RIP: Olga Lepeshinskaya

The famous Russian ballet dancer died yesterday in her sleep. She was 92. Actually, to simply call her a ballet dancer would be an understatment. She was the prima ballerina for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow for three decades.

Lepeshinskaya was born to a noble family in Kiev in 1916. When she first tried to enter the Bolshoi choreographic school, she was rejected.

The school admitted her shortly afterward, in 1925, and Lepeshinskaya graduated in 1933, immediately joining the Bolshoi Ballet. She was rumored to be the favorite ballerina of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and received the coveted Stalin Prize on four occasions.

Lepeshinskaya recalled in an interview published in the daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta in 2006 that Stalin once affectionately called her “dragonfly.”

As Bolshoi’s prima, Lepeshinskaya danced Kitri in “Don Quixote,” Tao Hoa in “The Red Poppy,” Jeanne in “The Flame of Paris,” Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty” and Masha in “The Nutcracker” among other parts.

She said that Kitri, first performed in 1940, was her first big success and she was so eager to dance that she asked her friends to hold her offstage so that she wouldn’t enter ahead of time.

You can see her in action from this archival footage. Though it would be difficult for me to admit, I am often in awe of exceptional ballerinas’s supple athleticism, grace, beauty and poise. Truly admirable.

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