(b Vilnius, 19 Nov. 1903; d Moscow, 7 Mar. 1992)
Soviet dancer, ballet master, and teacher. He studied privately with Mordkin, then with Gorsky at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow from 1919. He graduated in 1921, joining the Bolshoi Ballet. For the next 30 years he was one of the company's leading dancers, combining an athletic virtuosity with an exceptional dramatic range. He retired from the stage in 1954 and although he choreographed several ballets, including Ballet Class and the gala favourite Spring Waters, it was as a teacher that he made his greatest contribution. He began teaching in 1923 at the Bolshoi, directing the Class of Perfection from 1942 or 1943, and systematically introducing classical detail and complexity into the Bolshoi's distinctively broad style. His methods won international recognition and he was frequently invited to teach abroad, including a season as ballet master of the Ballet of the 20th Century (1961–2). Author of Classes in Classical Ballet (Moscow, 1967; English language version, New York, 1975) and Dance, Thought and Times (1979). Uncle of Maya Plisetskaya and the noted teacher Mikhail Messerer; brother of the Bolshoi ballerina Sulamith Messerer. Merited Artist of the USSR (1933), Stalin Prize (1941, 1947), and People's Artist of the USSR (1976).