(b Leningrad, 21 Nov. 1940)
Russian dancer, ballet producer, and actress. One of the pre-eminent ballerinas of the 20th century. She trained at the Leningrad Ballet School (the Vaganova Institute), graduating into the Kirov in 1959 and rapidly becoming one of its leading artists. In 1970, while on tour with the company in London, she defected to the West, where she forged a stellar, international career. She was a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and a principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet in London, as well as appearing with numerous companies in Europe. A supremely gifted adagio dancer with a remarkably elastic technique, she was considered the foremost Odette of her day; her Giselle too was highly praised. In addition to dancing most of the classical repertory she created roles in many new ballets including Robbins's Other Dances (1976), Béjart's Mephisto Waltz (1979), the title dancing role in Le Rossignol for the Metropolitan Opera House in 1981 (with choreography by Ashton), MacMillan's The Wild Boy (1981), and Petit's The Blue Angel (1985). She staged a full-length version of La Bayadère for American Ballet Theatre in 1980, which was later taken into the repertoire of several companies including the Royal Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, La Scala Ballet, Australian Ballet, and Dutch National Ballet. Her other productions include Swan Lake for London Festival Ballet in 1984 and for Perm Ballet in 2005 (the latter taken into the repertory of the National Ballet of China), Giselle for Royal Swedish Ballet in 2000, and Sleeping Beauty for the Royal Ballet in 2003. She brought her own company to Broadway in 1980. She made her musical comedy debut in a revival of On Your Toes in New York in 1983 for which she won a Tony Award; the following year in London her performance, which had revealed her unexpected gift for comedy, earned an Olivier Award. In 1988 she was reunited with the Kirov when she danced with the company during its London season, partnered by Konstantin Zaklinsky in the Act II pas de deux from Swan Lake. In 1989 she went to Leningrad to appear with the Kirov again. She has frequently appeared on television, and conceived and presented the BBC television series Ballerina in 1987. In 1991 she made her debut as a dramatic actress, performing largely in Britain. She is recipient of many awards including Gold medal, Varna, 1965; Merited Artist of the RSFSR; Anna Pavlova Prize, Paris, 1970; and is author of A Dance Autobiography (New York, 1979).