(b Moscow, 20 Nov. 1925)
Russian dancer, choreographer, ballet director, and actress. Niece of both Asaf Messerer and the Bolshoi ballerina Sulamith Messerer, and cousin of the designer Boris Messerer. She studied at the Bolshoi Ballet School with Elisaveta Gerdt (from 1932) and later with Asaf Messerer, and after graduating in 1943 she joined the Bolshoi Ballet as a soloist. Only two years later her exceptional technique won her promotion to ballerina. She was a remarkably fluid dancer but also a very powerful one and the robust theatricality and passion she brought to her roles made her an ideal Soviet ballerina. She danced all the classical repertory, renowned especially as Odette-Odile and Kitri, and in 1962, when Galina Ulanova retired, she became prima ballerina of the Bolshoi. During her long career with the Moscow company however she was frequently in open rebellion against the policies of the management and sought new challenges abroad as an international guest artist, most notably with the Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet National de Marseilles, and Ballet of the 20th Century in Brussels. She created leading roles in Lavrovsky's Stone Flower (1954), Moiseyev's Spartacus (1958), Grigorovich's Moscow version of The Stone Flower (1959), Aurora in Grigorovich's staging of The Sleeping Beauty (1963), Grigorovich's Moscow version of The Legend of Love (1965), the title role in Alberto Alonso's Carmen Suite (1967), Petit's La Rose malade (Paris, 1973), Béjart's Isadora (Monte Carlo, 1976) and his Moscow staging of Leda (1979), Granero's Maria Estuardo (Madrid, 1988), and Lopez's El Renedero (Buenos Aires, 1990). She started choreographing in 1972; her first ballet was Anna Karenina (with N. Ryzhenko and V. Smirnov-Golovanov), set to a score by her husband, Rodion Shchedrin, and starring herself in the title role, which was staged at the Bolshoi. She also created The Seagull (mus. Shchedrin, Bolshoi Ballet, 1980) and Lady with a Lapdog (mus. Shchedrin, Bolshoi Ballet, 1985). She starred in the 1961 film of The Humpbacked Horse, and also appeared as a straight actress in several films, including the Soviet version of Anna Karenina (1968). Her own ballet of the same name was filmed in 1974. She was ballet director of the Rome Opera (1983–4), and artistic director of Ballet del Teatro Lirico Nacional in Madrid (1987–90). In 1988 an Hommage à Plisetskaya was staged in Boston. In 1996 she danced The Dying Swan, her signature role, at a gala in her honour in St Petersburg. Lenin Prize, 1964.