#TBT: Maya Plisetskaya in "Walpurgis Night"

March 23, 2016

When I first saw this clip of Leonid Lavrovsky’s Walpurgis Night, I didn’t know what the ballet was about, nor did I care. I was completely transfixed by Maya Plisetskaya. From one-legged hops on pointe to a grand saut de chat, she springs off the ground effortlessly. But it’s the Bolshoi ballerina’s ecstatic abandon in the movement that I had to watch again and again (six times, in fact). From the way Plisetskaya eagerly devours space and throws her head back—her delight obvious even in the vintage footage—you know how complete her love of dancing is. The joy is infectious.

Walpurgis Night
is commonly confused with Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet. Lavrovsky’s version is based off of Faust, a fanciful 19th century opera about an alchemist and his pact with a satanic demon. In a 1993 review of Balanchine’s Walpurigsnacht (a simpler, shorter work stripped of the opera’s plot), The New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff recalls that Plisetskaya’s performance in Lavrovksy’s original once “drove New York audiences into a frenzy.” I can see why. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!