inwardly, I am Carmen.”
If someone had asked young Maya, what is it, this perfect image in the dance that represents her core nature?
She always knew the answer.
She saw the plot very clearly. All this was already in her. She wrote a libretto herself based on the novella by Mérimée. Music for the ballet was needed. The opera by Bizet served as the basis. The Minister of Culture Furtseva gave permission to stage a one-act ballet. 40 minutes long. Because Alberto Alonso was proposed as a director. A Cuban. Friendship with Cuban comrades — this is good. And Maya received the Lenin Prize the day before. Such a bonus. It was not proper to refuse.
It is a chance.
Alonso stormed in like a hurricane.
The shape of the ballet was coming into being in the kitchen.
Alberto, flashing his eyes, was running around the room, jumping on the chairs, showing. The very essence. Shouting in Russian-English-Spanish, what her Carmen was like?
Maya was thrilled with joy!
All that was exactly about her!
The resistance of the man, free by nature, to the chains of submission, cowardice, ignorance, indifferently staring public.
Carmen is an explosion, a challenge. A bright flash on a grey background.
This ballet became a breath of fresh air for the Bolshoi Theatre.
“Carmen Suite,” my interlocutor began speaking grandly, “became a revolution in the Soviet ballet. It is a joint creation of Plisetskaya and Rodion Shchedrin.”
Just think, in 1967 — it was choreographed underground!
Non-academic poses, unorthodox positions, real pop art!
“Maya Mikhailovna, (‘my’ critic has even started to cough slightly because of emotions) felt that the Soviet ballet was choking with academicism. The way out was in the renewal (he searches for a word). In the renewal of the culture of the dance.”
Carmen broke the official aesthetics of the Bolshoi. Paved the way for the avant-garde Bolero, the decadent Death of the Rose, followed by Seagull, Anna Karenina. She gave a chance to the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.
Work of a genius.
50-year-old Maya just knew. She must dance it.
Animal nature of the man.
After watching the performance, Professor Kapitsa said to her: “In old times, they would burn in a bonfire for this.”
It is not even dance — it is some sort of rite. The same rhythmic pattern for 15 minutes in the same tempo. Growing emotional tension. “Inner shamanism.”
The swan at which we were looking all this time has got out of the water. Very near us. And it has also looked towards the lake covered with fog.
My dear interlocutor has coughed softly.
“Maurice Bejart gave her one week for preparation. It was unrealistic.”
Composer Ravel wrote Bolero to order. On a tight schedule.
The Spanish theme is endlessly repeated, changing the orchestral texture. In between, there are two measures of a rhythmic interlude.
Bejart introduced simple rhythmic squats, pliés. Throughout the performance. Body and arm movements based on Thai, Persian, Indian dances. Asymmetry, polyrhythm.
Bolero is the most unusual performance of her life.
Brussels. Shooting for the French-Belgian television.
Maya is on the stage.
Bejart is in the prompt box.
Wearing a white sweater, lit from below.
Making springy pliés, she did not let him out of her sight.
Bejart, like a pointsman, showed with his hands.
They used the symbolic signs: a hand is put cat-like behind the ear — it means cat movements. The hands are on the stomach — a belly dance.
And then the sun, a fish, a crab…
Plisetskaya’s eyes fixed on Bejart gave an air of a prayer to the performance.
They did not get out of time.
A new page of the art of ballet.
Suddenly, the swan, which was a few meters away from us, has completely spread the wings,
a webbed foot has gone up… ooooh! It is a classic arabesque! We looked at each other and gave a grin.
Something mystical …
“Can anyone be taught talent?” Maya was asked.
“Talent is a mystery. It is impossible to teach. That is what is given.”
“You know, I’ve been to one of the anniversaries of the Great Ballerina,” the critic became thoughtful, I pricked up my ears. “One of her admirers asked a very impolite question: ‘Maya Mikhailovna, how do you manage to remain beautiful at such an age?” Silence. Maya, so refined, looked at him in her own unique manner, having slightly bent her head, and then, turning her eyes on him, “I am going to tell you now,” she said in her deep voice, ‘they always give me a lot of flowers. I bring them home, trim carefully, and put in vases. Three days later, only one is left. This is nature, young man.” We went silent for a while. “Yes. Well said.”
Maya was always aware of her power to influence others. Her gift. Valued it. Did not waste. Understood. She had to work off. To give it back to people.
I resumed my reflections about the Messerer family.
A wealth of talent. An example of the parents.
The creative spirit, which reigned in the family, helped develop these inner qualities of everyone.
To give them to the world.
I think Maya has to the last drop worked off the talent she was honoured with. She wrote in her book that she sought to wake the soul of the spectator.
To ‘goosebumps on skin’, she conveyed this ultimately perfect state. Which a human being is capable of.
“Yes! This is what endowments are about,” exclaimed ‘my’ critic with animation.
Maya died in Germany.
On the day of farewell, there was a huge hurricane.
Nature, which she always felt inside, before which, the only one, she answered, has taken her back…
Rodion Shchedrin said about his beloved wife:
“…shot in flight. Like a bird.”
“The spark is back to its root.”
The fog wrapped the lake again. We did not notice the swan disappear.
We stood in awe.
Of greatness we touched….